Plaque sponsored by Bruce McDermott
Located on 299 Washington Street
Benedict Arnold was born here in January 1741. He and a younger sister, Hannah, were the only children in the family of his father, also named Benedict, and his mother, Hannah Waterman King, to survive killer childhood diseases and reach adulthood.
Many tales have circulated about Arnold’s wild, undisciplined childhood, but virtuallynone is true. His father’s health problems caused young Benedict to leave school and become an apprentice of his mother’s cousins, Daniel and Joshua Lathrop. Those two Norwichites taught him the apothecary’s trade and then helped set him up in business in New Haven, Connecticut. There, Arnold became a prosperous merchant, heavily involved in the West Indies trade.
The Revolution fostered Arnold’s remarkable talents as a daring commander on land and water. He fought courageously at Ticonderoga, Quebec, Lake Champlain, and at the pivotal battles of Saratoga. He repelled a British force at Danbury, Connecticut for which the Continental Congress finally named him a major general. George Washington praised Arnold as his fighting general.
Wounded seriously at Quebec and then again at Saratoga, and seeing how poorly Congress supported its army, Arnold started to doubt the merits of the patriot cause. Problems with local officials in Philadelphia during 1778, after Washington named him military governor there, added to his growing disillusionment. After a vicious public attack on his character, Arnold opened negotiations with the British. He believed the Revolution had lost its way and would collapse, and he hoped to lead the people in settling their differences with the Crown short of independence.
In September 1780, amid a failed plot to turn patriot defenses at West Point, NY over to the British, Arnold defected. The British awarded him the rank of brigadier and indemnified him for his property losses, although more had been requested.
As a British officer, Arnold led attacks on Richmond, VA and in September, 1781 on New London, Connecticut. The massacre of American soldiers at Fort Griswold across the Thames River, that day, as well as the burning of New London, further increased patriotic enmity toward Arnold. He was not at Fort Griswold but was in overall command of the troops who attacked that bastion.
After the war, Arnold resumed his mercantile career, trading out of Canada and England. He never quite enjoyed the prosperity of his earlier years. Arnold died in London In June 1801, aged 60 years, his name, despite his invaluable service to the patriot cause, to become synonymous with treason.
His remains are interred at St. Mary’s Battersea Church in London with his wife, Margaret Shippen Arnold, and daughter Sophia.
Text by Professor James Kirby Martin author, historian, professor of history.