Home Connecticut John Brown Warns the Congress about Traitorous Benedict Arnold – and No One Listens

John Brown Warns the Congress about Traitorous Benedict Arnold – and No One Listens


In December of 1776, Col. John Brown of Pittsfield, Mass., made an allegation against Connecticut’s Gen. Benedict Arnold so shocking it seemed ridiculous.

During the attack on Fort Ticonderoga, Arnold had “made a treasonable attempt to make his escape . . . to the enemy,” Brown said.  He claimed Arnold had to be arrested to prevent his flight.

Col. Benedict Arnold, before his promotion to general

John Brown

For a junior officer to be blackening the reputation of an American hero – for that’s what Arnold was at the time – seemed shameful. What’s more, Arnold had disciplined Brown for rifling the bags of British officers captured at Fort Ticonderoga and plundering them.

Brown included the allegation in a long list of grievances he sent to Gen. Horatio Gates.  They could easily seem simple retaliation. Congress took up the complaints and, for the most part, cleared Arnold of wrongdoing. But Brown persisted.

In the winter of 1776 and 1777, he printed and distributed a handbill warning of Benedict Arnold’s character. “Money is this man’s God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country,” he wrote. But with Arnold’s heroic efforts at Ticonderoga, Valcour Island, Quebec and Saratoga, Brown’s harping on Arnold’s character fell largely on deaf ears.

Three long years later, the patriots finally discovered Arnold’s treachery trying to sell out his country. Historians have long debated exactly what drove Arnold to this rash act. He complained about being passed over for promotion at one point, left behind by others. And the war cost him tremendously, as he dipped into his personal funds to support his troops.

American Hannibal

Further, Arnold didn’t do well with the bureaucratic side of military life. Though a good warrior – soldiers called him the American Hannibal – he was a horrible accountant. He frustrated Congress with his refusal to track expenses or account for materials. This latter flaw left him open to charges of stealing and using the war for his personal gain. But the losses he incurred paying for his men’s supplies exceeded whatever he might have stolen.

British soldiers shot him twice in the leg – which left him with a permanent limp. And his wife had died while he served his country.

“Having made every sacrifice of fortune and blood, and become a cripple in the service of my country, I little expected to meet the ungrateful returns I have received from my countrymen; but as Congress have stamped ingratitude as a current coin, I must take it,” Arnold fumed in a letter to George Washington.

Yet Washington, Jefferson and other founding fathers had praised him and offered their gratitude. And Arnold, who remarried during the war, continued getting appointments from Washington – first as military governor in Philadelphia and then as commander of the fort at West Point.

Why John Brown?

So how did Brown, a country lawyer from western Massachusetts, see the traitor in the making when others did not?

He had known Arnold longer.

Brown’s sister married Benedict Arnold’s cousin, giving him familiarity with his background. Arnold grew up in Norwich, Conn. His chances for higher education at Yale College were dashed because his drunkard father had squandered the family’s money.

Brown, however, did attend Yale and while in New Haven became familiar with Arnold’s reputation. Though the truth of Arnold’s early life in business has become clouded by efforts to smear him in his later years, Brown had a firm opinion that Arnold was not an ethical nor honest man.

By the time of the Revolution, Arnold had regained his fortune and home (which his father had lost). But Brown didn’t believe the leopard could change his spots.

Hoping to appease Arnold’s ambition, Washington gave Arnold command of the fort at West Point, but by then the general was hopelessly soured on the American cause. He famously tried to sell out to British Major John Andre and surrender the fort for £20,000. Andre was hanged when the plot was discovered and Arnold changed sides, leading British troops in battles in Connecticut and Virginia.

As for Brown, he most likely never had the satisfaction of knowing his charges about Arnold were proven right. Historians will never know for certain what prompted Brown to make his allegations — jealousy or something more concrete.

Arnold was discovered as a traitor on September 25, 1780. Brown died in fighting in the town of Stone Arabia in upstate New York on October 17, ambushed. He most likely never learned of Arnold’s final treason.

This story last updated in 2022.


Emily S Palmer February 19, 2016 - 10:49 am

I wonder how history might have been changed if Congress had listened.

John W Kennedy February 19, 2016 - 9:48 pm

I don’t know that it would have changed at all, or at least materially. West Point would have remained in American hands, as it did, the British strategy to split the rebellion at the Hudson would have failed, as it did, and Arnold would have ended his life in disgrace, as he did. History would have lost a great yarn, André would have lived, perhaps, to see the Second Hundred Years’ War to the end, and Peggy Shippen Arnold would have lost her place in history.

Robyn August 25, 2018 - 10:23 am

You also wouldn’t have won Saratoga. With a falsely accused Benedict Arnold out of the Revolution, Saratoga is left up to Gates and Gates only. Gates loses. You might have won Camden though, since Gates wouldn’t have commanded it, if you made it that far.

Robyn Neibauer May 7, 2018 - 4:13 pm

I think that at this time, it was pure slander. Arnold fought bravely at Saratoga. He was motivated by ingratitude and the fact that he was treated like the rubbish in the rubbish bin.

Mary Anne Tomlinson Sullivan February 19, 2016 - 1:40 pm

I descend from Loyalists…Benedict Arnold was a hero. LOL.

John W Kennedy February 19, 2016 - 9:40 pm

No one called Arnold a hero. He was publicly branded a traitor in the very House of Lords. André, on the other hand, was pitied by all. Washington said that ordering André to be hanged—not even shot, like a soldier—was the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his military career, and, as early as 1798, William Dunlap of New York produced “André: a Tragedy in Five Acts”, generally regarded as the first great American play. (You can read it on my website at http://john-w-kennedy.name )

Jessica Porras-Wiley February 20, 2016 - 12:36 am

Steve Wiley

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Greg Miller December 6, 2019 - 1:24 am

Brown was not “disciplined by Arnold for rifling the bags of British officers captured at Fort Ticonderoga and plundering them”. He was charged with plundering baggage in Canada by his then-commanding officer, General Montgomery. In fact, Brown was never disciplined by Arnold, or anyone, he was acquitted.

Also, many authors repeat the false information that Brown’s sister Elizabeth married Arnold’s cousin – although some say it was his uncle. The Oliver Arnold that Elizabeth Brown married was from an attorney from Providence; he was the Attorney General of Rhode Island and served as John Brown’s law tutor. He died in 1771, the same year that John Brown graduated Yale. Benedict Arnold also had an uncle (his father’s brother) who was named Oliver Arnold, but he was a cooper and ship’s captain from Norwich and New Haven. There is absolutely no evidence that Brown knew Arnold in New Haven, but he probably did become “familiar with Arnold’s reputation”; everyone in New Haven would have been familiar with the wealthiest merchant and ship captain in New Haven, which is what Arnold was before the war.

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