Willard Sterne Randall (Author)
There are some names that stand out in the history of Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley: Samuel de Champlain, Robert Rogers, Ira and Ethan Allen, Thomas Macdonough and Benedict Arnold. All are thought of as heroes to some extent. The luster has worn off for a few, as we look at them as the complex human beings that they were in reality. ‘Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor’ by Willard Sterne Randall examines the complex life of Benedict Arnold.
Traitor or Hero?
Benedict Arnold has taken his place in history as America’s greatest traitor and villain. Although I was familiar with some of his earlier heroic deeds, I was unaware of just how critical his patriotic deeds in support of the Revolution were to its success.
Arnold seemed to be everywhere at the beginning of the Revolution. Arnold was part of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, whose cannons were transported and used to force the British to abandon Boston. He was instrumental in planning and organizing the invasion of Canada, which but for bad luck, might have succeeded. As a naval commander he built America’s first navy, and used it to stop the British advance down Lake Champlain and into New York. Later at Saratoga, it was Benedict Arnold who insured the battlefield victory for the Americans, and ultimately French support for the American cause.
Benedict Arnold’s Downfall
Randall’s portrayal of Benedict Arnold could well be the setting of a Greek tragedy or play by Shakespeare. Despite his unequaled contributions to the Patriot cause, Arnold was slighted and his character attacked by the Continental Congress and fellow officers. In addition he was faced with financial ruin because Congress refused to reimburse him for back pay or the money that he personally spent to equip and train his troops and fleet.
Many of the same difficulties that Arnold faced were similar to those faced by another ‘hero’ of Lake Champlain military campaigns, Robert Rogers. Rogers, the charismatic leader of Roger’s Rangers in The French and Indian War, was also denied repayment for outfitting and paying his troops. He too was the target of lesser officers looking to advance or protect their standing by diminishing his. Ultimately, he too, offered his services to The Crown and earned the scorn of his countrymen.
Benedict Arnold was a very proud man and impatient for recognition and reward for his services. When these were not given, and Arnold’s character was again attacked for falling in love and marrying Peggy Shippen, a Loyalist, the outcome was almost inevitable.
This is a very interesting story and is well-told by Randall. You can almost see the unfolding of this tragedy step-by-step. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve read it twice. “Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor” is a good read and I heartily recommend it.