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Monday, September 21, 2015

BENEDICT ARNOLD | Sept. 21–Treasonous Proposal, Unmasked by Culper Spy Ring

Benedict Arnold in Colonial
blue uniform, hero of Saratoga.
This day in 1780, George Washington's trusted General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John André to propose handing over West Point as a trade for money and a high position in the British army.

The scheme was uncovered by the Culper Spy Ring, part of Washington's secret service,

Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut Colony, on January 14, 1741 to a respected family.

He was a member of the British militia during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and then became a successful trader.

Arnold joined the Continental Army in 1775 and distinguished himself during the next five years, helping Ethan Allen’s troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then participating in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec, rising to the rank of brigadier general.
Arnold in British red, post 1780,
traitor.

Arnold excelled in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington.

The problem facing Arnold was that in 1777, five men of lower rank were promoted over him, and he needed the extra money because his second wife was spending extravagantly in Philadelphia. When appointed head of West Point, he decided that he could best take care of his debts and his envies by exchanging his command of West Point for compensation and safe passage from the British.  Arnold met with British Major John André and made his traitorous pact. When he realized that his pact had been discovered, Arnold fled to the British and led redcoats against Washington in Virginia and Connecticut.

He later moved to England, and later complained he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. Two stories from The Picturesque Hudson (1915) by Clifton Johnson:
  • Arnold asked a captured captain from the Colonial Army: "What do you think would be my fate if my misguided countrymen were to take me prisoner?" The captain replied: "They would cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and the rest of you they would hang on a gibbet." 
  • On his deathbed in London in 1801, he asked to be dressed in the uniform of the Colonial Army from before his defection to the British, saying: "Let me die in this old uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another."
The Culper Spy Ring

A network of spies created by General Washington and led by Benjamin Tallmadge is credited with uncovering the deal between Benedict Arnold and John André.  On Washington’s orders.Major André was captured and hanged as a spy in October 1780.

From the time that British forces occupied New York in August 1776, New York City and Long Island remained a key British stronghold and naval base for the duration of the Revolutionary War. Getting information from New York on British troop movements and other plans was critical to General Washington, commander of the Continental Army on the mainland.

In 1778, Benjamin Tallmadge established a small ring of trustworthy men and women from his hometown of Setauket, Long Island. He was a young cavalry officer. Known as the Culper Spy Ring, Tallmadge’s network became the most effective of any intelligence-gathering operation on either side of the Revolutionary War.

Tallmadge had enlisted in the Continental Army when the American Revolution began in 1775. He soon rose to the rank of major. In mid-1778, General Washington appointed Tallmadge head of the Continental Army’s spy network, to operate behind enemy lines on Long Island, the equivalent of Bill Donovan as head of the OSS in World War 2. In addition to serving as head of Washington's secret service, Major Tallmadge participated in many of the fiercest battles of the Continental Army in the northern states. Fellow spy Caleb Brewster served under Tallmadge in the capture of Fort St. George at Mastic, Long Island in November 1780.

Tallmadge, who went by the code name John Bolton, sought out only those he could absolutely trust, beginning with his childhood friend, the farmer Abraham Woodhull, and Caleb Brewster, whose main task during the Revolution was commanding a fleet of whaleboats against British (including American Tory) shipping on Long Island Sound. Brewster was the only member of the ring that the British had definitely identified as a spy.

Woodhull went by the name of Samuel Culper and ran the group’s day-to-day operations on Long Island. He personally traveled back and forth to New York collecting information and observing naval maneuvers there. He would evaluate reports and determine what information would be taken to Washington. Dispatches would then be given to Brewster, who would carry them across the Sound to Fairfield, Connecticut, and Tallmadge would then pass them on to Washington.

By summer 1779 the well-connected New York merchant Robert Townsend was serving as the ring’s primary source in the city. Townsend wrote his reports as “Samuel Culper, Jr.” and Woodhull went by “Samuel Culper, Sr.” Austin Roe, a tavernkeeper in Setauket, acted as a courier for the Culper ring.

A local Setauket woman and Woodhull’s neighbor, Anna Smith Strong, aided in the spy ring’s activities. Her husband, the local Patriot judge Selah Strong, had been confined on the British prison ship HMS Jersey in 1778, and Anna Strong lived alone for much of the war. She used the laundry on her clothesline to leave signals regarding Brewster’s location for meetings with Woodhull.

Despite occasionally strained relations within the group and constant pressure from Washington to send more information, the Culper Spy Ring achieved more than any other American or British intelligence network during the war. They collected and passed on information in 1773-83  concerning key British troop movements, fortifications and plans in the New York area.

The group’s greatest achievement may have been in 1780, when it uncovered British plans to ambush the newly arrived French army in Rhode Island. Without the spy ring’s warnings to Washington, the Franco-American alliance may have been damaged or destroyed.

Related Posts: U.S. Naval Academy CreatedGen. Edgar Jadwin, #1 at West Point, Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1920s