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"The Greatest Rascal That Ever Was"
In the same month,
Benedict Arnold arrived in Saint John, where he soon acquired what was
described as "quite a pretentious home" at the corner of King and Canterbury
Streets. It was a 2 1/2 storey wooden building with a gambrel roof pitched
toward King Street. The interior was well finished, the rooms were large, and
several had fireplaces. The King Street entrance was reached by steps leading
to an enclosed porch. Three dormer windows completed the upper story of the
quite substantial residence. One of Arnold's children, George, was born there
.on Sept. 5, 1787. (Arnold had a total of eight offspring: two sons with his
first wife, four sons and one daughter with his second wife, and another son,
born of an unnamed woman in Saint John while his wife was visiting her mother
in Philadelphia. This illegitimate son was named John Gage, and he was treated
as an equal to his other children; he was looked after in Arnold's will.)
In Saint John, Arnold began his business as a merchant,
trading almost entirely with the West Indies. He built a warehouse and office
near the harbour, at the intersection of Charlotte and Broad Streets and, once
established, wasted no time in acquiring additional real estate. At one time
during his time in Saint John he owned a great deal of the property between
Prince William and Germain Streets, as well as large parcels of land in York
and other counties. He built a number of wharves on the Saint John harbour
front and also owned property, including a home, in the new Provincial capital
of Ste. Annes. There is, however, no hard evidence that he ever resided there.
Arnold also commissioned the construction of a 300-ton
sailing ship at Maugerville. But, true to form, relations between the
shipbuilder and Arnold eventually soured. It was reported that the shipbuilder,
Nehemiah Beckwith, believed he had been shortchanged by Arnold, who insisted on
many expensive changes to the original plan, without compensation. The
shortfall was so great that Beckwith was very nearly ruined financially through
his dealings with Arnold. On June 6, 1786, The Gazette reported:
On Thursday last came through the falls of the City, now
moored, a new and noble ship belonging to Brig. Gen. Arnold, upwards of 300
tons, of white oak, the Lord Sheffield, to be commanded by Capt. Alex Cameron.
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 and as such deserve the praise of every well wisher to its
The ship was
Christened "Lord Sheffield" in honour of a man who had championed the Loyalist
cause in England. Serving as master of the vessel, Arnold made numerous trading
forays to the West Indies. The young, personable, and attractive Mrs. Arnold,
proved to be a popular addition to the fledgling social life of Saint John;
exactly the opposite of her overbearing husband, she made numerous friends. She
liked meeting people and liked to hear about their personal concerns and daily
doings. Early, she was lonely, and wrote during one of Arnold's absences about
"being in a strange country, without a creature near me that is really
interested in my life." But she was resilient and was reported to have directed
her household and its affairs "with skill, prudence and success."
In 1786, Arnold formed a
three-way partnership with his son Richard and one Munson Hayt, a former
comrade in the military and now a justice of the peace for York county. Despite
his own bitter experiences with the hardships of indebtedness earlier in his
career, Arnold didn't hesitate to use the courts whenever some unfortunate soul
failed to meet his demands for payments. Between July 25, 1789 and May, 1791,
he filed no fewer than 19 lawsuits against alleged debtors, the rank or
position of the debtor meaning little or nothing to him, as can readily be seen
from his lawsuit against Daniel Murray, a member of the Provincial legislature.
Arnold's business prospered, until July 11, 1788, when
his store was destroyed in a fire. Arnold's son, Henry, was in the building at
the time and narrowly escaped. Shortly after the fire, Arnold's partnership
with Hayt was dissolved, laying the groundwork for a sensational libel action.
Hayt had borrowed varying amounts of money from Arnold
and had given promissory notes for which he was unable to make payments. As
usual, Arnold immediately sought recourse through the Courts for his money.
Several judgements were made in Arnold's favour, amounting to more than 2,500
pounds but, in a display of pettiness, Arnold then issued a second action
against Hayt for 12 pounds, 5 shillings and 3 pence.
Having now been arrested twice, Hayt's growing dislike of Arnold blossomed into
full-blown hatred. Aware that Arnold had taken out insurance of 5000 pounds on
the building and contents of the store on Charlotte and Broad streets, Hayt was
convinced that Arnold had committed arson to claim the insurance money. He
unwisely went public with his views, and declared Arnold to be a blackguard of
the worst type. Court records of the time show that Hayt said: It is not in my
power to blacken your character for it is as black as it can be. I will
convince the Court that you are the greatest rascal that ever was, that you
burnt your own store, and I will prove it." The insurance company, suspicion
aroused, refused to pay the claim until the matter could be resolved.
As could be expected, Arnold commenced an action
for slander against Hayt, hiring Ward Chipman to represent him. Chipman was
former Deputy Master General of the Kings Provincial Forces in New York in
pre-revolutionary days, and had written the charter for the City of Saint John.
Hayt engaged Elias Hardy, attorney and solicitor, whose legal achievements were
It was not surprising that Arnold's great
lawsuit for slander created widespread interest. It began in Saint John before
the Supreme Court with a jury of 12 men on September 7, 1791. The court was
held in an Episcopal church on Germain Street.
the law, the onus was on Hayt to prove the truth of the allegations he had made
against Arnold. But Hayt and his lawyer were hindered in their attack by a
court ruling which severely restricted their asking any questions of witnesses
that might besmirch Arnold's reputation in any matter other than the case in
question. One of Ward Chipman's associates at the time wrote:
The circuit court opens today with Judge Isaac Allen on
the bench. The defamation (Arnold vs Hayt) case comes up on Friday and if they
should have to go into all of the General's transactions in this country, which
is not impossible, it will take some days. The general has thirty witnesses.
About a month ago I went up the River after two black men with the General. We
found one of them on the Main which was to their purpose. One of them went up
with Harry (Henry Arnold) to the top of the store the night that it was burnt
with a candle after some oak to make a boat. There was such an appearance of
veracity, and fear withal of what might be the consequences, their story so
direct which they told without leading question, the declaration that they had
not seen any of the General's family, that no one ever said a word to them
respecting the fire, their strong appearance of truth, candour and simplicity,
which is always visible particularly in black men, altogether is sufficiently
presumptive evidence against anything that Hayt can allege that the store was
burnt otherwise than by accident. Mr. Chipman takes a great deal of pain in the
business and he has told me that it is one of the most hellish plots that ever
was laid for the destruction of a man.
witnesses appeared for the Arnolds, while Hayt's representative called 12
witnesses in his behalf. The court records state:
After the evidence
for the defence was all in, the Plaintiff called witnesses to rebut it, two of
them being his sons (Richard and Henry) who were in the store at the time it
was destroyed by fire. After the charge of Judge Allen, the Jury retired and
upon returning into court with their verdict, there were sitting with the
Judge, Judge Upham, Mayor Campbell, and Aldermen Rogers and Putmen.
The jury returned a verdict of slander against Hayt, and
Arnold was vindicated, although awarded only a tiny fraction of the £5000
he had claimed in damages. The insurance company was obliged to pay as well.
Despite his vindication,
the cloud over Arnold's head remained, and there was widespread suspicion in
the community. On one occasion, a group of citizens, possibly urged on by Hayt,
assembled in front of Arnold's home and burnt him in effigy. The disturbance
was so intense that British troops were called from Fort Howe and the
Magistrate was required to read the Riot Act. The troops showed little
enthusiasm in their task of defending Arnold.
Arnold, his wife, and probably his children, were by now totally weary of the
hostility of many of the townspeople of Saint John. They had, it is true, made
lifelong friends with a select few, particularly Ward Chipman and his wife, but
the atmosphere was such that they could hardly bear to appear in public.
In September, l791, the following advertisement appeared in
the local press:
Public Auction at the house of
General Arnold, King Street, Thursday, 22 Sept., at 11 o'clock, if fair
weather, if not, the first fine day:
OF HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE comprising excellent feather beds, mahogany four
post bedsteads, with furniture; a set of excellent Cabriole chairs, covered
with blue damask, sofas and curtains to match; Card, tea and other tables,
looking glasses, a Secretary desk and book-case, fire screens, girandoles,
lustres, an easy and sedan chair, with a great variety other furniture.
Likewise: An elegant set of Wedgewood Gilt ware, two tea
table sets of Nankeen China, a variety of glassware, a Terrestrial Globe. Also
a double Wheel Jack, and a great quantity of kitchen furniture. Also, a Lady's
elegant Saddle and Bridle.
John Chaloner, Auctioneer
Saint John, N.B. Sept.6,1791
That same year, Arnold
left New Brunswick with his family, to return to England. He had lived and
worked in Saint John for six years. Controversy followed him, and in 1792 he
engaged in a duel with the Hon. James Hartland, Earle of Lauderdale, at which
Lord Hawke, son of the famous Admiral Hawke, was his second.
He continued to pursue his trade with the West Indies, and
in 1794 was reported to have rendered great service to the Sovereign by
supplying intelligence of enemy activities in that area. In 1798 the King
granted l3,400 acres of land in Upper Canada to Arnold for "gallant and
meritorious service at Guadaloupe."
For several years
after leaving Saint John, the Arnolds corresponded, and even exchanged gifts,
with friends there. In one letter that survives, Mrs. Arnold wrote to Mrs.
Chipman, "We hear of much gaiety in your little city... I shall always regret
my separation from my valuable friends, among the first of whom I shall always
reckon Mrs. Chipman."
In another letter Arnold wrote,
"The little property that was saved from the hands of a lawless mob and more
unprincipled judges in New Brunswick is perfectly safe here, as well as our
persons from insult. I cannot help viewing your city as a shipwreck from which
I have escaped."
still in his fifties, Arnold's health began to fail him and he was never able
to return to Canada. He died in England on June l4, l801, aged 60. At his
death, he still owned the land in Saint John, which he bequeathed to his wife
and children. Peggy Arnold, named as executrix in his will, showed great skill
in coming to grips with the complicated problems of Arnold's estate. She later
wrote, with some understandable pride:
I have paid
every ascertained debt due from the Estate of my late lamented husband, within
four or five hundred pounds, and this I have the means of discharging. I will
not attempt to describe to you the toil it has been for me; but may without
vanity add, that few women could have effected what I have done.
She spoke of Arnold as "the best of husbands," and deplored
"the loss of a husband whose affection for unbounded." To her children she
I have rescued your father's memory from
disrespect, by paying all his just debts, and his children will now never have
the mortification of being reproached with his speculations having injured
anybody beyond his own family; and his motives, not the unfortunate
termination, will be considered by them, and his memory will be doubly dear to
In one final wifely tribute, she wrote:
His solicitude was in itself so praiseworthy, and so
disinterested, and never induced him to deviate from rectitude, that his
children should ever reverence his memory.
in London in 1804, age 45.
The last of the Saint John
real estate, still in the Arnold family name, was sold on January 4,1839, to
one Samuel Halbett. And that transaction was the last ever to involve Benedict
Arnold in Saint John.
There is, finally the story told
of one of his sons, James, an officer in the Royal Engineers, who revisited
Saint John in 1819 and, on seeing the old home at King and Canterbury streets,
"wept as a child". In 1830, James was appointed aide-de-camp to King William
It is widely agreed
that Arnold's war record was exceptional, and he is generally considered to
have been the outstanding battle field officer of the American Revolution. But
Americans are unlikely to agree that he should be remembered for anything other
than his unforgivable treachery. And Arnold and his family fared little better
with the Loyalist of Saint John, where his reputation as a turncoat
overshadowed any of his accomplishments.
remains, to this day in Saint John, N.B., and almost everywhere, "unwept,
unhonoured, and unsung." It is perhaps unnecessary, but safe, to say we will
never see his like again. But every once in a while the words "Benedict Arnold"
are flung, always intended as insult. For him a fitting epitaph might be, "Old
soldiers never die."
Louis Quigley is a writer living in Riverview. He is
currently working on a book on Benedict Arnold. This article is was taken from
The New Brunswick Reader, November
Benedict Arnold article sparked
might be interested in reaction to my article about Benedict Arnold and his
Saint John years, "The Greatest Rascal That Ever Was" (The Reader, November 15,
First, many calls were
received from throughout the province, and then the article was picked up by
the CBC, Toronto. I was interviewed at length on the program This Morning,
and the host, Michael Enright, was keenly interested in the subject and in
the city. He described the area around King Square and the Loyalist Burial
Ground as "a wonderful place," and he implied that Saint John is in an ideal
position to attract multitudes of American tourists, given its proximity to New
England and its wealth of heritage sites.
I was then
interviewed for another national CBC program, Ideas, to discuss other
aspects of Arnold's life. CBC-TV has also suggested the possibility of doing a
piece on the national noon-hour show. And finally, the History network is
looking at doing a program on Saint John and its heritage.
All of this only
strengthens my opinion that Saint John has more potential historical sites
which would be a major attraction to tourists than any other location in the
Atlantic Provinces. The development of this potential would likely create a new
and continuing major industry in the city, with many jobs and other economic
spin-offs, such as Halifax now enjoys.
work and effort has already been done (e.g. preservation work on the City
Market, the restructuring of the Loyalist Burial Ground, the Imperial Theatre,
the Trinity Area preservation plan, Market Square, etc.), but there are other
major projects which could go a long way to putting Saint John in the big
leagues as a tourism destination.
The reconstruction of Fort Howe, as it appeared in 1780
The rebuilding of Fort Latour, as it appeared in 1635
The restoration of
Partridge Island (Canada's Ellis Island)
The go-ahead for the construction
of the Marco Polo replica
The building of a facsimile of Benedict Arnold's
home at or near Canterbury and King
National recognition of the arrival of
Champlain and DeMonts on the 400th anniversary (2004)
To adopt a
plan to move on all of these may seem idealistic, but if considered as a
mega-project which would re-invigorate the economy and employment picture of
Saint John and the province, it is well worth considering. If the efforts of
all levels of government, the corporate level, service clubs, labour groups,
and all the citizens were to be mobilized, then its realization is entirely
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