Benedict Arnold’s Journey From West Point Commander to Traitor

Benedict Arnold: Hero and villain

Featured Adobe Stock | Prachaya. Photos by Nyerik/ Wikimedia Commons

After taking command of West Point in 1780, Benedict Arnold embarked on a slippery slope to become a Revolutionary War traitor.

Who is the most famous—or infamous—traitor in American history?

It’s really no contest—Benedict Arnold is the poster boy for treason. Anyone who passed middle school U.S. history knows that Arnold tried to sell the plans to West Point to the Red Coats. What’s less understood is exactly why those plans, and West Point in general, were so important.

Benedict Arnold
Wikimedia Commons / NYErik

Arnold was already a known commodity, as both a brave soldier and a malcontent, when he took command of West Point on August 3, 1780. He had been instrumental in the fights for Fort Ticonderoga and Quebec, and a bona fide hero of the Battles of Saratoga. He was also regarded as argumentative, vain, power-hungry, and greedy. “Money is this man’s God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country,” one of his rivals noted presciently.

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Arnold resided across the river (against orders) in what is now Garrison, at the home of British Loyalists who had lost their estate to the Continental Army. He began to conspire with the Tories to sell out West Point—but not strictly because of the structure itself. At the time, West Point was more modest redout than imposing fort. Far more critical was what it was guarding: the iron “chain across the Hudson,” which effectively prevented British ships from controlling the waterway. The redout was set in the highlands to have a bird’s eye view of incoming vessels and to fire on any enemy attempt to remove it.

British Major John André
This is a color mezzotint of American Revolutionary War General Benedict Arnold, captioned as follows: Colonel Arnold who commanded the Provincial Troops sent against Quebecthrough the wilderness of Canada and was wounded in that city, under General Montgomery. London. Published as the Act directs 26 March 1776 by Thos. Hart. Wikimedia Commons

One month after taking command, Arnold slipped the plans to British Major John André in exchange for 20,000 pounds of sterling, the equivalent of more than $4 million today. André was captured the next day, near Tarrytown, with those plans tucked inside his boot. When Arnold learned the following morning that André had been caught and that their scheme was being reported to his boss, General George Washington, Arnold fled, leaving his wife, sons, and soon-to-be victorious new nation behind. André was held in contempt and ultimately hanged in Tappan, and Arnold lived out his life with his reunited family in Canada and England, where he died in 1801.

Major John Andre
Major John André / Wikimedia Commons

Today, you can follow Arnold’s escape path, starting at the shoreline near Philipstown, just south of the Garrison Metro-North station, where you’ll find a gazebo, historical information, and fine views of the river and West Point. Take Route 9D to Glenclyffe Road, at the sign for the Garrison Institute—there’s a parking lot above the entrance to the trail. Or take Lower Station Road, just before the entrance to the Metro-North station parking, where stone pillars mark the entrance to Arden Point trail, which also leads to the gazebo and overlook.

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