Death of a Traitor

Conflict: Revolutionary War

Benedict Arnold, before he switched sides (artwork by Thomas Hart, 1776)

On 14 June 1801, Benedict Arnold, America’s best-known Revolutionary War traitor, died quietly in his home in London, England, at the age of 60.

Infamous for his foiled plot to sell his command at West Point to the British in 1780, Arnold escaped both capture and the fate of his British co-conspirator John André—death by hanging. Arnold was then given a commission in the British Army, and he led his troops in some generally successful battles in Virginia and Connecticut.

After the end of the war, in 1781, Arnold and his family moved to London. Although he had aided the British in the Revolution, Arnold didn’t find favor with either the British government or military. When he couldn’t find a post in England, Arnold decided to move to Canada in 1785. There, he engaged in land speculation and started a shipping business to trade with the West Indies. Arnold wasn’t popular in Canada either, as he got involved in trivial lawsuits and bad business dealings. So he and his family went back to London in 1791.

In London, Arnold continued his West Indies business, but life wasn’t dull for him. He got in a duel with the Earl of Lauderdale after the Earl insulted him in Parliament. He also was imprisoned by the French in the Caribbean and was accused of being a spy—but Arnold bribed his captors and managed to escape. He then helped organize militias on the British islands in the Caribbean and received a land grant in Canada as a reward.

In 1801, Arnold’s health began to fail. He had to use a cane, since gout and an old war injury made walking painful. He was diagnosed with dropsy (swelling due to the accumulation of fluid), and he died on 14 June after four days of delirium. When he was near death, Arnold supposedly said, “Let me die in this old uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another.” He was buried in St. Mary’s Church in London, without military honors.

Read a Fold3 spotlight about Benedict Arnold’s involvement with John André.