In that same month, Benedict Arnold made his entrance into Saint John, soon settling into an impressive residence at the intersection of King and Canterbury Streets. This grand home was a 2 1/2 storey wooden structure with a distinct gambrel roof facing King Street. The interiors boasted spacious rooms, several with fireplaces. The entrance on King Street had an enclosed porch accessed by stairs. Three dormer windows adorned the top floor of this notable house. It was in this home that George, one of Arnold’s children, was born on September 5, 1787. Notably, Arnold fathered eight children: two sons with his first wife, five with his second (one of them was born illegitimately while his wife visited her mother in Philadelphia, and named John Gage), yet Arnold ensured this son was treated no different from his siblings and made provisions for him in his will.
Venturing into business, Arnold established himself as a merchant in Saint John, focusing on trade with the West Indies. He quickly set up a warehouse and office near the harbour at Charlotte and Broad Streets. Ambitious in his dealings, he soon amassed a significant amount of property in areas like Prince William and Germain Streets, and expanded his real estate ventures to Maugerville, York, other counties, and Fredericton. Along the Saint John harbour, he constructed multiple wharves and owned a residence in the new Provincial capital, Ste. Annes. However, evidence of his residency there remains scant.
Expanding his maritime interests, Arnold commissioned the building of a 300-ton sailing ship in Maugerville. But in a twist of fate, his relationship with the shipbuilder, Nehemiah Beckwith, took a downturn. Beckwith felt cheated, as Arnold demanded numerous costly modifications without extra pay. The dispute almost financially ruined Beckwith. Yet, on June 6, 1786, The Gazette highlighted:
“Last Thursday, Brig. Gen. Arnold’s splendid new ship, the ‘Lord Sheffield’, made its way through the city’s falls. With a 300-ton capacity and made of white oak, it’s now anchored. The General’s commendable contributions have significantly benefited this budding colony’s trade. Such dedication surely merits applause from anyone hoping for its growth.”
Named the “Lord Sheffield” after a Loyalist supporter in England, Arnold utilized the ship for multiple trade expeditions to the West Indies. Mrs. Arnold, with her charm and sociability, quickly became a beloved figure in Saint John’s budding social circles. Unlike her more assertive husband, she was friendly, inquisitive, and genuinely interested in people’s lives. Initially, she felt isolated and penned about her solitude during Arnold’s trips, mentioning the strangeness of being in an unfamiliar land devoid of close companions. But with time, she adeptly managed her domestic affairs with grace and wisdom.
In 1786, Arnold teamed up with his son Richard and Munson Hayt, a former military colleague now serving as a justice of the peace in York county. Even though Arnold had previously grappled with debt, he was relentless in pursuing those who owed him money, often resorting to the courts. From July 25, 1789 to May 1791, he initiated 19 lawsuits against those he believed owed him, showing no regard for their societal standing. This was evident when he sued Daniel Murray, a member of the Provincial legislature.
His business ventures were thriving until July 11, 1788, when a fire razed his store. During this incident, Arnold’s son, Henry, narrowly avoided injury. Following this catastrophe, his professional alliance with Hayt ended, setting the stage for a high-profile libel case.
Hayt had previously taken loans from Arnold and, unable to pay them back, faced Arnold’s usual legal action. While Arnold won several judgements amassing over 2,500 pounds, he, in an arguably petty move, filed another case against Hayt for a mere 12 pounds, 5 shillings, and 3 pence.
Hayt, arrested twice and already resentful, grew to despise Arnold. Knowing that Arnold had insured the store on Charlotte and Broad streets for 5,000 pounds, Hayt accused him of committing arson for insurance money. He was quite vocal about his beliefs, stating that Arnold’s reputation couldn’t get any worse and even vowed to prove in court that Arnold had burnt down his own store. Due to these allegations, the insurance company hesitated to settle the claim.
Naturally, Arnold sued Hayt for defamation, enlisting Ward Chipman as his legal counsel—a man who had significant historical and legal credentials. Hayt hired the accomplished attorney, Elias Hardy.
Arnold’s slander case garnered significant attention and kicked off in Saint John’s Supreme Court with a 12-member jury on September 7, 1791. The trial was held in an Episcopal church on Germain Street.
Legally, Hayt was tasked with validating his accusations against Arnold. However, the court’s restrictions on questioning witnesses about Arnold’s past acts outside the present case greatly limited their strategy. A colleague of Ward Chipman commented:
Today, Judge Isaac Allen presides over the circuit court. The defamation case (Arnold vs Hayt) is scheduled for Friday. It’s speculated that if Arnold’s past dealings are brought into light, the trial might extend for days. Arnold has assembled thirty witnesses. I recall accompanying the General to interview two black men a month ago. One had been at the store the night it burnt, and their testimonies, marked by sincerity and fear of repercussions, seemed so genuine and straightforward. They hadn’t interacted with any of Arnold’s family regarding the fire. Their evident honesty, particularly distinctive in black men, suggests that the fire was accidental, countering Hayt’s claims. Chipman is deeply invested in this case, even going so far as to tell me it’s one of the vilest schemes aimed at ruining a man he’s ever seen.
Arnold’s defense relied on twenty-seven witnesses, while Hayt presented testimony from twelve. The official record reads:
“After presenting their evidence, Arnold summoned witnesses to counter the claims made, including his sons, Richard and Henry, both present during the fire at the store. As Judge Allen delivered his instructions to the jury, several other officials were seated alongside him.”
Ultimately, the jury found Hayt guilty of slander. Arnold’s reputation was somewhat restored, even if the damages awarded were much less than the £5000 he had sought. His insurance payout was settled soon after.
Yet, doubts about Arnold’s integrity persisted in the community. In a dramatic demonstration of public sentiment, residents, potentially instigated by Hayt, congregated outside Arnold’s residence, symbolically burning his likeness. The event escalated to such an extent that the military was dispatched from Fort Howe and official action had to be taken to disperse the crowd. The soldiers, however, seemed reluctant to protect Arnold.
Worn down by the relentless public animosity in Saint John, the Arnold family yearned for a fresh start. While they did form close bonds with a handful, notably the Chipmans, public antagonism made daily life oppressive.
In the same year, Arnold departed New Brunswick for England, after a six-year residence in Saint John. Yet, controversy remained a constant companion. By 1792, he found himself in a duel with a notable figure, with another prominent individual as his backup. Arnold resumed his trading activities, aiding his homeland by sharing critical information about enemy operations in 1794. Recognizing his contributions, the King bestowed upon him a significant land parcel in Upper Canada in 1798.
After leaving Saint John, the Arnolds maintained contact with friends back in Canada, reminiscing about their times and shared memories. In heartfelt letters, they expressed their affection and shared insights about their life in England.
Unfortunately, in his later years, Arnold’s health declined. He passed away in England on June 14, 1801, at 60. Even in death, his ties to Saint John remained strong, as he left his Canadian properties to his family. His wife, Peggy Arnold, astutely managed the complex issues surrounding Arnold’s legacy. In one letter, she reflected with a hint of pride:
Peggy Arnold wrote, reflecting on her late husband’s financial affairs:
“I’ve settled nearly all of the outstanding debts from my dear husband’s estate, save for a small amount, which I can soon address. It’s been an arduous journey, one I believe few could have undertaken.”
She often referred to Arnold as the paragon of husbands, lamenting deeply his loss. In her letters to her children, she penned:
“I’ve preserved your father’s legacy by clearing his debts. You’ll never have to bear the shame of him having burdened others more than his own kin. I hope you’ll remember him for his intentions, not the outcomes, cherishing his memory.”
In a heartfelt homage, she continued:
“His intentions were always noble, never compromising his integrity. His memory should be a source of pride for his offspring.”
Peggy Arnold passed away in 1804 in London, at the age of 45.
By January 4, 1839, the last of the Saint John properties linked to the Arnolds was sold to a Samuel Halbett, marking the end of the family’s connection to the region.
There’s an account of one of Arnold’s sons, James, returning to Saint John in 1819. On seeing their former home, he was moved to tears. Later, in 1830, James was designated as aide-de-camp to King William IV.
Many concur that Arnold’s wartime achievements were notable, with some viewing him as one of the finest battlefield leaders of the American Revolution. Yet in American history, he’s chiefly remembered for his act of betrayal. Similarly, the Loyalists of Saint John couldn’t look beyond his defection, overshadowing his significant achievements.
In most circles today, Benedict Arnold remains a figure synonymous with betrayal — a byword for treachery. An appropriate epitaph for him might be, “His name lives on.” Yet whenever his name arises, it’s almost always meant as a reproach. The saying goes, “Old soldiers never fade away,” but Arnold’s legacy is far more complex.
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