Attempts to sell West Point to the British
Benedict Arnold was a well-to-do and highly respected merchant in his community. In late 1774 Arnold suggested that he could capture Fort Ticonderoga in New York from the British and Benjamin Church made him a colonel with instructions to give it a try.
Benjamin Church was a member of both the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts and a member of the Sons of Liberty rebel organization which included such patriot leaders as John and Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock. However, Church was really a paid spy for the British general, Sir Thomas Gage. In October of 1775, one of Church's spy letters to Gage was captured and delivered to General Washington. Church was arrested, stood trial for treason and imprisoned until 1777. After his release, Church sailed to the West Indies in a schooner that disappeared at sea.
At the time Church made Arnold a colonel, major general Sir Thomas Gage was both commander-in-chief of British forces in the colonies and the crown's appointed governor of Massachusetts. He was serving in this capacity during the events leading to the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Gage was recalled to England in late 1775 and replaced by General William Howe who in turn was replaced by General Sir Henry Clinton in 1778.
John André purchased a commission as second lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1771. In September and October 1775, American troops laid siege to his fort at St. Johns (Québec.) He was captured, brought back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and treated roughly. His days as a prisoner turned him against the American rebels but he was released. In 1778 André joined the staff of General Clinton who made him head of intelligence in April 1779. André successfully kept track of intelligence from American deserters and British prisoners who had escaped or were exchanged. André's most famous success was the treachery of Benedict Arnold. As a result, Clinton promoted André rapidly and by October 1779 he was adjutant general.
On Church's authority Arnold raised a regiment and captured Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775. Arnold returned home triumphantly and joined Washington's Continental Army. Washington then gave him command of an expedition to attack Québec which failed, but Arnold and his men managed to sustain a blockade. During this time, Arnold seriously wounded his knee. For his heroism Congress promoted him to brigadier general on January 10, 1776. Within months Arnold's ego was showing as he threatened to resign when other brigadiers were promoted to major generals, but he was not.
With Washington's encouragement, Arnold joined his forces with others to stop the advance of British General Burgoyne, Colonel Barry St. Leger, and Sir William Howe from the north. Arnold made two heroic attacks against the British, leading to Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga on October 17, 1776. During one of these forays, he was shot in the same leg as before, giving him a serious limp thereafter. Arnold's successes conflicted with his superior, General Horatio Gates (Gates was a pain to everyone around him,) and he was temporality removed from his command.
In 1778 Washington appointed Arnold the military commander of Philadelphia after the British evacuated. In Philadelphia patriots accused him of using using public wagons for private profit and for making money for himself after he closed all the shops in Philadelphia. Patriots also accused him of being to friendly with loyalists. After all, the British had just evacuated Philadelphia, and tensions were high between loyalists and patriots. Arnold then faced a court martial for corruption and resigned his post on March 19, 1779. Soon after resigning, Arnold sold his services to the British.
In May 1779 Arnold sent for Joseph Stansbury, who lived in Philadelphia and opposed armed resistance. Stansbury met with John André who by now was aide-de-camp to General Clinton. In the following months, Arnold provided the British with a variety of military and political secrets.
After leaving his post in Philadelphia Arnold met with Washington and tried to convince him that his troubles as military commander were brought on by loyalist seeking to harm the Continental Army's integrity. Whether Washington accepted this explanation is not clear, but Washington -- ever fair-minded -- promised Arnold the command of West Point which at that time was a small, but very critical, army fort on the Hudson River 90 miles north of New York City.
Arnold's treachery was revealed, however, when André was captured by three militiamen on September 21, 1780. André had a coded message in his shoe from General Clinton to Arnold. The message was an acceptance of Arnold's July 15th offer to surrender West Point for £20,000!
Once the Americans discovered he was a spy, Arnold escaped to New York and published a statement to encourage other Americans to join his cause. This failed but he was made a British brigadier and sent on raids into Virginia. His successful attacks against forts in Virginia and New York permanently marked him as a traitor. After General Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, Arnold and his family sailed back to England with Cornwallis. In Britain, he was not trusted with any military commands and failed as a merchant. He died in London in 1801.
["Sir Henry" in the following text refers to General Sir
July 15, 1780 -- Benedict Arnold to John André (Decoded)
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