Today, September 6, 1781: Benedict Arnold Orders New London, CT Burned to Ground

One of Benedict Arnold’s ancestors, by the name of Benedict Arnold, was one of the founders and settlers of Rhode Island, making the Arnold family one of the most respected and revered families in the new colony. Arnold’s father, Benedict Arnold Sr., was a very successful businessman in Norwich, Connecticut. Upon losing three of his children to yellow fever, Arnold Sr. began drinking heavily.

On January 14, 1741, Benedict Arnold Jr., was born in January, 1741 in Norwich, Connecticut. He was well educated in private schools.

Sometime in the early 1750s, three of Arnold Jr.’s siblings died of yellow fever and his father took the loss very hard and began drinking heavily, causing him to run into financial difficulty. Arnold Jr., ended up leaving school and becoming an apprentice to an apothecary.

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In 1757, Arnold Jr. joined the militia and helped fight the French in upstate New York.

In 1759, Arnold Jr.’s mother also died of yellow fever and Arnold Sr. was arrested numerous times due to his drunkenness. Arnold Jr. returned home to help take care of his sister and father.

In 1761, Benedict Arnold Sr. died.

In 1764, Arnold Jr., who was working as a pharmacist and bookseller, entered into a business partnership. It was also the time when Arnold Jr. joined the Sons of Liberty, a then secret organization that was opposed to the recent British trade restrictions and taxation acts.

In 1767, Benedict Arnold Jr. married the daughter of the sheriff of New Haven, Connecticut where he then resided. By 1772, Arnold and his wife have three sons. He was said to have a charisma that helped make him popular and respected, helping him to become a Captain in the Governor’s Second Company of Guards.

In 1775, after hearing about the outbreak of violence at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, Arnold and his militia troop marched out to join the battle against the British. He quickly teamed up with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys from Vermont and together they set off to capture Fort Ticonderoga in New York from the British.

On May 10, 1775, Arnold and Allen surprised the British at Fort Ticonderoga and captured the fort. After Allen’s men broke into the British rum and got drunk, Arnold did what he could to regain order, causing a rift between him and Allen. At the time, Arnold got into an argument with Colonel James Easton. Arnold was so upset and offended that he challenged Easton to a duel, but Easton refused. Afterwards, Arnold, also a Colonel by this time, was ordered to report to the command of Colonel Benjamin Hinman. Upset, Arnold dismissed his men and soon discovered that they had been recruited by Easton, which angered him immensely. Arnold ended up returning to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he was less than warmly welcomed by the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. When Arnold submitted for his expenses, he received far less than his submission. An attorney by the name of Silas Deane took Arnold’s case to the Continental Congress who ended up reimbursing the balance of Arnold’s expenses.

In June 1775, the Continental Congress appoints George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Not long after, Washington provides a list of names of men he wanted to receive commissions in his army. Among those names was Benedict Arnold, who ended up receiving a commission as a Colonel. He was placed under the command of General Philip Schuyler who pretty much gave Arnold free reign to carry out his own plans. Arnold’s plans included attacking and capturing Quebec, Canada, but he found the terrain and weather worked against him.

Approaching Quebec, Arnold sent a message to Schuyler informing him of his plans to take Quebec. The message was dispatched using an Indian scout that was thought to be trustworthy, but he wasn’t. The message ended up in the hands of the British who were able to get reinforcements before Arnold was able to attack. Due to the cold winter weather, terrain and other conditions, Arnold had lost a sizeable number of his men due to desertion.

When Arnold was prepared to attack Quebec, his plans were thwarted for three days by heavy rains and mud. Arnold decided to wait for help from Colonel Richard Montgomery, but he never came because Arnold’s message never got through. Arnold had planned to have Montgomery attack from a different direction and together they could take the city. Montgomery arrived later but ended up falling in battle. Arnold was wounded in the leg and Daniel Morgan took over his command. Around the same time, smallpox began to spread through Arnold’s troops, causing more of them to desert and head home.

Even though the Battle of Quebec was an utter failure for the Patriots, Washington praised Arnold for his actions and promoted him to Brigadier General. He was sent to Montreal where he met with delegates from the Continental Congress with peace offers for the British, but the efforts failed. Before leaving Montreal, Arnold looted much of the city’s supplies.

In 1776, Arnold faced legal action for his plundering of Montreal. Arnold, a man of extreme pride, got into a number of arguments with fellow officers with one argument led to Arnold demanding the officer be court martialed. At the military hearing, Arnold’s anger erupted in the court and the judges demanded an apology but Arnold refused and ordered his arrest. Arnold was saved by General Horatio Gates who believed they needed men of such conviction and vigor to battle the British.

Arnold was given command of a fleet of 15 ships and ordered to Ticonderoga. When he was confronted by the British, he lost 10 of his 15 ships and he was defeated, but not before he showed the British some American resolve. However, Arnold’s critics were growing in number and he saw a number of junior officers being promoted ahead of him so he headed to Philadelphia to get answers. On the way, he encountered and won over a troop of British and was subsequently promoted to Major General, but was not afforded the seniority that went along with the new rank. This matter greatly disgruntled Arnold so he appealed to Congress, but they refused to give him the seniority. Washington even wrote a letter to Congress on Arnold’s behalf but Congress still refused.

In July, 1777, Arnold resigned his commission out of anger of his treatment. Almost immediately, he found out that Washington had recommended that Arnold assist General Schuyler near Ticonderoga and not wanting to pass up the opportunity, asked his resignation to be delayed but again asked to have his seniority restored but again Congress refused.

Arnold found himself and his forces under the command of General Gates at the Battle of Saratoga. Arnold wanted to attack ahead of the rest of the American forces, but Gates refused and held Arnold back. The two men argued and didn’t get along after that. At one point, Arnold expected Gates to send him reinforcements but instead, Gates had taken some of Arnold’s men without his knowledge. Gates ended up pulling all of Arnold’s command from him on grounds of insubordination. Confined to tent, Arnold had enough and order his horse and charged into battle without having any permission or command status. Seeing Arnold charging forth, the American forces renewed their efforts and pushed through the British lines, securing the victory. During the battle, his horse was shot and fell, injuring Arnold’s leg that had previously been wounded, leaving him crippled. The victory at Saratoga was enough to get France to agree to come to America’s aid in the Revolutionary War against the British.

Then when Gates reported the battle details to Congress and omitted giving any credit to Arnold, the hot-headed Arnold had enough. However, Congress found out that it was Arnold’s actions that led to the victory at Saratoga and subsequently restored his seniority, but Arnold was so upset with Congress that he still harbored a resentment against them.

Still in good favor with Washington, Arnold spent the winter of 1777-1778 with Washington’s forces at Valley Forge. Arnold signed an Oath of Allegiance to his country on May 30, 1778 and subsequently appointed as the commandant of Philadelphia after the British left the city. There, Arnold met 18-year-old Peggy Shippen, the daughter of Judge Edward Shippen. Arnold married Shippen and then proceeded to live beyond his means causing him to start procuring a number of government supplies for his own personal use. His actions were noticed by Congress who filed charges against Arnold for his actions. Despite Arnold’s tempered defense, he was found guilty and court martialed on two charges.

By May 1779, Arnold had begun negotiations with the British. His pride had been smeared by the Continental Congress and he was not a forgiving man. When the British offered Arnold over £10,000 and full commission in the British Army, Arnold made the jump and betrayed his country.

In 1780, Arnold committed one of his most notorious actions when he attempted to sell West Point to the British for a bribe of £20,000.

By 1781, Benedict Arnold had become a Brigadier General in the British Army.

On this day, September 6, 1781, British General Benedict Arnold Jr., ordered his British troops to burn and destroy the town of New London, Connecticut. New London was a major supply location for the Continental Army and knowing that information Arnold ordered the entire town to be reduced to ashes to prevent the American Patriots from obtaining an of the supplies they so vitally needed.

The supplies at New London were only protected by Patriot Captain Adam Sharpley and 24 men. With the help of local Loyalists, Arnold’s men quickly dispatched Sharpley and the colonial guards. Once Sharpley was forced to retreat, Arnold’s British forces looted everything they could and then they set fire to every building in the town.

After the war, Arnold lived in London, but was not well greeted or trusted by many there, so he and his young bride moved to Canada where they were also reviled, forcing him to move back to London. He tried to renew his shipping business, but his ventures failed. He died in 1801 in relative obscurity.

Ever since that time, the name Benedict Arnold has always been synonymous with someone being a traitor.


Sources for the above includes: The Burning of New London; Benedict Arnold Turns and Burns New London; History of The Battle of Groton Heights and The Burning of New London; Arnold`s Raid on New London; Arnold Orders Burning of New London; Benedict Arnold Biography; Benedict Arnold; Why Benedict Arnold Turned Traitor Against the American Revolution



Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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