Benedict Arnold: Biography And Facts About The Double-Crossing Historic Figure

By | January 14, 2021

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Engraving depicts American army officer Benedict Arnold (1741–1801), seated at a table, as he hands papers to British officer John Andre (1750–1780) during the American Revolutionary War, mid to late 18th century. Arnold eventually formally

While history defines Benedict Arnold by his one act of treason against the United States, there is much more to this key figure of the Revolutionary War than eggs and betrayal. He was, among many other things, a misunderstood, often-overlooked wannabe hero with a messed-up childhood, a chip on his shoulder, and an overly ambitious wife.

A Chip On His Shoulder

Benedict Arnold was born on January 14, 1741 to one of the most prominent families of Rhode Island. His grandfather, after whom he was named, was one of the founders of the Rhode Island colony, but Arnold's father was the opposite of the upstanding Benedict Arnold I. For a time, he was a successful businessman, but after yellow fever took the lives of three of the Arnold children, the patriarch was devastated. He began to drink heavily, and both the family's fortune and its good name plummeted.

Benedict was keenly aware of the whispers about his father and terribly embarrassed by his steady decline, especially when he learned he couldn't afford the private education enjoyed by his peers. Having once hoped to attend Yale, he had to settle for apprenticing with his mother's cousin in the apothecary business. Eventually, seeking shelter from his father's disgraces, Arnold moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he built up his own apothecary business and worked as a sailing merchant. In his mid-thirties, he was finally successful enough to construct one of the largest houses in New Haven. That sure showed those Rhode Island busybodies.

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(Brown University/Wikimedia Commons)

A Criminal Temper

The Sugar and Stamp Acts of the 1760s soon threatened to curtail his thriving trade business, but Arnold just kept on keeping on with little regard for the ethical implications of his illegal dealings. When a man threatened to report him to the British authorities, Arnold simply publicly whipped him.

Arnold generally had a bit of a temper. He was a prolific challenger of duels, one of the most notorious of which took place in Honduras, where Arnold had gone on a trading expedition, after a British sea captain named Croskie called Arnold a "damned Yankee." Croskie fired first and missed, but Arnold grazed Croskie's arm, puffed out his chest, and taunted "If you miss this time, I shall kill you!" Croskie apologized for insulting Arnold and called an end to the conflict.

But nothing ticked Arnold off quite like the unjust laws the British imposed on the colonists, like those detested Sugar and Stamp Acts. He joined his local chapter of Sons of Liberty, where he went on great tirades about the British, and openly supported going to war. He even took command of one company of Connecticut militiamen.