New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

What Should We Think of Benedict Arnold?

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What Should We Think of Benedict Arnold?

Benedict Arnold 2

Benedict Arnold was convinced that Canadians would flock to the Revolution

Benedict Arnold was a problem. He was a notorious traitor as far as Americans are concerned, of course, which is problem enough. Like Vidkun Quisling, his name is synonymous with treachery and deceit. However, he was also not popular among the Loyalists, and is not kindly remembered. He was arrogant and self-centered, and his single-mindedness never translated into success, or not in any lasting way.

He was born in Connecticut in 1741 or 1742 to a privileged family with a father whose alcoholism ruined them financially. He ran away from home and joined the army at the age of 16 or 17, but was released and brought back at the urging of his mother. He then joined the army again in 1760, and served for a while in New York. After that, he engaged in trading along the coast and in the West Indies.

His success as a military man began with the American Revolution. By that time, he was Captain of a militia unit and, in 1775, he marched them off to join the fight against the British. His early successes were outstanding, but his weaknesses of personality were already becoming apparent. He was never willing to be second to anyone, and arguments ensued. He was a rising star, but unpopular with his commanders.

Arnold then recommended an invasion of Quebec City, and two military units were put together to accomplish this. Arnold was in charge of one of the units and struggled with his men through swamps and rivers in Maine as he moved toward Quebec. The campaign was supposed to end with a quick victory, but the battles wore on and the Americans suffered heavy losses while British losses were few. The men were reduced to wearing rags and ammunition ran low. Nonetheless, Arnold was always popular with his men. He could lead them to victory or through swamps to defeat, but his strength as a leader never faltered. He was second only to George Washington for this ability. The Quebec City campaign was a failure, but it still won Benedict Arnold the rank of Brigadier-General. Operations then moved to the Montreal area, but these also did not go well. The plan of extending the revolution northward and defeating the British in their heartland was at an end.

Arnold then led unsuccessful battles against the British on Lake Champlain, by disobeying orders that he should remain in a defensive posture. He later had more luck on the Hudson River and elsewhere in the 13 colonies, where there were victories.

Arnold’s enemies in the command structure were piling up. He had to defend against numerous complaints of misconduct and, in Philadelphia, he was accused of profiteering from his position. Fellow officers were being promoted to Major-General, while he was not, and he was not getting the respect that he was sure that he deserved.

Dissatisfied with this perceived lack of appreciation, he began in 1779 to inform to the British on American military matters and to negotiate terms to switch sides. These activities were discovered, and he escaped to British-held New York. He then issued a statement saying that he had never supported independence but had only been trying to address American complaints with the details of British administration. None on the American side, and likely few on the Loyalist side, could believe this. He was given a cash reward in addition to a Brigadier General’s salary and a pension in return for switching sides. He raised a Loyalist company but his service to the British was undistinguished.

The American Revolution was over with the Peace of 1783, and Arnold moved with his family to England which, for him, was an unfamiliar country. By 1786 he was in Saint John, New Brunswick, where he established a trading company that was successful in dealings with the West Indies. He was as unpopular as ever, and for the usual reasons in addition to the fact that he was a former rebel who had caused damage to other locals and was now profiting for his flight to the Loyalist side. It didn’t help that he was litigious, suing everyone in sight over any perceived misdeed. He was abandoned by his business partner and, within about two years his stores in Saint John went up in flames. His former partner charged that he had set the fire himself in order to collect on the insurance, and Arnold, of course, sued him. Arnold was found innocent, but not before he was burned in effigy at the corner of King and Canterbury Streets. He was so unpopular that his suit against his former partner only gave him a nominal reward.

Arnold and family returned to England, and he never returned. He tried to get grants of land in Ontario, but this was difficult because he was asking for too much and he was an absentee-applicant. The authorities also seemed to be embarrassed that he was asking for more and more compensation for his treason against the American side in the Revolution.

Arnold’s life in England was not marked with financial success, and his estate consisted of little more than debts.

So, what should we think of Benedict Arnold? Should he be considered more respectfully by Canadians despite the opposite view in America? No. He was a man whose flaws outweighed his talents as a commander and led to, what he might call, the ‘disrespect’ for which he is mostly known.


Written by johnwood1946

May 13, 2015 at 9:02 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Your assessment of Benedict Arnold squares with the experience of one of my Loyalist ancestors, Issachar Currier, who was a shipwright employed by Nehemiah Beckwith, also a Loyalist, to build the first sloop on the Saint John River for Benedict Arnold. Currier arrived in January 1783 from Amesbury, Mass. and in a 1785 petition for Lot 75 at Upper Gagetown on which to build a shipyard he stated he was employed since his arrival in building Mr. Beckwith’s ship. According to an article from Vital Statistics from N.B. Newspapers Nehemiah Beckwith was “a Loyalist who built the first sloop that ever ran in the St. John waters and who was drowned opposite the city”. Another article from the same series says that “the first vessel constructed above the Falls was built for Benedict ARNOLD by Nehemiah BECKWITH, the great grandfather of J. Douglas HAZEN, M.P. Mr. Beckwith failed somewhat (a day or two) in his contract for the time of launching and Benedict Arnold refused to accept the vessel except at a ruinous reduction. Mr. Beckwith had to accept Arnold’s terms greatly to his injury. It was a mean advantage.”

    Aileen M. Carroll’s article “The Currier Family in New Brunswick” says the name of the ship built for Benedict Arnold was the “Lord Sheffield” and that “when Beckwith fell behind schedule because Arnold demanded so many modifications, Arnold refused to pay and brought Beckwith close to financial ruin”. Beckwith’s 1788 petition for financial relief from the N.B. Legislature can be found on the PANB database.

    Issachar Currier was granted Lot 75 at Upper Gagetown and built a shipyard there.

    In 1799 he received two grants of land at Kingsclear. There is a Currier Creek running through the two properties and a Currier Creek Basin created by the construction of the Mactaquac Dam in the 1960’s which flooded the front end of Issachar’s lots. The Currier family continued building boats at Gagetown for at least two more generations. Captain David Currier, grandson of Issachar, began active life in charge of a passenger sloop and afterwards as that of the first river steamer. In a February 17, 1883 interview in the Saint John Daily Sun Captain Currier recalled “his family moved from Upper Gagetown to St. John in 1805 and in 1810 to Kingsclear, thence to Maugerville in 1811, where my father (also named David) engaged in shipbuilding for different parties building the Eliza Ann, a brig of 350 tons for Capt. MacDonald; the Mary Ann, 200 tons for Nelson Deveber and several schooners for William Taylor and Benjamin Taylor. In 1813 we removed to Gagetown where my father continued shipbuilding and was assisted by an elder brother of mine, Daniel Currier.”

    John Noble

    John Noble

    May 13, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    • Hello John, That certainly sounds like our Benedict. Not what you’d call a nice guy.


      May 13, 2015 at 3:39 PM

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