Saint John New Brunswick
Benedict Arnold

Treachery and Fidelity
The Love Letters of Benedict Arnold reveal a true heart

By Louis Quigley


Colonel Benedict Arnold    In September 1780, Arnold was commander of the fortress of West Point. He had planned to defect to the British here, but the plot was uncovered prematurely and he was forced to flee. In his flight from the Americans, Arnold had to leave Peggy and their newly born child behind.

   Within days of his safe escape, he wrote to Commander-in-chief George Washington:

    "Sir: ... I have no favour to ask of myself. I have too often experienced the ingratitude of my country to attempt it; but from the known humanity of your Excellency, I am induced to ask your protection for Mrs. Arnold from every Insult and injury that a mistaken vengeance of my country may expose her to. It ought to fall only on me. She is as good and innocent as an angel, and is incapable of doing wrong. I beg she may be permitted to return to her friends in Philadelphia, or to come to me, as she may choose. From your Excellency I have no fears on her account, but she may suffer from the mistaken fury of the country. I have to request that the inclosed letter may be delivered to Mrs. Arnold, and she be permitted to write to me. I have the honour to be, with great regard and esteem, your Excellency's most obedient, humble, servant. B. Arnold"

    Washington, ever gallant, allowed Peggy to return to her father's home in Philadelphia. But the hostility shown to her by the public soon forced her to leave, and she rejoined her husband in New York. Arnold served with the rank of Brigadier General in the British army, perhaps the only person in military history to have held the rank of general on opposing sides in the same war.

    Eventually, the military tide turned in favour of the Revolutionaries, and Britain conceded defeat. The revolution had succeeded.

    Arnold now found that he and his family were in a totally untenable position. With American warrants out for his capture or death, he and his family moved temporarily to England. But in 1785 he decided to return to British North America and he and his family moved to Saint John. He established a successful trading business, but his overbearing attitude and his renown as a traitor won him few friends, even among the Loyalists.

    While Peggy was well-liked and played a part in the fledgling society of Saint John, public hostility forced Arnold to return with his family to England, in December 1791.

    From England, both Arnold and his wife continued correspondence and exchanged gifts with acquaintances in Saint John, While many of their letters contains idle chatter or business matters, some reveal that the Arnold family remained united and loving to the end:

    August 16, 1792- Benedict to a friend in Saint John:

   "We feel ourselves much obliged to you and Mrs. Chipman for the kindly concern you expressed for the sufferings on the voyage to England, and for your good wishes. We have the pleasure to assure you that we enjoy tolerable health, and find this country full as pleasant as Saint John, though we much regret the loss of the little friendly society we had there."

    November 30, 1792 From Peggy to a friend in Saint John:

    I have sent flannel hose, socks and a pair of gloves and I beg Mr. Chipman to accept them for use in case of gout. I hear much of the gaiety of your little city ... I shall always regret my separation from many valuable friends among the first I shall always reckon Mrs. Chipman."

   June 4, 1795 Letter from Peggy to a friend:

    "I hope to have the pleasure of seeing General Arnold, whose long absence has been rendered doubly painful by the many dangers he has encountered ... Our misfortunes in the West Indies and the desertion of our Allies, make the situation of Public Affairs critical and alarming. . ."

    Sept. 5, 1795 Arnold to a friend:

    "I have the pleasure to say that my little family are all well. They are Excellent Scholars and have lately carried most of the prizes in the Academy. They speak French as well as English. If you was not a fond Father yourself I should apologize for troubling you with the history of my little family."

    Sept. 19, 1800-Arnold to his barrister, Saint John:

    "I am sorry to say that Mrs. Arnold's health at times is indifferent occasioned by a fullness of habit which frequently affects her head, with a giddiness that renders it not only painful, but dangerous for her to write ... she has lately been much distressed in parting with our eldest Son, Edward, who left us for India, where he goes to Bengal under the Patronage of Lord Cornwallis ... he is much beloved & respected by all his acquaintance . . James our second son is in the same line, he has been at Girbraltar, where he has lately been selected from all the young officers to go to Malta. Sophia is grown very tall, but very delicate, we hope when she has done growing that her health will be better established. George & William are fine Boys coming on well, you who know the feelings of a Parent will indulge one in saying so much of my young Family."

Arnold and wife, from a drawing by Howard Pyle    Arnold, contrary to the image portrayed by some American biographers, showed no public remorse, nor did he lapse into long periods of depression. He remained active and interested in both national and international affairs, but financial success seems to have eluded him. He kept in good health generally until the last six months of his life.

    In the year 1801 a brief obituary appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine:

    "June 14, at his house in Gloucester Place, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold. His remains were interred on the 21 at Brompton. Seven mourning coaches and four state carriages formed the cavalcade."

    Dec. 25, 1801 From Peggy Arnold to a friend in Saint John:

    "Your truly kind letter, my dear friend, is as a balm to my wounded mind; sincerely tried in the school of affliction. a most severe blow it has indeed proved such as I have scarcely been able to support ... the constant anxiety of mind I have endured for the last twelve months, added to almost total loss of rest, have broken my spirits, and injured my constitution, and but for my children, I have not a wish to live ... you know the solicitude of their beloved and lamented father to render them independent; you have probably heard of his last unsuccessful speculation, which not only proved injurious to his property, but I am convinced, by producing a train of nervous disorders brought on complaints, which hastened his end. His confidence in me during his life, he fully evinced in his will ... I am preparing to quit the house provided for me, with his usual liberality, by my dear departed friend; but it is too large and expensive for my present means. My future life must be wholly devoted to promoting the interests of my darling children rendered doubly dear to me from the severe loss they have sustained . . ."

   When he died, Arnold still owned extensive land holdings in New Brunswick, most of it in Saint John, he bequeathed all of it to Peggy and the children.

    Peggy showed great skill in coming to grips with the complicated problems of the 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."

    1802, she wrote to her children:

    "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 them."

    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."

    Peggy Arnold died in London on August 24, 1804, at the age of 44.

   Louis Quigley lives in Riverview. He is writing a biography of Benedict Arnold.