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Benedict Arnold Betrays His Country

Within weeks after his marriage to Peggy Shippen, a loyalist, Benedict Arnold contacted the British.  Soon he began to provide key information to them.

Meeting with John André, his wife's friend, Arnold continued with his plan to give-up West Point, a strategically significant American fort (of which he was recently appointed commander).  He asked his own friend, Joshua Hett Smith, to travel with André. 

Smith was prosecuted for his involvement in the alleged spy mission.  The court martial against him (a procedure Smith contested since he was a civilian, not a member of the military) is set forth in Volume 6 of American State Trials

John Davison Lawson, editor of the work, provides the following summary of the trial against Smith:

That he aided and assisted Arnold there was no doubt; this he confessed and some facts of his conduct were never cleared up, especially his refusal to go back with Andre to the Vulture.  The reasons he assigned were improbable and his attempts at an explanation only drew a deeper shade over his candor.  But as it was not satisfactorily proved that he had any knowledge of Arnold's traitorous designs, he was acquitted by the Court.

The opinion of the court, found at page 513 of American State Trials (Volume VI), was based - in part - on Benedict Arnold's status as an American Major General at the time of Smith's dealings with him.  As Smith had argued, on his own behalf:

He then urged that General Arnold was actually a major general in the American service, at the very time he was engaged in the combination specific in the charge, and that he could not have had any agency, without the sanction and direction of Arnold; and the evidence clearly showed that the whole proceedings of the prisoner were in obedience to the instructions of General Arnold...he had no knowledge whatever of Arnold's real plans, but had acted throughout in good faith.  (American State Trials: A Collection of the Important and Interesting Criminal Trials Which Have Taken Place in the United States, from the Beginning of Our Government to the President Day, Volume VI, pages 512-513 - edited by John Davison Lawson and published, in 1916, by F.H. Thomas Law Book Co.)

Following his acquittal by the military tribunal, Smith was also threatened by a civilian trial from which he was convinced he could not escape death by hanging.  Richard J. Koke tells the story in his 1947 book entitled Accomplice to Treason (which was reissued, in 1973, with the title Accomplice in Treason).


Media Credits

Clip from the A&E Biography on Benedict Arnold, "Triumph and Treason," which aired in 1995.  Online, courtesy YouTube.

 

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