Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.


By Judy Leithe

Benedict Arnold was highly regarded by George Washington.  He identified with Arnold’s fiery boldness, his instincts for risk-taking tactics on the battlefield and, he considered Arnold to be a valued asset to the cause of liberty.  Washington embodied similar characteristics, but it was necessary for him to temper his warrior instincts.  He had to develop an almost super-human combination of patience and foresight.  Most importantly, Washington had to become the leader who would out-maneuver the seemingly invincible British Army -- the future of a free nation depended on him.  

Benedict Arnold’s father taught him the trading business, and brought
him along on his merchant ship excursions between Connecticut and the West Indies.  After his father’s early death, Arnold’s mother sent him to serve an apprenticeship with a local apothecary.  In his early twenties, the enterprising Arnold opened an apothecary and book shop.  He also became a successful tradesman and captain of his own merchant ships, traveling to Canada and the West Indies hauling everything from livestock to medical supplies.    

In May of 1775, Arnold placed his loyalties with the American rebellion.  He joined forces with Ethan Allen, and his “Green Mountain Boys” from Vermont, with the objective of attacking Fort Ticonderoga, located on the banks of the New York portion of Lake Champlain (Lake Champlain runs through New York, Vermont, and Canada). They successfully seized control of the fort from the British -- the first American victory of the rebellion -- and commandeered a much-needed arsenal of British weapons.

Arnold, now a colonel, figured prominently in the Battle of Quebec.  This operation was intended to deprive the British of using Quebec as a stronghold from which to attack the northern American Colonies.  In September of 1775, Arnold, and his company of 1,100 men, began their march north toward Canada through Maine’s dense and uncharted wilderness.  By the time they reached the St. Lawrence River, Arnold’s company had dwindled to 600 near-starving men. It was December when they finally engaged the British in Quebec, but it soon became clear that it was a losing battle for the Americans. Arnold sustained a serious leg injury but was able to escape Quebec with his men.         

Six months later, in the fall of 1776, the Battle of Lake Champlain became known as one of the most dramatic events in the Northern Theater of the Revolution.  Arnold, an experienced seaman from his youth, took command of a small fleet of fifteen U.S. boats and confronted a much larger British fleet. It was already late afternoon when the barrage of cannon and Howitzer gun fire commenced in the close quarters of the Valcour Island inlet.  Undeterred by the British advantage, Arnold stayed in the fight until all but five of his boats were destroyed. The battle stopped at nightfall, with the British claiming a decided victory. They had planned to capture what was left of the rebels in the morning, but were stunned to realize that Arnold had slipped his remaining boats past them during the night.  Having wrapped their oars in fabric to muffle any splashing sounds, the Americans headed north on the lake to Crown Point. The British immediately gave chase but, by the time they caught up with the Americans, Arnold had set fire to his remaining fleet, and he and his crew disappeared into the woods. Thanks to Arnold’s tenacity, the British “victory” cost them in terms of damaged ships, and valuable time.