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Benedict Arnold: “The Blackest Treason": Betrayal and Loyalty in the American Revolution
Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
Treason of Arnold depicts Benedict Arnold, engraving by C.F. Blauvelt, 1874 (Library of Congress)
The name Benedict Arnold is virtually a definition of a traitor, and was no less so during the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton considered the Continental Army general's spying for the British a stinging betrayal, calling it “the blackest treason” he could imagine.
The most famous turncoat in American history, Arnold was a skilled officer in George Washington’s army who led patriot forces to several important victories over the British, including the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. But while in command at West Point in 1780, Arnold began secretly communicating with British intelligence agents, giving them inside information, not just about the fort and its defenses, but about American strategy for the war.
When a British spy named John André was captured, Arnold’s treachery was discovered. A manhunt ensued, but Arnold made it to the safety of a British ship only to return to the field of battle wearing a British uniform. He led brutal attacks on patriot civilian communities in Virginia and Connecticut throughout 1781.
What on earth was his motive? Richard Bell associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, reconstructs the life and times of Benedict Arnold, the reasons for this treason, and the larger problems of betrayal and desertion that dogged the Continental Army throughout the war.
Benedict Arnold lived out his exile from America in England. Smithsonian.com visited his grave in a London church as part of a “Tory Tour” and tells the story behind the curious epitaph on his headstone.
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