Murder And Treason Excepted

by Midnight Freemason Contributor

Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR


I recently produced a Benedict Arnold video for the Whence Came You podcast.  The gist of its message is this: had a wound Arnold received in the Revolutionary War's second Battle of Saratoga been fatal, he would today be considered a great American hero.  

Having been appointed commander of the fort at West Point, Arnold contacted British Major John Andre, offering to surrender the fort to the British in exchange for an unspecified high rank and £20,000 (Roughly £2.7 million or $4 million today) .  West Point was located on the Hudson River; had the British taken control of the fort they would have controlled the river and probably turned the tide in the Revolution to their favor.  The plan fell apart when Andre was caught and, on October 2, 1780, executed as a spy.  

The British, in turn, gave Arnold the rank of Brigadier General and reduced his payment to £6,315 (£850,000/$1.25 million), since the plot failed.  Arnold moved to England and lived in relative obscurity until his death in 1801.

The video itself, a short vignette which can be seen at http://bit.ly/1VnDgVZ, doesn't tell the full story.  In researching the piece, I discovered some additional things about Benedict Arnold worth sharing:

Arnold was an active member of Hiram Lodge 1, New Haven, Connecticut.  After his act of sedition, the Lodge struck his name from its records, as did other Lodges Arnold had visited.

Benedict Arnold's father was Benedict Arnold III.  He also had an older brother named... Benedict Arnold.  It was his family's tradition to have a son with that name in each generation.  His older brother died before he was born and the family gave him the same name.  His full name was, in fact, Benedict Arnold V.

Arnold was a deserter in the French-Indian war, even though under extenuating circumstances.  He received word his mother had contracted Yellow Fever and left the battlefield to be with her.  She died shortly after he returned home.

Arnold's first profession, at 21, was a shopkeeper, selling medicines and books.  

He became a trader, a profession made difficult by the taxes the British levied to maintain the colonies.  Subsequently, to avoid the taxes, he became a smuggler.

He was catapulted to hero status when, together with Ethan Allen, he captured Fort Ticonderoga early in the American Revolution.

He led  a march to Quebec in 1775, in an effort to capture the city and make Canada the 14th colony!  When General Montgomery, who was supporting him, died, the mission failed.

Arnold again was considered a hero at the Battle of Valcour Island in the American Revolution.    He felt he should have been promoted as a result of this victory, but others were promoted over him, beginning his resentment toward the American cause.

He subsequently drove the British to the sea and was made a Major General.  With other less deserving men still superior to him, his resentment continued.

When General Horatio Gates hesitated to advance at Saratoga, Arnold took command and defeated the British.  Arnold was wounded in his left leg for the third time in his career.  He clearly was responsible for the victory but Gates snatched the glory and accepted British General Burgoyne's sword.  To add further insult, Arnold was placed under arrest for disobeying orders.  

In order to impress the father of Peggy Shipman, he purchased a 96 acre estate and subsequently married her.  The remaining money he owed on the estate sunk his finances.

When he cooked up his plot  to surrender West Point, he gave Major John Andre a pass to get him through American lines.  Andre was robbed.  When the robbers-turned-patriots discovered Andre was a spy, they arrested him and showed the pass to George Washington.  That tipped Washington off that Arnold was a traitor, and Washington immediately set out to arrest him.  Arnold escaped with only minutes to spare.  Although she knew about the plot, his wife Peggy somehow convinced Washington she was innocent.

The British made Benedict Arnold a Brigadier General in the British Army.  Americans hated him and the British resented him.  No one trusts a traitor.

An apocraphyl story claims George Washington was so angry at and so reviled Arnold he decreed his name should never be written down; subsequently he had the gravestones of Arnold's father and brother of the same name removed.  Indeed, records at Old Northtown Cemetery in Connecticut, where his father is buried, indicate "Gravestone removed in 1781."

Also, a marker known as the "Boot Monument" at Saratoga battlefield honors Arnold's heroism without naming him.  The boot commemorates the wound he received to his leg without otherwise recognizing a traitor.

The Boot Monument at Saratoga Battlefield honors 
Benedict Arnold, but does not mention his name.
In the end, Benedict Arnold regretted his seditious actions.  Knowing he was dying, he put on his former uniform and said, "Let me die in my old American uniform — The uniform in which I fought my battles.  God forgive me for ever putting on any other."

It may have been a noble thought, but it's doubtful anyone, including his former Brothers choose to forgive him.  After all, whether it be secrets or vile deeds, we Freemasons have a saying, "murder and treason excepted."

~SLH

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°, is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Worshipful Master. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. His latest book, Freemasons: Tales From the Craft & Freemasons at Oak Island. Both are available on amazon.com.

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