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"The Greatest Rascal That Ever Was"
Benedict Arnold is the most
infamous traitor in American history.
He didn't make too many friends
during his six years in Saint John, either.
Louis Quigley delves into Arnold's litigious
dealings in the Loyalist city.
gallant saviour of the American Revolution, one of the legitimate Fathers of
the United States of America? Or despised scoundrel, and traitor to the
patriots of the fledgling country?
As difficult as it
may be for present-day Americans to accept, Benedict Arnold was quite probably
both. Without him, the new country would almost certainly have died at birth.
For in those early revolutionary days, Benedict Arnold was a major star, an
inspirational and shining example to the patriots. That fate would later decree
differently makes for one of the most fascinating sagas in history.
Doubtless, Benedict Arnold's name could have been enshrined
among the greatest heroes in the history of the United States. He might even
have become president. Instead, his name even today is synonymous with
treachery. He is remembered as a turncoat, and in the more than two centuries
that have passed, he has had few defenders.
CANADIANS should have a special interest in
Benedict Arnold because, for six years after the American revolution, he and
his family lived and worked in Saint John, N.B. Even there, controversy
followed him, and it was there that he was forced to concede one of the few
defeats in his lifetime.
In the spring of 1783, from the
heights of Fort Howe, in what is now Saint John, soldiers of His Majesty,
George the Third, had been scanning the horizon for more than a week, Then, the
first sail was sighted in the bay, just beyond Partridge Island. This was to be
the beginning of one of the most tumultuous and chaotic episodes through summer
and autumn, a flood. And when the last boat had disembarked the last of its
human cargo, thousands of women, men and children had been put ashore. (At that
time the settlement was known as Parrtown, County of Sunbury. Province of Nova
Scotia.) The site was mostly untamed wilderness, yet the settlement's
population was to quadruple in less than one year.
One of the early settlers
recorded her emotions as she began to prepare for her future life. (She would,
incidentally, one day be the grandmother of Sir Leonard Tilley, a Father of
Confederation.) She wrote:
I climbed to the top of
Chipman's Hill and watched the sails disappear, and such a lonely feeling came
over me that, although I had not shed a tear through all the war, I sat down on
the damp moss with my baby in my lap and cried.
weeks later, another new arrival, Sarah Frost, wrote: "This morning it looks
very pleasant on the shore..." Later the same day, she observed:
It is now afternoon and I have
been ashore. It is, I think, the roughest land I ever saw... But this is to be
the city, they say!... We are all ordered to land tomorrow and not a shelter to
They were refugees, the Loyalists. Like
refugees everywhere, most were probably near exhaustion, overwhelmed by a
bizarre mix of emotions: despair, fear and hope, as ill-prepared for their new
country as it was to receive them. They had gambled that Great Britain would
win, and they had lost. And, because of their loyalty to the Crown, they had
been the targets of abuse by the vengeful and zealous patriots. With their
properties and possessions seized, most faced personal ruin. A few were
heartened to see the British flag high on the hill, but most saw only a bleak
and uncertain future.
They were an ideal mix of
immigrants, versed in public service, the law, medicine and community planning.
Many were skilled tradesmen and merchants. For the most part hard-working,
God-fearing, and determined, they were, within two short years, greatly
dissatisfied with dominance by Halifax and, over the objections of the colonial
governor, successfully petitioned King George, to proclaim the sovereign
province of New Brunswick separate but equal to Nova Scotia, and to enact a
charter creating the City of Saint John as Canada's first incorporated city.
Some of the Loyalists moved on to the new capital of Ste. Anne's, now
Fredericton; others homesteaded in the river valley.
BARELY two years after the first
Loyalists had landed, a brig arrived in the same harbour, carrying its owner,
Benedict Arnold. He also planned to build a new life in Saint John, and he was
equally hard working and determined. But that's just about where the similarity
with the Loyalists ended.
He was not a refugee, but an
immigrant - a unique immigrant at that. And he was far from destitute. He had
come from England, though he had lived most of his life in the American
colonies. His military bearing was evident, but he was battle-scarred, walking
with a slight limp, often with a cane. One leg was shorter than the other, the
result of war wounds. In height he was not more than five feet nine inches and
his features were not exceptional, but his weathered face, large clear blue
eyes and his boundless energy were somehow magnetic. Emotions such as fear,
despair and even hope appeared to be foreign to him. And there was one other
characteristic which set him apart, probably more than all the others: it was
his reputation, which had preceded him, His name was known throughout North
America, Great Britain, and continental Europe. Infamous rather than famous, he
was admired by few and reviled by most.
Connecticut in 1741, he grew up in the pre-revolutionary American Colonies and,
as prospects for a war of independence from Great Britain loomed, he offered
his services to the patriots. He rose rapidly and eventually attained the most
senior rank, Major-General of the Continental Army. He played a major role in
some of the most notable victories achieved by the revolutionaries, such as the
battles of Ticonderoga and Saratoga. In the course of those events, he was
praised by General Washington for his leadership and outstanding personal
bravery, while simultaneously becoming embroiled in a number of controversial
issues which questioned his integrity and which resulted in unfavourable public
"The General's laudable efforts to
promote the interests of this infant colony have during his short residence
been very productive to its commercial advantage."
Gradually, Arnold came to believe that his services were not
adequately appreciated and, always conscious of his image and his role in
history, he decided to throw in his lot with the British. He defected in 1780,
and was almost immediately appointed to the rank of Brigadier General of the
British Army. He fought several successful campaigns on the British side. When
in 1783 the Americans emerged victorious in the war, Arnold and his family
moved briefly to England, but he eventually decided that economic prospects
were much more favourable on the American continent, and in 1783 he moved to
Saint John. En route, he visited briefly in Halifax.
Halifax he met an old acquaintance, lawyer Samson Blowers, who wasted no time
in sending the news of Arnold's imminent arrival to his old friend and
classmate, Ward Chipman, in Saint John. As the wording of Blowers' message
implies, Arnold was not held in high esteem:
Chipman: ... Will you believe General Arnold is here from England in a brig of
his own, as he says, reconnoitring the country. He is bound for your city,
which he will of course prefer to Halifax, and settle with you. Give you joy of
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