For Kids & Teachers
For Kids: Benedict Arnold started out as a hero of the Revolutionary War. He ended up a traitor, working for the British. What turned a hero into a traitor?
When he was 13 years old, his family went bankrupt, and he had to get a job. But no one would hire him for a quite a while. No one wanted a rich boy. They did not believe he would work hard. But, he kept at it until he was hired on a ship and after many years worked his way up to captain! He impressed George Washington with his leadership ability. George Washington wanted Benedict Arnold to fight with him against the British in the American Revolution. That was fine with Benedict. He did a great job. One day, a horse fell on him in battle and crippled him. He did not let that stop him. He led his men bravely and continued to fight for freedom.
You might think that the American colonists would honor him. But they didn't. He was really hard to get along with. He was always losing his temper and blaming others for his problems. The truth was nobody liked him much. He was accused of things he did not do, like stealing and being a bad leader. He was going to quit and let someone else fight the war. On top of everthing else, his beloved wife had died. Somehow, George Washington talked him into staying in the colonial army.
He did marry again. That's when things really went wrong. His second wife was a loyalist. She supported the British. She was also very greedy and very selfish. She wanted everything, the finest clothes, the finest food, the finest home. But then, so did Benedict. It was not long before the Arnolds had spent more money than they had.
When the US Congress created five new generalships, one of those should have been given to Benedict Arnold. He actually earned it. Instead, because he was not well liked, lesser men, men beneath him in rank and service, were promoted to these new positions. If he had received this well deserved promotion, he would have made more money. Things might have gone differently. This increase in salary might have been enough to keep the Arnolds out of financial trouble, at least for a while. That did not happen.
The Arnolds found a way to find the money they needed. Benedict started working as a spy for the British. He asked for 20,000 pounds, and he got it.
When his British contact, John Andre, was captured by the American military, Arnold escaped on a British ship, leaving Andre to be hanged as a spy.
When he reached London, Benedict was surprised to learn that the British military did not want him. He had deserted Andre without any attempt to save him. They did not want someone like that in their military. The American military wanted him, but only to hang him. He found other ways to support himself until he died at age 60 in England.
To this day, Benedict Arnold remains America's most famous traitor.