19 QCAHMP Benedict Arnold A Thief in Command
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How did Benedict Arnold abuse his role as the “Commander in Chief of the United States of America, in the city of Philadelphia” for his personal gain? What do we know about his relationships with Peggy Shippen and a woman known as “the Belle of Boston”? We will learn the answer to these questions in this episode.
In the past two editions, we have learned about how Benedict Arnold’s narcissism prompted him to clash with Ethan Allen and the Continental Congress. We have also learned how his risk taking behavior led to a reputation for valor, but also how the troops who served under him were placed in harm’s way because of the goals he set.
But how did he change after he was placed in a position of power that was not associated with a battlefield? Although he remained a part of the military, his new role would involve interacting with the residents of Philadelphia rather than the enemy.
Amongst his other accusations of Benedict Arnold, John Brown once prophetically said: “Money is this man’s God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country.” Although the Congressional record described Brown’s other allegations of Arnold as “cruel” and “groundless”, he seems to have been spot on with that particular point.
After Arnold was again wounded in the Battle of Saratoga, his sacrifice was barely acknowledged by General Gates in a letter to the Continental Congress. Of course, Gates’ failure to acknowledge Arnold was in no small part because Arnold clashed with Gates over power and strategic decision-making just as he had with Ethan Allen. The difference at Saratoga was that Gates was clearly the superior officer, and, like Arnold, sought recognition for his leadership and valor. Therefore, he was only too willing to minimize any credit which rightly belonged to Arnold. I might add that there is some controversy as to whether Arnold was even present on the field during certain key points of the battle. But that is a podcast unto itself!
Arnold once again sought rescue from George Washington. Washington had been angered by Gates’ decision to write of his victory directly to the Continental Congress, and he suspected that Gates sought to replace him as the Commander of the Continental Army. As you will recall from the previous episode, Arnold attempted to resign because of his nonpromotion and wrote to Washington of the “ingratitude of my country.” No doubt that his experience at the Battle of Saratoga only served to deepen his resentments. Due to Arnold’s physical limitations caused by multiple injuries in battle, Washington decided to place him at Philadelphia in the role of military commander after the British withdrew from the city in June, 1778.
On June 19, 1778, Washington ordered Arnold to take command of the troops in Philadelphia and bring order to the city. He instructed Arnold: “You will take every prudent step in your power, to preserve tranquillity and order in the city,”He also instructed Arnold to enforce the Congressional resolve to “prevent the removal transfer, or sale of any goods, wares, or merchandise, in possession of the inhabitants of the city, ’till the property of them can be ascertained in the mode directed.”
What you should know about Philadelphia was that it was a city on the edge. The British had occupied the city since September 26, 1777. When they left the city on June 18, 1778, the people who lived there were left in turmoil. Patriots who had lived in fear during the British occupation began to voice their anger not only toward the British but toward their neighbors, who were loyalists, as well. Thousands of British sympathizers fled to New Jersey, and ultimately to New York. What would happen to their property? Those who remained feared public beating, humiliation, or destruction of their homes. Merchants feared confiscation of their goods, and many were left holding large unpaid debts from British soldiers.
Added to the problems Arnold faced was the other primary task given to him by his commander. The British hoped that many of the goods and supplies remaining in Philadelphia would find their way to New York. That migration would create a vacuum, in essence, because the British had begun to prevent importation of goods into the colonies. Washington, and those in the Congress, sought to restrain goods and property from leaving the city, and eventually the property of many loyalists was indeed confiscated and kept under guard by the Pennsylvania Militia.
Upon his arrival in the city, on June 19th, Arnold issued a proclamation in his new role as “Commander in Chief of the United States of American, in the city of Philadelphia.” He immediately prohibited the sale of merchandise outside of the city and issued a proclamation ordering “all persons having European East or West India goods iron leather shoes wines and provisions of every kind beyond the necessary use of a private family are ordered to make return of the same to the Town Major at his quarters in Front street the fourth door from the Coffee house by twelve o clock tomorrow.” Violation of Arnold’s order, harboring property belonging to those who had fled with the British, as well as British soldiers or deserters from the Continental Army faced severe punishments.
After instituting martial law and establishing a presence in the city, Arnold chose his support staff. Those choices were, at best, worth the raising of an eyebrow. The men he chose were neither particularly popular with other Philadelphians, nor did they have extensive experience with civilian matters. Although Major David Solebury Franks was a Philadelphian, a merchant himself, and had served with Arnold at the Battle of Saratoga. He also reportedly had ties to British sympathizers in New York. Arnold also chose Mathew Clarkson, whose daughter had ties with the daughter of another British sympathizer, Judge Shippen.
Although Arnold was complying with Washington’s goal of preventing goods and merchandise from being removed from Philadelphia, or at least it appeared that way on the surface, it was he who then bore the angry brunt of merchants and residents alike.
It would seem that soon after taking command of the city, Arnold became aware of both the difficulties of assuming such a managerial role, as well as his lack of interest in the job. He petitioned George Washington on July 19, 1778 to consider placing him in command of a naval vessel, which would return him to his much beloved station in battle but, of course, would not require him to use his damaged leg. Washington preferred to keep Arnold in Philadelphia. He might not have made that choice if he had learned of the other activities that Arnold was engaging in at that moment.
During the summer of 1778, Benedict Arnold did seem to enjoy the social benefits associated with his new post. He was entertained by notables of Philadelphia society including the Shippen family. It was at one such event he met Peggy Shippen.
You will recall the discussion of Benedict Arnold’s narcissism in the previous edition. What do we know about the people who narcissists tend to seek out as partners? A narcissist will often seek a relationship with someone who will focus on his needs and feed his ego. A narcissist will move from one dramatic moment to the next in order to keep the spotlight on himself, and his core insecurities require his partner to constantly reassure and admire him. Because of these needs, you might guess that a narcissist is generally uncomfortable remaining unattached for long periods of time. Additionally, because of his grandiose belief that he is special, a narcissist often will pursue someone that others would desire for a partner. Based upon these general assumptions, is it any wonder that Benedict Arnold would seek out younger, beautiful, and socially prominent women as partners? We can see this in his two wives, as well as a young woman he courted in Boston.
You will recall that I speculated Arnold became interested in his first wife, Margaret Mansfield, not only because of her beauty, but because she was the daughter of the high sheriff. Although he mourned Margaret’s death in June, 1775, as the year 1778 dawned, Benedict Arnold was writing words of undying love to another woman. Her name was Betsy Deblois, and she was known as “the belle of Boston.”
Arnold was not put off by her family’s well-known loyalist leanings. Nor did he intend to settle, as they say, for an older or less attractive woman merely because he was a widower with three young children. How beautiful was she? John Quincy Adams wrote of her beauty even though she had reached the ripe old age of 27. You might recall Arnold coarsely wrote of breaking a soldier’s head in his Fort Ticonderoga field journal, but when he wrote to Betsy, he wrote of his heart that languished in despair as he wrote to her with “trembling hands” because of her feigned indifference. When she politely told Arnold once again she was not interested, he wrote to her that “You might as well wish me to exist without breathing as to cease to love you” and sent her a ring of rose-coloured gold set with four irregular diamonds. Alas, when Betsy shunned him again, Arnold took what must have been drafts of his letters to her and sulked off to Philadelphia.
If you would like to those love letters, as well as learn of who he attempted to enlist to help soften the beautiful Betsey’s heart, please listen complete version of this podcast.
His pursuit of the beautiful Betsey was typical of a narcissist. Once a narcissist has identified someone who meets his criteria, he engages in something of a hyper-vigilant campaign to overwhelm his intended significant other. He will project the image of a near perfect suitor, as defined by his intended, and seeks to almost worship that person until she believes she has found the man of her dreams. Of course, that phase ends, but the other phases of a relationship with a narcissist are the topic of another podcast.
Only months after stating he would just a soon perish if Betsy would not agree to be with him, he fell head over heels for 17 year old Peggy Shippen. Also included in the complete version of this podcast is a letter that Arnold wrote to Peggy which contained phrases and expressions which closely reflected his words to Betsey Deblois.
Peggy was not only beautiful and young, but she was from a prominent family in Philadelphia. Her father, Edward Shippen IV, was the grandson of the founder of Princeton, as well as the first mayor of Philadelphia. The Shippen family had long ties with the powerful Penn family, and Edward Shippen had served as an admiralty court judge, been a part of the Pennsylvania Provincial Council, and sat on the Supreme Council of Pennsylvania. Her father’s political ties not only fostered a deep interest in politics, but also granted her entrée into the Philadelphia social scene. Although the Shippen family have often been branded as loyalists they had entertained both Benedict Arnold and George Washington before the British occupation. During the occupation of Philadelphia, they socialized with British officers as well. Although Peggy’s father was not thrilled with a middle age suitor who already had three children, it is said that he agreed to allow the relationship to progress in order to avoid Peggy’s promised hysterical response if he decided otherwise.
Of course, Peggy had been socially active well before Arnold arrived in Philadelphia. During the British occupation, Peggy became acquainted with Major John Andre, who was quite taken with her. Peggy kept in contact with Andre after he left Philadelphia. It may have been one of Peggy’s friends, who also knew Andre, that would pass letters between Benedict Arnold and John Andre in 1780.
In addition to requesting a transfer to the navy, as well as beginning a romance with Peggy Shippen, something else began to happen in Arnold’s life soon after taking control of the city: one of his fatal flaws appeared in full force. Perhaps his injury had brought his future front and center. Perhaps he knew he would need sufficient funds to wine and dine Peggy Shippen. Perhaps we will never know the true reason. But revealing his true colors as a narcissist, Benedict Arnold evidently decided that all those prohibitions relating to merchandise and goods leaving the city did not apply to him.
One such example was his decision to allow a vessel named The Charming Nancy, to leave the port of Philadelphia. Although its owner, Robert Shewell, had been denied permission to sail by the Pennsylvania Militia, as well as George Washington himself, Arnold approved a pass after Shewell verbally professed himself to a friend of “American Liberty.” The Charming Nancy was intercepted by Continental ships in July of 1778, which is less than one month after Arnold took control of the city, and it was filled with cargo intended for sale in British held New York City. While that may not seem terribly amiss, it was later discovered that Arnold was the owner of more than £7500 worth of goods that would have been sold on the black market. At the same time he was confiscating goods owned by loyalists who had fled the city, as well as from some who remained after the British evacuation, Arnold stole and profited from the sale of some of those goods on the Black Market. This placed his own interests above those of the residents, over whom he had authority, as well as the soldiers of the Continental Army who were badly in need of such supplies.
Arnold’s plundering, greed, and swindling rose to the level that it came to the attention of the Supreme Executive Counsel, which was then headed by one of George Washington’s former aide-de-camps and close compatriot, Joseph Reed. Arnold refused to cooperate with their requests for an explanation of his use of the wagons, as well as what exactly happened to the goods that were transported in them. During their investigation into the matter, there was eye witness testimony that 1100 of such wagons were used, and there were statements that invoice books of one such wagoneer had been altered after Arnold began to be investigated by the Counsel. Included in the complete version of this podcast is the statement of one of the wagoneers who took Arnold’s contraband to a vessel own by Mr. Shewell. It may very well have been the Charming Nancy.
In the next edition, we will learn of some fascinating twists and turns as the day Arnold’s plot to surrender West Point to the British progressed.
Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, informed, and engaged in the political process. Visit my website, BingoforPatriots.com with more than 500 pages of documents, products, and information designed to motivate the modern patriot.