19 AHMP Benedict Arnold A Thief in Command
How did Benedict Arnold abuse his role as the “Commander in Chief of the United States of American, in the city of Philadelphia” for his personal gain? Will the information that we have about his intimate relationships confirm that he is a narcissist? What colonial body investigated his actions and drove him from the city? We will learn the answer to those 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? The part of his life that had thrilled him since he was a teenager was taken away from him after a third injury to the same leg during the Battle of Saratoga. Although he remained a part of the military, his new role would involve interacting with the residents of Philadelphia rather than the enemy. I suspect the answer is that it left him bored and in a role where his resentments were left to fester. In addition, we will come to learn that he will be placed in a position of power in which he had free resign to indulge perhaps the worst of his fatal flaws: a wicked combination of avarice and the willingness to sacrifice those around him for his own gain.
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 wrote the following letter Arnold: “You are immediately to proceed to Philadelphia and take the command of the troops there. The principal objects of your command you will send specified in the inclosed resolve of Congress of the 4th instant; which you will carefully execute. You will take every prudent step in your power, to preserve tranquillity and order in the city, and give security to individuals of every class and description; restraining as far as possible, ’till the restoration of civil government every species of persecution, insult, or abuse, either from the soldiery to the inhabitants, or among each other. I leave it to your own discretion, to adopt such measures, as shall appear to you most effectual and, at the same time, least offensive, for answering the views of Congress, 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.
The Quarter Master General will send one of his assistants into the city, who will take your directions and give you all the aid in his power—He is to search out any public stores belonging to the enemy and convert them to the use of the army.”
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.
Arnold arrived in Philadelphia on June 19th. It was his duty to maintain order in a city where both British sympathizers, and merchants alike, coalesced into a boiling cauldron of fear and rage. How would that be possible? How would he maintain order, preserve tranquility, and prevent abuse as had been ordered by Washington?
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 were indeed confiscated and kept under guard by the Pennsylvania Militia.
Upon his arrival in the city, Arnold issued a proclamation in his new role as “Commander in Chief of the United States of American, in the city of Philadelphia.” Listen to the detail specified as to the accounting the residents were to make of various goods and merchandise, as well as the prohibition from the sale of merchandise outside of the city. It will be an important piece of our story as we progress. Arnold’s proclamation began:
“In order to protect the persons and property of the inhabitants of this city from insult and injury to secure the public and private stores which the enemy may have left in the city and to prevent the disorder and confusion naturally arising from want of government his Excellency General Washington in compliance with the following resolution of Congress has thought proper to establish military law in this city and suburbs until the civil authority of the state can resume the government thereof”
He then attached a congressional resolution dated June 4, 1778 which read as follows:
“Resolved That should the city of Philadelphia be evacuated by the enemy it will be expedient and proper for the Commander in Chief to take effectual care that no insult plunder or injury of any kind may be offered to the inhabitants of the said city That in order to prevent public or private injury from the operations of ill disposed persons the General be directed to take early and proper care to prevent the removal transfer or sale of any goods wares or merchandize in possession of the inhabitants of the said city until the property of the same shall be ascertained by a Joint Committee consisting of persons appointed by Congress and of persons appointed by the Supreme Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania to wit so far as to determine whether any or what Part thereof may belong to the king of Great Britain or to any of his subjects.”
Arnold’s proclamation continued: “In order the more effectually to carry into execution the above resolve 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 specifying the quantity and as nearly as they can judge the amount of the same in order that the Quarter Master Commissary and Clothier Generals may contract for such goods as are wanted for the use of the army and until permission is given by the General there be no removal transfer or sale of any goods as it will be deemed a breach of the above resolution of Congress and such goods will be seised and confiscated for the public use All persons having in their hands public stores or effects the property of the subjects of the king of Great Britain or their adherents who have departed with them are to make a like report by Monday noon next under penalty of the confiscation of their own effects and any persons discovering any such Concealed stores or effects will be suitably rewarded Any persons harbouring or concealing any officer soldier or other person belonging to the enemy or any deserter from the continental army will be severely punished unless they make immediate discovery to some officer of the said army.”
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. Meanwhile, the British had begun confiscating property which did not have their necessary permits elsewhere in the colonies, and the economic crisis in Philadelphia deepened with each month that passed.
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:
“My wounds are in a fair way & less painful than usual tho’ there is little prospect of my being able to take the field for a considerable time; which consideration together with that of having been obliged entirely to neglect my private Affairs since I have been in the service has induced me to wish to retire from Public business unless an offer which my friends have mentioned should be made me of the command of the Navy to which my being wounded would not be so great an objection as it would remaining in the Army.
I must beg leave to request your Excellency’s sentiments respecting a command in the Navy; I am sensible of my inabilities & the great hazard and fatigue attending the office; & that I should enjoy much greater happiness in a retired life, still my wishes to serve my Country have a greater weight with me than domestic happiness or ease.”
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. We shall learn more about that as we progress through this story.
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.
Before we discuss the infamous Miss Shippen, let’s follow up on the presumption that we reached in the previous edition: that Benedict Arnold was a narcissist.
Assuming this presumption is correct, What do we know about the people who narcissists tend to seek out as partners, as well as what factors drive a narcissist in the selection process. A narcissist usually derives much of his self-worth from the admiration of others, and he will focus on those who will provide the admiration that he feels is due to him. A narcissist also generally seeks a relationship with those who will focus on his needs and feed his ego. There is process is constant. The 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. There is no “settling” for just any person, his partner must be highly attractive, socially prominent, or affluent for example. Based upon these general assumptions about the significant attachments of a narcissist, 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. At the time, he was actively engaged in smuggling, and it is a safe bet that the sheriff would be less inclined to arrest the man who provided for his daughter and grandchildren. That is not to say that Arnold did not love the fair Margaret who was 21 when she married him. Numerous entries in his field journal during the Quebec campaign referenced his letters to her. He mourned her death at the young age of 31 in June, 1775. But as the year 1778 dawned, Benedict Arnold was writing words of undying love to another woman. She was a young woman who Arnold met at a party given by the wife of Henry Knox, the well-known artillery commander. 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? Even when she was the ripe old age of 27, John Quincy Adams sang her praises: “Miss Deblois has been much celebrated, as a beauty; and she may still be called very handsome: though she be as much as 27. She is sociable and agreeable: Though she is not yet wholly destitute of that kind of vanity, which is so naturally the companion of beauty. She puckers her mouth a little, and contracts her eyelids a little, to look very pretty; and is not wholly unsuccessful.”
Let’s review on of the letters that Arnold wrote to the beautiful Miss Betsy. You might find it hard to believe that the same man who wrote this letter also wrote the coarse description of breaking a soldier’s head that was found in Arnold’s field journal.
“My dear Miss Deblois:
Twenty times have I taken my pen to write to you and as often has my trembling hand refused to obey the dictates of my heart. A heart which has often been calm and serene amidst the clashing of arms and all the din and horrors of war trembles with diffidence and fear at giving offence when it attempts to address you on a subject so important to its happiness. Long have I struggled to efface your heavenly image from it. Neither time, absence, misfortune or your cruel indifference have been able to efface the deep impressions your charms have made. And will you doom a heart so true, so faithful, to languish in despair? Shall I expect no returns to the most sincere, ardent, and disinterested passion? Dear Betsy, suffer that heavenly bosom (which surely cannot know itself the cause of misfortune without a sympathetic pang) to expand with friendship at last and let me know my fate. If a happy one, no man will strive more to deserve it; if on the contrary I am doomed to despair, my latest breath will be to implore the blessing of heaven on the idol and only wish of my soul.”
While she appreciated the attention, Betsy was not persuaded; she politely suggested that he “solicit no further,” but she underestimated her suitor. He reviewed his strategy and decided on another line of attack. Rolling out the heavy artillery, he wrote to her once more:
“You might as well wish me to exist without breathing as to cease to love you. A union of hearts, I acknowledge, is necessary to happiness; but give me leave to observe that true and permanent happiness is seldom the effect of an alliance formed on romantic passion where fancy governs more than judgment. Friendship and esteem, founded on the merit of the object, is the most certain basis to build a lasting happiness upon; and when there is a tender and ardent passion on one side and friendship and esteem on the other, the ear must be callous to every tender sentiment if the taper of love is not to light up at the flame. You have inspired in me a pure and exalted passion which cannot admit of an unworthy thought or action … Let me beg of you to suffer your heart if possible to expand with a sensation more tender than friendship. Consider the consequences before you determine. Consult your own happiness, and if incompatible with mine, forget there is so unhappy a wretch; for let me perish if I would give you one moment’s pain to procure the greatest felicity to myself. Whatever my fate may be, my most ardent wish is for your happiness.”
He sent her a ring of rose-coloured gold set with four irregular diamonds and bearing the inscription “E.D. from Benedict Arnold, 1778.”
Arnold even attempted to enlist Mrs. Knox in his attempts to woo the beautiful Betsey. He concluded a letter he wrote to her as follows: “I shall remain under the most anxious suspense until I have the favour of a line from you, who, I may judge, will from your own experience conceive the fond anxiety, the glowing hopes and chilling fears that alternately possess the breast of,” Then, he signed his name.
When Ms. Deblois shunned him again, Arnold took what must have been drafts of his letters to her and sulked off to Philadelphia.
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.
Not long after settling in Philadelphia, and only months after stating he would just asoon perish if Betsy Delois would not agree to be with him, he fell head over heels for 17 year old Peggy Shippen.
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. Recall that Arnold’s great-great-grandfather, William Arnold, was original settlers of the Colony of Rhode Island, and his grandfather was the first Governor of Rhode Island. Peggy’s linage must have something that Arnold checked off on his list of desired qualities in a soul mate. 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 seemed to sway with the wind. Prior to the British occupation they had entertained both Benedict Arnold and George Washington. During the British occupation, they socialized with British officers as well.
Of course, Peggy had been socially active well before Arnold arrived in Philadelphia. During the British occupation of Philadelphia, Peggy became acquainted with Major John Andre, who was quite taken with her. He also socialized with her friends Becky Morris, Becky Franks, and Peggy Chew. He even invited her to a masquerade ball held to honor General Howe as he resigned his command. Peggy’s father would not allow her to attend the ball, but 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.
Listen to the letter that he wrote to the woman, who was not only beautiful but 19 years his junior, on September 25, 1778. The tone, and some of the verbage, is very much like the letter that he sent to the fair Miss Dublois of Boston.
“I am sensible to your prudence, and I know that the affection you bear your amiable and tender parents, forbids you giving encouragement to the addresses of any one without their approbation. Pardon me, Dear Madam, for disclosing a passion I could no longer confine in my tortured bosom. I have presumed to write to your Papa, and have requested his sanction to my addresses. Suffer me to hope for your approbation. Consider before you doom me to misery, which I have not deserved but by loving you too extravagantly. Consult your own happiness, and if incompatible, forget there is so unhappy a wretch; for may I perish if I would give you one moment’s inquietude to purchase the greatest possible felicity for myself. Whatever my fate may be, my most ardent wish is for your happiness and my latest breath will be to implore the blessing of heaven on the idol and only wish of my soul. Adieu, dear Madame, and believe me unalterably, your sincere admirer and devoted humble servant, Sept. 25, 1778 B. Arnold”
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.
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 it was just too much temptation because of his past exploits as a smuggler. Perhaps his injury had brought his future front and center. What if he could build a case stockpile, so that he would not need to leave his beloved and return to a life at sea as a trader? Perhaps he knew he would need sufficient funds to wine and dine Peggy Shippen, and he was concerned about how he would support an extravagant lifestyle, his three existing children, as well as any he might have with Peggy. 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.
In August, there was so much discord in Philadelphia that Arnold requested additional support from the Congress. After a study was conducted by the Board of War, the Congress approved additional troops, as well as use of the local militia. The Supreme Executive Council authorized use of the militia in September. Arnold put those troops to work for his personal profit as well.
As the months of 1778 progressed, Benedict Arnold not only stole confiscated property, but personnel and wagons intended for the Continental cause were used for his personal gain, and to top it off, he tried to discount payment to the wagoneers to boot..
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.
The minutes of the Executive Council on January 30, 1779 described one such incident involving Arnold. This may very well be a description of what was smuggled in The Charming Nancy, but certainly it was a vessel owned by Mr. Shewell.
“Jesse Jordan, 12 Waggons under his command; First orders to 50 to N River; Mr. Rush ordered him to go to Gen’1 Arnold for orders. He went & received the written orders contained in the Letter of D. S. Franks, but had no information of the goods being private property; Capt. Moore met him at Coopers’ Ferry, & they went to the forks of Egg Harbor under his directions; they were loaded with sugar, Tea, Coffee, sails, Rigging, swivel Guns, & other Goods. A young Man, who was with Capt. Moore, did not deny that the Goods were private property; They were said to be Rob Shewell’s Goods, & others; gave a certificate for his Ferriage on going & coming; Did not apprehend danger from the Enemy; went down empty; would not have gone with his consent if he had known the errand was for private property; came out to do a Tour of duty; Waggons mostly came over the River loaded; gave no receipt for the goods, as Moore was with him & had the charge of the Goods; part of the goods wero delivered up Second Street; The other Man who was with Moore he thinks, was the name of Clark; received Continental Forage ; did not receive Pay on his return; One of the Waggons unloaded in Second Street, not far from the Church ;, Several Waggons unloaded at Jesse Williamson’s Ferry, about 22 bushels of Coffee; Drew two days forage on his return. Did not ask his pay when he returned and Mitchell said he would see us paid & be expected he was to be paid by the Public as usual; Mitchell said nothing to J. J. about Gen. Arnold on their return; Applied yesterday to Mr. Mitchell for his money. Several Waggons were rendered unfit for further service, and he, J. Jordon, was-permitted to return home on his own expence, he intended to return again to go to the North River. David Cochran returned again after having gone home. Had no conversation with Mr. Mitchell about Pay, that matter was left to Mr. Jordon. J. Jordon says, that until he was within 20 or 25 miles of Egg Harbor he was ” sure that he was going for a load of Provisions. He made out his account as was usual, for his Services as when in the Continental service; That on shewing it to Mr. Mitchell, he said The Waggons were all appraised before they went into service ; J. J. must go to Gen’ l Arnold for his pay, & ordered him to charge 75s p “§ day, & to pay the difference between that & the usual Continental to the Forage Master; That on applying to Gen’l Arnold he bid him call again in the Evening. The first he knew of the errand to Egg Harbor being a private one was in consequence of a refusal of Rations, until he had shewn his orders signed by D. S. Franks; The difference in heading the two accounts shewn was made by Mr. Mitchell’s order; the first being a charge against the United States, the second against Gen’l Arnold; Mr. Mitchell differed with him & insisted on striking off two days of the time he was coming to Philadelphia, altho’ he sate out one day later than others (came the same distance) who did not arrive ’till two days after, & who were, notwithstanding, allowed their whole Price. Mr. Mitchell insisted on his settling this matter, & on his saying he would leave it unsettled, Mr. Mitchell said he should settle it, & if he did not Mr. Mitchell would make him a Prisoner; That J. J. being determined not to be made a Prisoner, that night he came off; he did not see Gen’l Arnold when he went the second time, but there was a Note round the account, expressing that he, Gen’l Arnold, would only Pay from the day the Waggons left Philadelphia, & that Mr. Mitchell might Pay the remainder. Mr. Mitchell wrote to Gen. Arnold that he must pay the whole amount; Had not directions from Mr. Mitchell to attend, but came of his own accord; Mitchell said J. J. would have to go before the Council about this business, but said no more to him about it; Mitchell said it was a business in which the Public had nothing to do; but said that the two days must be struck off, as he would not have paid it in of the Public; Would not have entered in private service at the time, as he knew he must perform his tour of du’y, he chose to do it while the Roads were good; At the time he was called out he was offered £6 5 p day, if he found himself, to go to Indian River for salt; Shewell did not appear in this business.”
In the next edition, we will learn more about the court martial of Benedict Arnold, as well as his attempt to weaken West Point to enable its capture by the British. Then we will hear what he he had to say after he plot was uncovered.
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.