Bits of SJ: Benedict Arnold in SJ

by R. Cohen | Apr 21, 2003
Bits of SJ: Benedict Arnold in SJ Located on the corner of Talbot Street at the Delaware River in Burlington City, the Shippen House was originally built in 1756 as a summer home for the family of Judge Edward Shippen, a wealthy Philadelphian. In 1778, seventeen-year-old Margaret (Peggy), the youngest of Shippen's three daughters, fell in love with a widower twenty years her senior named Benedict Arnold. Arnold had recently been appointed Military Governor of Philadelphia, after being wounded in the battle of Ticonderoga.

Peggy's father was uncertain about their pairing. Judge Shippen had never expressed support for the Revolution, and was actually prohibited from traveling extensively due to suspicion that he sympathized with the British. And Shippen certainly didn't approve of his daughter marrying anyone on the shaky financial footing of a soldier, when many wealthier suitors could likely be found.

Despite her father's concern, the two were married before Peggy's 19th birthday. Living up to the social status the Shippens expected proved beyond their means, and Arnold tried various schemes to bring in more money, and wound up court-martialed for using government supplies for his own purposes. The grandest scheme began less than two weeks after their marriage, when - quite likely arranged by Peggy - a Philadelphian china dealer who sympathized with the British carried a letter from Benedict Arnold to the British in New York, offering his services as a spy.

The rest, of course, is history. In 1780, Arnold persuaded George Washington to put him in command of West Point, intending to turn it over to the British. His contact with the British - an adjutant general Peggy had befriended during the British occupation of Philadelphia - was captured in disguise behind enemy lines, and Arnold fled West Point in a panic to a British ship. By the end of the war, the family had moved to London, where they lived for nearly twenty years.

In 1801, with their eldest son serving in India in the British army, the Arnolds moved to New Brunswick, Canada, where Benedict Arnold failed to succeed as a trader and died of a respiratory illness. Peggy arranged for their four younger children to be educated, including military school for the three remaining boys, but died three years later.

The Shippen House in Burlington remains a private residence.

For more South Jersey History, visit our SJ History page.

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Author: R. Cohen

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