Had he been killed in one of the numerous military encounters of his career as a Revolutionary War patriot, he would have gone down, undoubtedly, as one of the 3 or 4 greatest heroes of the Cause. But, surviving - though crippled from his wounds as he was - he instead became the most reviled soldiers in American history. The journey from the most celebrated of patriots to the very name his countrymen use, even to this day, to condemn the most vile acts of cowardice and betrayal is one that, unfortunately for those seeking the truth of his motives, will forever be shrouded in mystery. But, far from a story of simple villainy, it is a prism that, when subjected to the light of scrutiny, emits a spectrum of light that commands deeper inspection and scrutiny. As his infamy lurks even in the scant treatment of history in our schools today, all should appreciate by now I am referring to Benedict Arnold.
His ancestors can be traced back to 1635 when his namesake sailed with other Puritans, led by Roger Williams, and settled in Rhode Island in the Pawtucket River region. While the first iteration of the name Benedict Arnold rose to succeed Williams as governor of Rhode Island and served several terms until his death in 1678, subsequent Arnolds found progressively less prosperity. By the time of the birth of the fifth in the line of this once-esteemed name, fortune and esteem had passed from the Arnold family. Benedict V, the subject at hand, was born on January 14, 1741 to Benedict and Hannah Arnold in Norwich, Connecticut. He was the second child to the marriage; the first, also christened Benedict, had died in infancy, as so many of this time did.
Tragedy seemed to reside in the lives of the Arnolds, steadfastly anchored with the death of their first male child. Its dark cloak, all told, took three (Mary, Elizabeth and Absalom King) of the four children born subsequent to young Benedict. Only his oldest sibling, his mother's namesake, Hannah, remained in the once-happy Arnold home by the time Benedict reached the age of 13.
The psychological impact on the oldest child was clear to those who knew and wrote of Benedict in adulthood. Young Benedict's parents instructed him in the Calvinist doctrine, specifically, a vengeful, omniscient, but sometimes-capricious God whose wrath was not so much directed against the sinner but to those innocents whose death might serve as a more powerful warning. For if God will take an innocent, what might He do to those who would truly offend?