On this day in 1781, British Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, a former Patriot officer already infamous and much maligned for betraying the United States the previous year, adds to his notoriety by ordering his British command to burn New London, Connecticut.
The Continental Army had been using New London to store a large stash of military supplies, but only stationed Captain Adam Sharpley and a contingent of 24 Continental soldiers there to protect it. General Arnold’s British soldiers, with help from the area’s Loyalists, quickly overwhelmed Captain Sharpley and the Continentals, who had no other option but to retreat and leave New London and the military supplies unguarded.
After looting the town, Arnold ordered his British soldiers to set fire to every building, causing the equivalent of more than $500,000 in damages. Benedict Arnold was already despised throughout the colonies for his attempt to sell the Patriot fort at West Point, New York, to the British in 1780 for a bribe of £20,000. The burning of New London sealed his reputation as a public enemy and his name became a synonym in common American parlance for “traitor.” The bravery and military prowess Arnold had previously demonstrated on behalf of the Patriots at Ticonderoga and Quebec in 1775 have been completely overshadowed by his later actions against the country he had once so valiantly served.