The American Revolution
For Kids: Benedict Arnold started out as a hero of the Revolutionary War. He ended up a traitor, working for the British. What turned a hero into a traitor?
Things started to go wrong for Benedict back when he was only 13 years old. His family went bankrupt. They lost all their money. He had to get a job. There were not many jobs for a rich boy, now poor, with no training. He was smart. He coped. Ultimately, he became a ship captain. He fought in the French and Indian War and did a really good job. He impressed George Washington with his courage and his leadership ability.
When Benedict was still a young man, the American Revolution started. He fought on the side of the colonists. He was shot in the leg. A horse fell on him in battle and crippled him. He did not let that stop him. He led his men bravely and continued to fight for freedom.
You might think that the American colonists would honor him. But they didn't. He was really hard to get along with. He was always losing his temper and blaming others for his problems. The truth was nobody liked him much. He was accused of things he did not do, like stealing and being a bad leader. He was going to quit and let someone else fight the war. George Washington talked him into staying.
Then something really sad happened. His wife died. He was miserable. He did marry again. His second wife was a loyalist. She supported the British. She was also very greedy and very selfish. She wanted everything, the finest clothes, the finest food, the finest home. But then, so did Benedict. It was not long before the Arnolds had spent more money than they had.
Benedict Arnold had lived though losing all his family money once before. He was not about to let that happen again. When the US Congress created five new generalships, one of those should have been given to Benedict Arnold. He actually earned it. Instead, because he was not well liked, lesser men, men beneath him in rank and service, were promoted to these new positions. If he had received this well deserved promotion, he would have made more money. Things might have gone differently. This increase in salary might have been enough to keep the Arnolds out of financial trouble, at least for a while. That did not happen.
The Arnolds needed money. They found a way to get it. Benedict started working as a spy for the British. They paid him well. He asked for 20,000 pounds, and he got it.
When his British contact, John Andre, was captured by the American military, Arnold escaped on a British ship, leaving Andre to be hanged as a spy.
When he reached London, Benedict was surprised to learn that the British military did not want him. He had deserted Andre without any attempt to save him. They did not want someone like that in their military. The American military wanted him, but only to hang him. He found other ways to support himself until he died at age 60 in England.
To this day, Benedict Arnold remains America's most famous traitor.