Friday, June 10, 2011

The Benedict Arnold/Dr Benjamin Church Jr Confrontation- Part One

  Surprising as it is to many people, two of Revolutionary War America's  most notorious individuals, Benedict Arnold and Dr Benjamin Church, Jr., did meet and had a very brief, but troubled relationship. The circumstances surrounding their interactions are a little complicated and we need to set the scene.

Benedict Arnold

  On April 19th, 1775, as the British marched on Concord, couriers sent word of the outbreak of hostilities throughout New England and asked for support. When word reached New Haven, Connecticutt, the town leaders voted not to send any aid. However,  34 year old Benedict Arnold, ship's captain and prosperous merchant, defied them, mustered the Governor's 2nd Company of Footguards, all sixty three of them, of which he was Captain, seized the town's gunpowder and marched to the relief of Massachusetts. Arnold had been voted Captain of the Footguards by his men despite his inexperience in the art of war; but given his personal wealth ( much of which was probably the result of smuggling), his reputation as a staunch Patriot, and his high standing among New Haven's working class, he was the logical choice. Arnold had  been smitten with the "military bug" and had run away from home three times as a boy to enlist to fight in the French and Indian War.

   On the march from New Haven to the outskirts of Boston, Arnold had a brief but fateful meeting with Colonel Samuel Holden Parsons, a Connecticut Patriot who was returning from Cambridge to begin recruiting troops in Hartford. Parsons mentioned to Arnold that the Patriot force in Cambridge suffered from a shortage of a number of things, but especially cannon and other ordnance pieces. Obviously, this put the Patriots forces at a great disadvantage relative to the British, who were not only well supplied with artillery but could put the cannon of the British fleet, moored in Boston Harbor, to bear. Arnold, who had spent some time in northern New York during the French and Indian War, responded with an account of the state of Fort Ticonderoga and mentioned that the fort had a large number of cannon. This somewhat innocent exchange would prove to the source of some nasty problems for the Patriots after Arnold and Parsons, each going their separate ways, each decided that Fort Ticonderoga must be taken and the artillery pieces it contained seized and put to use for the Patriot cause.

   For over twenty years, Benedict Arnold had been traveling all over colonial America from Canada to the southern Caribbean by foot, horseback, stagecoach, and ship learning its harbors, roads and fortifications. Arnold pointed out to Parsons that in two forts in particular, Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, there were hundreds of good cannon for the taking. A few hundred men could overpower the depleted guard forces in these forts, seize the artillery and then drag the guns to Boston for use against the British.
Dr Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley

   Eight days after Lexington/Concord, Arnold and his well-dressed, resplendent Footguards strutted into the ragtag American camp at Cambridge cutting such a figure that they were immediately singled out to escort the body of a British officer mortally wounded at Concord through the lines to British HQs in Boston. The footguards uniforms were:

   "A scarlet coat of common length, the lapels, cuffs and collars of buff and trimmed with plain silver wash buttons, white linen vest, breeches and stockings, black half leggins and small, fashionable and narrow ruffled shirt." The coat was made with slide pockets but no flaps. Later, cartridge boxes, hats, cockades were adopted. The hair was clubbed behind, the side locks braided and powdered. The drummers were dressed in buff faced with scarlet and the fifers in scarlet with buff collars and cuffs.

Artemus Ward by Charles Wilson Peale

   After his return from Boston, Arnold was introduced to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on April 30th, 1775. The Committee members had been inundated with schemes to fight the British. Arnold had sought out Dr Joseph Warren, then the powerful Chairman of the Committee, and it appears the two men hit it off.  Dr Church was the second most powerful. Arnold was brought in to explain to the Committee the ruined condition of the two New York forts, their depleted garrisons, and usable artillery. Warren asked Arnold to prepare a written proposal., which he did.

You have desired me to state the number of cannon, etc. at Ticonderoga. I have certain information that there are at Ticonderoga eight pieces of heavy cannon, twenty brass guns, from four to eighteen: pounders, and ten to twelve large mortars. At Skenesboro, on the south bay, there are three or four brass cannon. The Fort Ticonderoga is in a ruinous condition and has not more than fifty men at the most. There are a large number of small arms and considerable stores and a british sloop of seventy or eighty tons on the lake. The place could not hold out an hour against a vigorous onset.
   Two days later, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety sent a subcommittee, headed by Warren, to confer with Major General Artemus Ward, who was in command of the American troops surrounding Boston. Ward was easily persuaded of the viability of Arnold's plan and Warren and Ward struck a bargain. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was to give Arnold L100 in cash, and Ward would supply him with ten horses, two hundred pounds of gunpowder, two hundred pounds of lead, and a thousand flints - all he said he could spare. Because these supplies were so limited, Arnold was also authorized to draw on the financial credit of the Committee of Safety in obtaining "suitable provisions and stores for the army." Arnold was commissioned a Colonel in the Massachusetts Militia, appointed to a "secret service" and allowed to select two captains to assist him in recruiting up to four hundred soldiers. His orders were to take "possession of the cannons, mortars, stores, etc., upon the lake" and then return with  "serviceable" weaponry to Cambridge.

   It was Dr Benjamin Church, Jr. who signed Arnold's orders for the Committee of Safety. It appears that Dr Church had replaced Dr Warren as Chairman of the Committee in the early part of May.

   The next day, May 3rd, 1775, Arnold rode west with a few aides, totally abandoning his company of Connecticut Footguards. In addition to the men he and his aides would recruit in Western Massachusetts, Arnold planned on using Ethan Allen and his "Green Mountain Boys" in any attacks on British forts in northern New York.  Thus he  thought he would have  sufficient force to complete his mission.
Painting of Fort Ticonderoga as it may have appeared. The present Fort Ticonderoga has been reconstructed.

   Arnold, however, was not aware that Colonel Parsons had also been giving a lot of thought to the artillery at Fort Ticonderoga. After leaving Arnold, Parsons rushed into Hartford and contacted Silas Deane, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Connecticut, and convinced him of the merit of taking Ticonderoga as soon as possible. On no one's authority but their own, they drew L300 from the Provincial Treasury and picked captain Edward Mott to lead an expedition to capture Ticonderoga. They also found Heman Allen, Ethan Allen's younger brother, and sent him off to the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont) to enlist the services of his older brother and the Green Mountain Boys. Mott and his small raiding party started north on Saturday, April 29th, the very day Captain Arnold and his Footguards marched into Cambridge.

   It should be noted that Ethan Allen was born in Connecticutt in 1737 or 1738 and had lived there until 1770. His brother Heman operated a general store in Salisbury, Connecticutt so the family was well known in the state. At this time, the Allens, who held numerous land grants in Vermont, were in an ongoing struggle with New York State which also claimed title to the same lands. The Allens hoped that by involving the Green Mountain Boys in an attack against the King's property in New York, while acting the part of disinterested patriots, they could solidify their rights to their land. . On May 3rd, the same date that Arnold began his journey across Massachusetts, the Mott force, augmented by about fifty volunteers from Western Massachusetts,  made contact with Ethan Allen in Bennington, Vermont.

Ethan Allen

   Our story continues in Part Two.

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