American Revolution Passport 1779

American Revolution Passport 1779 signed by Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold was an American Revolutionary War general best known for his defection from the Continental Army to the British side of the conflict in 1780.

Synopsis

Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. A member of the Sons of Liberty, Arnold rose to the rank of general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He subsequently became a spy for the British, plotting to arrange a siege of West Point. When the plans came to light, Arnold defected to the British side. He died in London on June 14, 1801.

Early Life

Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. Arnold’s father was a successful businessman who expected his son to be well-educated. Following the deaths of three of his children from yellow fever, Benedict Sr. began to drink heavily, and fell on difficult financial times. Benedict Jr. left school and apprenticed at an apothecary.

In 1757, Arnold enlisted in the militia, and traveled to upstate New York to fight the French. Two years later, Arnold assumed responsibility for his father and sister following his mother’s death. His father was arrested repeatedly for drunkenness before his death in 1761.

Arnold settled in New Haven, working as a pharmacist and bookseller. In 1764, he formed a partnership with merchant Adam Babcock. The pair bought three trading ships and established trade connections with the West Indies.

The Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act the following year restricted mercantile trade in the colonies. Arnold joined the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization opposed to implementation of unpopular Parliamentary measures. After participating in the assault of a presumed informant, Arnold was convicted of disorderly conduct and charged a penalty.

In 1767, Arnold married Margaret Mansfield, the daughter of the sheriff of New Haven. The couple had three sons over the following five years.

Revolutionary War and Betrayal

Arnold began the war as a militia captain. Following the fighting at Lexington and Concord shortly thereafter, his company marched northeast toward Boston. Arnold proposed and participated in a maneuver to seize New York’s Fort Ticonderoga. Returning home after the battle, he learned that his wife had died earlier in the month.

Arnold also proposed an invasion of Quebec. When the Continental Congress excluded him from the primary missions, Arnold convinced George Washington to lead a second expedition to attack via a wilderness route.

Despite his military successes, Arnold proved to be a divisive figure. He fought heroically in conflicts, including the Battle of Saratoga, but made many enemies. He was frequently accused of corruption, at one point facing a court martial for misappropriation of funds.

After the British withdrawal from Philadelphia in the spring of 1778, Washington appointed Arnold military commander of the city. There, Arnold met and married Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a Loyalist sympathizer. Peggy had met British Major John André during the British occupation, and had developed ways of maintaining contact with British soldiers across the battle lines. Arnold and André began a correspondence, sometimes using Peggy as an intermediary. By the following summer, Arnold was providing the British with troop locations, as well as the locations of supply depots.

Arnold gained access to even more sensitive information when he assumed command of West Point, in August of 1780. He began systematically weakening the fort’s defenses, refusing to order necessary repairs and draining its supplies. At the same time, Arnold began transferring his assets from Connecticut to England.

Arnold and André met in person on September 21, to discuss the operation. Several days later, André was captured. Papers exposing the West Point siege plot were found and sent to George Washington, revealing Arnold’s role.

Learning of André’s capture, Arnold fled downriver, sending a request to Washington that his family be given safe passage to Philadelphia. André was hanged at Tappan, New York, on October 2. Although Washington sent men into New York to kidnap Arnold, the effort was unsuccessful.

Arnold soon began openly fighting for the British. In December of 1780, he led a force into Virginia, capturing Richmond and destroying supply houses, foundries, and mills. Arnold commanded the army until May, when Lord Cornwallis assumed control. Arnold later devised and led an attack on New London.

Later Life and Legacy

When word of British surrender reached New York, Arnold requested leave to return to England with his family, which he did in December of 1781. Over the following years, he repeatedly attempted to gain positions with the British East India Company and the British military, but was unable to find a place for himself.

In 1785, Arnold and his son Richard moved to New Brunswick, Canada, where they established a West Indies trade. Following a series of business dealings that resulted in a crowd burning Arnold in effigy, the family returned to London. Arnold continued to trade with the West Indies during the French Revolution, and was imprisoned by French authorities for a short time on suspicion of spying.

In January of 1801, Arnold’s health began to decline. He died on June 14, 1801, at the age of 60, and was buried at St. Mary’s Church in Battersea, London.

The treasonous actions of Benedict Arnold are legendary in the United States. Arnold’s name is omitted from a number of Revolutionary War monuments, and has been colloquially invoked as an accusation of traitorous behavior against individuals as disparate as Jefferson Davis and LeBron James.

The passport

Philadelphia: 19 April 1779. Autograph note signed “B Arnold MGenl” allowing the passage of Capt. Francis Mountanye to the camp at Raritan “to endeavor to effect his Exchange with the Commissary of Prisoners.” 5 1/2 x 6 3/8 inches (14 x 16 cm). Mounted along edges to larger card, small spots, two small punctures, original folds including one through signature (without split).

USA passport 1779-vertclick to see full size

A very rare manuscript signed by Arnold in April 1779 – just ten days after his wedding to Peggy Shippen and during the period that he first made himself available to the British as a spy. Placed in command of Philadelphia in June 1778, a city evacuated by the British but still deeply loyalist, Arnold was sharply criticized for his extravagant entertaining and conspicuous activities about town. Joseph Reed, who presided over the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, presented eight charges of misconduct against Arnold, who immediately demanded an investigation. The Congress decided on a Court Martial, which was delivered to Arnold from General Washington on April 20th, the day after this passport was penned. Peggy Shippen, Arnold’s nineteen-year-old wife, had been courted by British officer John Andre during the occupation of Philadelphia the previous year and she is a likely source of Arnold’s introduction to Andre, who had become the British head of intelligence. The timing of this current passport is particularly evocative of Arnold’s descent into treason as his first communication with Andre took place at this precise time. Arnold would avail himself to the British through Joseph Stansbury sometime before May 10th, and his potential uses are discussed at length in an extant four-page letter from Andre to Stansbury. In that letter Arnold’s role in effecting prisoner exchanges is offered up, and at the end of the letter Stansbury is told that secret correspondence would be carried by “exchang’d officer & every messenger remaining ignorant of what they are charg’d.” While Captain Francis Mountanye, the subject of this document, has proven difficult to find in listings of exchanged British soldiers, the timing of the passport is uncanny. It is interesting to note that in 1780 Arnold would serve Andre with a fake passport to get through American lines in advance of the planned surrender of West Point. Documents of any kind bearing Arnold’s signature during 1779 are extremely scarce in commerce (ABPC reporting only one letter sold in 1969) especially documents that are so evocative of Arnold’s betrayal.

 

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 Further reading: http://www.biography.com/

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