Peggy Shippen Arnold was rarely suspected of playing a role in her husband’s treason. She can thank the 18th century mindset that made it practically unthinkable for a woman to do such a thing. Peggy may have even been the mastermind behind Benedict Arnold’s attempt to hand West Point over to the British. That plan failed, and British Major John Andre ended up executed, but what about the Arnolds? What happened to them after they ended up on the losing side of the war?
From Women of the American Revolution:
“The British surrendered at Yorktown on 19 October 1781. After betraying their country, the Arnolds found themselves on the losing side. As they packed to leave for London, a city Peggy had never visited, she must have wondered if she would ever see her family again. They sailed on 8 December 1781. The Arnolds were not alone. Thousands of loyalists and African Americans fled the new country that was less than welcoming to them.
Peggy was well received in London. Called the ‘Fair American,’ she found her place in society, and she may have felt a bit like her old Philadelphia days if not entirely vindicated in the decisions she had made. The Arnolds were presented to King George and Queen Charlotte. They were rewarded generously for their service, even if General Arnold had not provided the British with the victorious engagement for which they had hoped. A pension paid to Peggy separate from the money paid to her husband is further evidence of her active involvement with the treachery that had left André dead.”
“In St John, New Brunswick, Peggy made a comfortable home for her family, bringing furnishings from London and her indominable spirit. Arnold collected his entire family at their new home, including his spinster sister, Hannah, and his older children. It is unknown at what point after her arrival that Peggy learned of another child her husband had sired. One must wonder after all she had suffered at his side how Peggy felt to discover that Arnold had fathered a child with a woman in St John during his first trip to Canada. At just the point when their life seemed to be turning around, Arnold’s affair drove a wedge between he and his wife. Two months after arriving in St John, Peggy gave birth to another son, named George like the son who had died, a common practice at the time. Had Peggy already learned of her husband’s infidelity? One can imagine how much it might change her state of mind as she recovered from childbirth, depending upon when this realization was made.”
“It is difficult to guess at Peggy’s feelings when Benedict Arnold died on 14, June 1801. He had been irrational, unsuccessful, and unfaithful, but she had stood by him, mostly uncomplainingly. Being a widow had its own challenges, but Peggy addressed them head on. Peggy’s key concern was her finances. Her husband had created a complicated web of business contracts and debts that Peggy was responsible for unwinding as executor of his estate. The fact that Arnold had named his wife executor is evidence of her intellect and his trust in her, as few eighteenth century wives were selected for this role that was typically reserved for men. Peggy had five children besides Arnold’s older sons and illegitimate son in Canada, who he had not left out of his will. One can only imagine what Peggy thought of her husband of twenty-two years including his 14-year-old bastard in his will while she scrambled to ensure her own children’s futures. She refers to him in letters to her sons simply as ‘the Boy,’ though she knew his name was John Sage. ‘The Boy who is with you ought to be taught, by his own labor, to procure his own livelihood; he ought never to have been brought up with any other ideas.’”
Read more about Peggy Shippen Arnold and her struggles after the death of Benedict Arnold, as well as several other amazing 18th century ladies, in my newest book, Women of the American Revolution. It is available at Pen & Sword, Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite book retailer.