Benedict Arnold, Connecticut’s Homegrown Terrorist

Sunday Series talk focused on Benedict Arnold, Connecticut’s Homegrown Terrorist

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Braving the aftermath of a large snowstorm that crippled the east coast, author Eric D. Lehman spoke to a large Sunday Series audience at Kent Town Hall on Jan. 24. He presented a modern view of Benedict Arnold. Lehman noted that when beginning the book, he hoped he could vindicate Arnold, or at least make a case that he had been unfairly maligned, but this hope vanished during this research. “He was a bad man,” Lehman said.

Yet he was also a courageous soldier who had many prominent friends and admirers before his treachery. Lehman presented a modern “social network” analysis of Arnold’s social circle, and showed how connected he was to prominent colonial figures.

Lehman also explored the various meanings of the word “treason,” and how the modern usage does not fit the situation in the colonies during the Revolution. What made Arnold’s treachery stand out, Lehman declared, was that he didn’t just betray his country – he betrayed his friends.

Lehman ended his talk with a haunting story about Arnold encountering Talleyrand, the notoriously slippery French politician who worked for the Bourbons, several revolutionary governments, and Napoleon, among others. At a tavern in Portsmouth England, Talleyrand asked an American stranger for letters of introduction he could use on his trip. It turned out to be Arnold, who refused, saying, “I am perhaps the only American who cannot give you letters for his own country. All the relations I had there are now broken. I must never return.” Talleyrand’s comment: “I must confess that he excited my pity.”

The Kent Historical Society’s mission is to collect, preserve, interpret and present the rich history of Kent as well as to provide educational and research material to enrich the public understanding of Kent’s artistic and cultural heritage. For more information, please call 860-927-4587.