Letter, Benedict Arnold to George Washington pleading for mercy for his wife, 25 September 1780
Reproduction number: A80 (color slide; page 1); A81 (color slide; page 2)
Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) of the Continental army had fought gallantly for the American side since the beginning of the Revolutionary War. With Ethan Allen (1738-1789), he captured Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, led an unsuccessful assault on Quebec that same year, stopped the British movement from Canada down Lake Champlain in 1776, repulsed the British in the Mohawk Valley and aided in forcing Gen. John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga in 1777, and a year later assumed command of American troops in Philadelphia. But by spring 1779, Arnold had begun a treasonous correspondence with the British, motivated partly by greed for money, partly by his opposition to the French alliance of 1778, and partly by his resentment towards authorities who had reprimanded him for irregularities during his command in Philadelphia.
In 1780, Arnold asked Gen. George Washington (1732-1799) for command of the American fortress at West Point, New York, which he was given. Shortly thereafter, on 23 September 1780, Arnold's attempt to surrender West Point to the British was uncovered with the arrest of Maj. John André (1751-1780), the British spy with whom he had plotted. Two days later, when Arnold heard of Andre's arrest, he fled to the Vulture, a British warship on the Hudson River. That same day, he wrote this letter to Washington, begging help for his wife, the young and beautiful Margaret ("Peggy") Shippen Arnold (1760-1804). Solicitous for a young lady's welfare and unaware of her participation in her husband's duplicitous dealings with the British, Washington provided an escort for Mrs. Arnold back to her family home in Philadelphia. There authorities forced her to flee to her husband in New York. During the remainder of the Revolutionary War, Arnold served as a brigadier general in the British army, leading raids on Virginia and Connecticut. After the war, he and his family moved to England, where he died in 1801, his name having become synonymous with traitor in the United States.