IN BURLINGTON CITY at the end of Wood Street, on the banks of the Delaware stood a house that was the summer home of Philadelphia Judge Edward Shippen. It’s hard to believe that this bucolic location had a connection to a scandal during the Revolutionary War that could have shocked the rebellion to its foundation.
Judge Shippen had three daughters and the youngest, Peggy, was her father’s darling, a stunning blue-eyed blonde with a beguiling personality who had her father (and most men) wrapped around her finger. The Shippens were loyalist members of Philadelphia society and when the British occupied the city, Peggy found Major John André quite to her liking. Unfortunately, the next year the British had to evacuate the city, returning control to the Americans. This time around, engaging in the company of patriots, Peggy met General Benedict Arnold, a heroic and wounded veteran of many battles. Smitten, he courted Miss Shippen and they eventually were married, he a 38 year old widower with three boys, and she a spoiled young socialite of 19. For a time, the Arnolds enjoyed all the amenities that living in a cosmopolitan city like Philadelphia could offer. But the General felt underapreciated after constantly being passed over for promotions and prestigious assignments. He had also contributed a good deal of his own money towards supplying the American forces and complained that he was not being properly compensated. And coupled with the expensive tastes of his young bride, Arnold found himself sinking deeply into debt.
Peggy suggested he could ease their financial burden by working for the British. In the meantime, Arnold was given command of the newly constructed fortress at West Point on the Hudson river. Mrs. Arnold contacted her old and dear friend Major André (who was actually a spy) and together, all three drew up a plan in which Arnold would provide enough documentation to the British that would essentially allow them to gain control of West Point with relative ease. In return, General Benedict Arnold would receive 10,000 pounds and a commission in the British military. Major André was captured however, by highwaymen who had every intention of robbing him. But when they made him remove his boots, they found hidden within them documents that included Arnold’s signature. André then was turned over to the American military and executed. It was a sad affair as it appears he was a very likable fellow. Even Gen’l Washington had misgivings. He would rather it would have been Arnold.
As for Benedict Arnold, he and his conniving young wife escaped to New York City. Arnold did receive a commission in the British Army, but only a minescule amount of the money owed him. The disgraced couple eventually moved to London and lived the rest of their lives there, held in contempt by both British and Americans.