The Treasonous Couple
Crippled by his wounds at Saratoga, Benedict Arnold was put in charge of Philadelphia, where he took to socializing with loyalist families, such as the Shippens, as well as to extravagant living, which he financed with questionable dealings. While in Philadelphia, he met, fell in love with, and married the much younger Peggy Shippen – she was 18, while he was 38. Her spendthrift habits soon put him deep in debt. Her Loyalist leanings soon put him deep in treason. Within a month of the marriage, Peggy put him in contact with her former lover, John Andre, by then, chief of British intelligence. Arnold began negotiating with the British the price of treason.
Peggy used her seemingly innocent correspondence across enemy lines as cover for her husband’s treasonous correspondence with the British. Arnold would write his correspondence with the enemy in invisible ink, then Peggy would pen innocent fluff on top of it in her own handwriting. Upon receipt, John Andre’s spy shop would apply chemicals to Peggy’s letter, which reacted with and revealed the invisible ink letter in Arnold’s hand beneath.
In 1779, Andre was promoted to the rank of major and placed in charge of gathering intelligence for the British. At the time, the war in the northern colonies had entered a stalemate, following the collapse of the British campaign of 1777, which had aimed to split New England from New York and Pennsylvania. The plan remained viable, however, provided the British could control the Hudson River. Were that to happen, the British could sail north from their base of operations in New York City, deep into upstate New York. From there, the British could interdict communications with New England, or even launch an invasion into that region. Aware of that threat, the Patriots built strong fortifications on bluffs overlooking the Hudson at West Point, upstream from New York City and choking off the river to enemy navigation. Capturing West Point became a Holy Grail for the British.
By 1780, Benedict Arnold had resigned his command of Philadelphia and got himself assigned to the command of West Point. That year, with Peggy Shippen as intermediary, and most likely at her prompting, Andre began communicating with Arnold to negotiate treason. Arnold agreed to deliver West Point to the British in exchange for Â£20,000 – about $3.7 million in 2018 US dollars. They met secretly in September of 1780, and Arnold gave Andre the plans for West Point, along with civilian clothes and a passport to get him through American lines. However, Andre was detained by an American patrol, and the incriminating documents were found on him.
Andre was sent back to the Continental Army headquarters, where he almost convinced his captors to send him to Benedict Arnold, whose treason had not yet been suspected. However, Patriot spies in New York had sent word that a high-ranking American officer had turned traitor, and that information stopped Andre, at the last minute, from getting sent to Arnold. Cross-checking the documents found on Andre with the intelligence gathered in New York undid the plot. During interrogation, Andre asked how he would be treated, and he was reminded of Nathan Hale, an American officer hanged by the British as a spy. When Andre asked if the situations were similar, the reply was: “Yes, precisely similar, and similar shall be your fate“. Andre was tried, convicted, and hanged as a spy on October 2nd, 1780.