Lot 1027: Benedict Arnold

RR Auction

December 15, 2012
Amherst, NH, US

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Description: Major General in the Continental Army during the American Revolution who distinguished himself at Saratoga (1740-1801). One of Washington's most skilled and able generals, he turned traitor in an infamous plot to turn over the fortress at West Point to the British. Superb war-dated ALS, signed "B. Arnold," and again "Arnold" several times in text, one page, both sides, 8 x 13, September 16*, 1780, "Head Quarters Robinsons House" [West Point, New York], to his sister Hannah Arnold in Philadelphia. Written only days before he would meet with John André to finalize his plans to turn the Hudson River stronghold of West Point over to the British, Arnold reports to his sister the safe arrival of his wife, Peggy Shippen Arnold (1760-1804), at West Point and inquires on his three sons who were in his sister's care.Arnold writes, in full, "I set down to answer your favor of hand of Mrs Arnold three days since. She arrived here without any accident but very much fatigues as was the Dear Little Boy, who has a very sore head. They are both much resurrected, & Mrs Arnold has an exceeding good appetite. I am extremely unhappy to hear the Dear Little Boys in Maryland are discontented, but I cannot suppose as you seem to imagine that they are in want of the necessities of Life. The luxuries, I believe they have not, but I am assured by every Gentleman whom I have seen that has visited the School, that Mr Booth keeps a plentiful Table of good plaine [sic] Dishes Food. I hope they will have more prudence than to leave the School. I have no doubt of them being treated with kindness, then, but if they should continue to be Discontented I will remove them next Spring to some new school. Mrs Arnold informs me it is very Sickly in Phild[elphi]a. I am very apprehensive for you and my Dear Henry,-the situation of my Family divided and at such a distance from our side is very disagreeable indeed. Mrs Arnold informs me the there is a prospect of producing the house full that Mr Allen owned. The situation is disagreeable but the house I believe is convenient. If it can be produced. I suppose Mr Shippen will wish you to move the beginning of the next month. Inclosed is a Letter for the D[ea]r Boys in Maryland which I wish you to forward the first opportunity, with any Articles they may write for which you think necessary for them. Give present my tender love to my D[ea]r Henry kiss him for me, & tell him a comfort He will write to me. Present my affectionate respects to all The Family at the Cottage, Mr & Mrs Bent, Mr & Mrs Meade & Compl[imen]ts. to all Friends. Tell Scotty & Mary I am & believe me very sincerely & affectionately Yours" Arnold adds a short postscript, "The Linen of Mount Vincent from McPherson to son James Mrs Arnold tells me is in the closet in Her Chamber. I wish you to look for and give it to Mr [Edward?] Shippen." Somewhat irregular gray toning over the first few lines of text (not affecting readability), a couple of trivial old mounting remnants on the second page, and stamps of the Mercantile Library and Tomlinson Collection at the bottom of the second page, otherwise fine condition.The letter is an incredible testament to Arnold's ability to compartmentalize his life. At the time of writing, Arnold was in the midst of conspiring with the British but he writes to his sister as if nothing special was afoot, musing on the future of his sons as if he would remain in his place for some time. On September 21 1780, Arnold met with the British emissary John André and made the final arrangements to deliver his command at West Point to the British. Two days later, however, the plot was discovered when André was caught carrying incriminating papers by New York militia near Tarrytown. On hearing the news, Arnold fled to General Clinton in New York City on September 25. André, the dashing 31-year-old English major, well-liked on both sides, was not as lucky. He was tried and hung as a spy on October 2, 1780.Arnold left his wife behind when he escaped to New York aboard the H.M.S. Vulture. When Washington arrived in West Point, he reporetly encountered a hysterical Peggy Shippen Arnold-emphatically denying any knowledge of her husband's plot. Because her family, the Shippens of Philadelphia, were known for their loyalist leanings, she was under suspicion but for a lack of evidence never arrested or charged. She soon returned to Philadelphia with her infant child but on October 20, 1780, the authorities warned her out of the city. She crossed the lines to New York to join her husband. Arnold had expected to be handsomely awarded and honored by the British. He was to be sorely disappointed for he never received a major command as his new allies never trusted him fully. He received a brigadier general's commission and led an expedition into Virginia in late 1780. After the war, Arnold pursued a failed mercantile business in New Brunswick and spent the remainder of his life, unhappy and unwelcome, in London. In the present letter, Arnold refers to his sons, the three from his first marriage to Margaret Mansfield, two of whom, Benedict (1768-1795) and Richard (1769-1847) were then living in Maryland at a boarding school. The youngest, Henry (1772-1826), stayed with Arnold's sister. Benedict Jr. later joined the British Army and died in action in Jamaica in 1795. Richard and Henry both joined their father during his time in New Brunswick. Richard spent the remainder of his life in Ontario while Henry lived in New York City. Letters and documents written and signed by Arnold from the eve of his treason in September 1780 are rare and extremely desirable. We have been able to source only eight examples datelined at West Point appearing at auction in the past century. As far as can be ascertained, this letter is the closest by date to Arnold's fateful meeting with André and his defection to the British than any other offered at auction (the next nearest to the date of Arnold's defection is September 8).Provenance: The Marshal B. Coyne Collection.______________*The transcript that accompanied the piece identified the date as September 10. After some study of other known letters by Arnold from that period, we are of the opinion that the previous cataloger was mistaken and the date is September 16, not the 10th.
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