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Peggy Shippen Arnold at The Hermitage

Peggy ArnoldIn one of the most dramatic turnarounds of the war, General Benedict Arnold decided in the summer of 1780 to betray the Rebel cause by turning the important Hudson Highlands fort of West Point, which he was commanding, over to the British. He had married Peggy Shippen about a year earlier; she, in turn, had befriended British officers—particularly Major John Andre—during the occupation of her home city of Philadelphia in the winter of 1777–78. Before the betrayal was complete, Arnold sent an aide, Major David Franks, to fetch Peggy and their five-month-old child from Philadelphia. His detailed travel instructions stated: “At Paramus you will be very politely received by Mrs. Watkins and Mrs. Prevost, very genteel people.”

After Andre's capture and the discovery of the plot by Rebels, Arnold fled to the British lines, leaving his wife and daughter at West Point. Peggy Arnold played the role of the injured wife and convinced Washington and his aide Alexander Hamilton of her innocence and asked to be allowed to return to her father in Philadelphia. Although she carried a pass signed by Washington himself, Peggy Arnold found hostility along her return route south, often being refused food and lodging.

Still, she found refuge at The Hermitage. According to an account by Aaron Burr, written many years after the event, Peggy Arnold, believing she had a sympathetic Loyalist ear, confessed to her part in the West Point conspiracy to Theodosia Prevost. At The Hermitage, as soon as they were left alone, Mrs. Arnold became tranquilized and assured Mrs. Prevost that she was heartily tired of the theatricals she was exhibiting.” She related that “she had corresponded with the British commander, and that she was disgusted with the American cause and those who had the management of public affairs, and that through unceasing perseverance she had ultimately brought the general into an arrangement to surrender West Point.” (See Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the Revolution [1941], 250–51; Willard Randall, Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor [1990], 571–72.)

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