Year
1780
Month Day
September 21

Benedict Arnold commits treason

On September 21, 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”

WATCH: Benedict Arnold: Triumph and Treason on HISTORY VAULT

Arnold was born into a well-respected family in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. He apprenticed with an apothecary and was a member of the militia during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). He later became a successful trader and joined the Continental Army when the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies in 1775. When the war ended in 1783, the colonies had won their independence from Britain and formed a new nation, the United States.

During the war, Benedict Arnold proved himself a brave and skillful leader, helping Ethan Allen’s troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then participating in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec later that year, which earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Arnold distinguished himself in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington. However, Arnold had enemies within the military and in 1777, five men of lesser rank were promoted over him. Over the course of the next few years, Arnold married for a second time and he and his new wife lived a lavish lifestyle in Philadelphia, accumulating substantial debt. The debt and the resentment Arnold felt over not being promoted faster were motivating factors in his choice to become a turncoat.

In 1780, Arnold was given command of West Point, an American fort on the Hudson River in New York (and future home of the U.S. military academy, established in 1802). Arnold contacted Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces, and proposed handing over West Point and his men. On September 21 of that year, Arnold met with Major John Andre and made his traitorous pact. However, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and executed. Arnold, the former American patriot, fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. He died in London on June 14, 1801.

READ MORE: Why Did Benedict Arnold Betray America? 

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Great New England Hurricane

Without warning, a powerful Category 3 hurricane slams into Long Island and southern New England, causing 600 deaths and devastating coastal cities and towns. Also called the Long Island Express, the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was the most destructive storm to strike the ...read more

Monarchy abolished in France

In Revolutionary France, the Legislative Assembly votes to abolish the monarchy and establish the First Republic. The measure came one year after King Louis XVI reluctantly approved a new constitution that stripped him of much of his power. Louis ascended to the French throne in ...read more

The Superfortress bomber takes flight

On September 21, 1942, the U.S. B-29 Superfortress makes its debut flight in Seattle, Washington. It was the largest bomber used in the war by any nation. The B-29 was conceived in 1939 by Gen. Hap Arnold, who was afraid a German victory in Europe would mean the United States ...read more

FDR urges repeal of Neutrality Act embargo provisions

On September 21, 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appears before Congress and asks that the Neutrality Acts, a series of laws passed earlier in the decade, be amended. Roosevelt hoped to lift an embargo against sending military aid to countries in Europe facing the ...read more

The great Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph dies in Washington

On September 21, 1904, the Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph dies on the Colville reservation in northern Washington at the age of 64. The whites had described him as superhuman, a military genius, an Indian Napoleon. But in truth, the Nez Perce Chief Him-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt ...read more

Clooney makes Facts of Life debut

On September 21, 1985, a little-known actor named George Clooney makes his first appearance as a handyman on the popular TV sitcom The Facts of Life. Clooney appeared in 17 episodes of the show, which aired from 1979 to 1988 and chronicled the lives of a group of young women who ...read more

Earthquake kills thousands in Taiwan

An earthquake in Taiwan on September 21, 1999 kills thousands of people, causes billions of dollars in damages and leaves an estimated 100,000 homeless. It was the worst earthquake to hit Taiwan since a 1935 tremor that killed 3,200 people. At 1:47 on the morning of September 21, ...read more

A 13-year-old newspaper delivery boy is found dead

The mutilated body of 13-year-old paperboy Danny Joe Eberle is found in his hometown of Bellevue, Nebraska. Eberle had been stabbed multiple times, bound with rope and tortured to death. FBI investigators called in to help catch the vicious killer found only one clue that could ...read more

Mao Zedong outlines the new Chinese government

At the opening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Peking, Mao Zedong announces that the new Chinese government will be “under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” The September 1949 conference in Peking was both a celebration of the ...read more