Benedict Arnold, the infamous traitor of the Revolutionary War, came to Deerfield twice. The first time Arnold made an entrance, not as a traitor, but as an ambitious Connecticut patriot on his way to war. The second time Arnold arrived quietly, with his reputation preceding him.
The first visit to Deerfield occurred on May 6, 1775. Arnold had just been granted permission to proceed to Fort Ticonderoga and take the fort from the British. About the same time, Ethan Allen of Vermont, was also planning the same attack. The two would eventually meet up and join forces. Together they would easily take the fort from the unprepared British.
After Arnold left Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his orders newly written, he wasted no time in executing them. One of his first stops on the way north was a detour to Deerfield to deliver a commission for supplies. George Sheldon, in his History of Deerfield, Massachusetts, describes Arnold’s first visit as follows: “the newly-made Col. Arnold, resplendent in a new uniform, bright epaulettes, gold lace and waving plumes, attended by a servant, rode furiously up the street. He halted at the tavern of Maj. Salah Barnard. … He sent a messenger for Thomas W. Dickinson, to whom he told his plans; and he handed the astonished farmer, a commission as Assistant Commissary. … After a social glass with his subordinate the energetic Arnold mounted his horse and pushed on over the Hoosac mountain, arriving at Rupert, Vt., on the morning of May 8th.”
This quick visit to Deerfield must have stirred up the village from what had been a quiet routine day to a small hive of busy men preparing for war. Although the Revolution had already begun earlier that year, this was the first time the War had come to them. Arnold seemed to have a way of stirring up feelings and creating commotions wherever he went.
The second time Benedict Arnold came to Deerfield was very different from the first. He came quietly and in the company of George Washington! In December 2017, Historic Deerfield Library received as a gift papers relating to the Porter family of Hadley, Massachusetts. One of the Porters, Elisha (1742-1796), was an officer in the Revolution. Porter was involved in the fighting at Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and in Canada. He also served as a courier for George Washington. Among his papers newly received, are two handwritten and signed orders, from George Washington and Benedict Arnold.
Benedict Arnold’s orders read: “Sir I am this minute Informed of your Arrival at St Johns, with part of your Regt. you will please on receit of this to, Draw, Ten Days Provission at Chamble, & proceed In your Battoes, Down the Sorell, to the Army before Quebec & join Genl. Wooster. you will please to take as many Men in the Battoes as they will Carry with Two Chests of Medicine at Chamble. I wish you Success, I am Sir Your Hbl servant B Arnold B Genl.” The order is dated Montreal, April 20, 1776. It is written about a year after Arnold’s visit to Deerfield, and capture of Ticonderoga. Arnold had now begun his attack on Canada which would eventually fail. Yet Arnold would go on to win acclaim at Valcour Island, and contribute to the victory at Saratoga. Then, he goes on to become infamous.
Like the first visit, the second arrival of Arnold created a stirring excitement. Everyone here was honored and pleased to receive such unique pieces of history related to our nation’s founding. Indeed, it seems Benedict Arnold is destined to create a stir wherever he goes!