The Arnold Family - England to America
A Patriot and A Traitor - Cousins
Once again, earnest research has turned up another of those eerie coincidences. Some call it Fate, some think it only coincidence. Regardless of your view, dear reader, an honest examination of your reaction will certainly include a few tickles of the spine if not outright tingling. The Arnold family lines extend to our generation – though most don't know it!
William Arnold, born 24 June 1587 in Dorset County, England, was the sixth generation descended from Roger Arnold of historic English fame. William and wife, Christian Peake Arnold, born 1583, had four children. Elizabeth, born in England 23 Nov 1611, wed William Carpenter. Benedict, born 21 Dec 1615 in Dorset traveled with his parents, siblings and their brother-in-law Carpenter to America. William, wife Christian, their four children, and their son-in-law William Carpenter arrived 24 June 1635 in New England, going first to Hingham, Massachusetts. Soon thereafter, whether motivated by the need for more land or in appreciation of the teachings of Roger Williams or other issues, they relocated to the little settlement of Moshassuck, arriving 20 April 1636. Roger Williams had become infamous or famous (dependent upon personal beliefs) for his stance against the charter of the church which permitted the taking of native Indian land in the New World without payment therefor. (One of the native Americans poorly treated by the first settlers was Metacomet, a son of Massasoit who had greeted the first Pilgrims at Plymouth. Wamsutta, eldest son of Massasoit, would become tribal leader following his father’s death but would soon also meet his death. Metacomet then succeeded to the role of tribal leader. Metacomet was given the English name of King Philip and would become famous for instigating King Philip’s War, a costly and historic confrontation for Colonial Americans.)
Roger Williams, by this time having been sanctioned by both the Church of England (thus, the English king) and the officials of the church at Hingham had avoided possible imprisonment or lynching in England by escaping across the Seekonk River to an area unclaimed by the British Crown. He purchased the land from the Narragansett Indians and named his little settlement, first, New Providence – later to become simply Providence, an apt name for the freedom it offered its settlers. It lay upon the boundaries of the Moshassuck River (by some the “Mooshansic River) which stretched almost nine miles from what is now Lincoln to Providence, Rhode Island.
The named twenty-five settlers who first populated Providence, Rhode Island were: (1) Roger Williams, his wife Mary and their daughters Mary and Freeborn; (2) William Harris, his wife Susannah and son Andrew; (3) John Smith (a miller), his wife Alice and their children John Jr. and Elizabeth; (4) Francis Wickes, a minor; (5) Thomas Angell, a minor; (6) Joshua Verin and his wife Jane; (7) William Arnold, his wife Christian, daughter Joanne, and son Stephen; (8) Benedict Arnold, still a minor and a son of William and Christian Arnold; (9) William Carpenter, wife Elizabeth (a daughter of William Arnold mentioned above); (10) William Mann, wife Francis Hopkins Mann (a niece of William Arnold); (11) Thomas Hopkins, still a minor, a nephew of William Arnold, and the ancestor of Stephen Hopkins who would become Governor of the state of Rhode Island in future years.
The first settlers in Providence included the extended Arnold family; however, by 1638 as a result of “heated differences” with Williams, the entire Arnold family would join William Harris in founding the village of Pawtuxet. It is in this area that the extensive Arnold family of America would forge its beginnings.
Benedict Arnold, son of William and Christian, would wed Damaris Westcott, eldest child of Stukely Westcott. Stukely Westcott had been one of the early settlers of Providence Plantations and an avid follower of Roger Williams. He is noted as one of the founding members of the first Baptist Church in America. Benedict and Damaris must have met in about 1638 before the little settlement splintered as a result of the severe differences in beliefs and traditions, for they wed 17 December 1640 at Pawtuxet and together brought nine children into the world. Stukely Westcott is surely one of the more colorful characters in early Colonial America. He is noted as “being most active in colonial affairs from 1650 to 1660 when he was a commissioner, surveyor of highways, and the keeper of a house of entertainment. His highest offices were as an Assistant in 1653 and much later as a deputy to the General Court in 1671 when he was almost 80 years old! He made his will on January 12, 1677 but died the same day with it unsigned, leaving his affairs in limbo for the following two decades.”
This first mentioned Benedict Arnold was but nineteen years of age when he crossed the Atlantic with his family to the New World. He assimilated quickly, learning a number of the native American tribal languages. This would serve him well in the years to come, as he was often called upon to act as interpreter during some of the most critical negotiations between the tribes and the Rhode Island colony, the other interpreter being Roger Williams. Benedict would move his family from Pawtuxet to Newport in 1651 where his first official service as a public official would occur. He would become a freeman, Commissioner, and Assistant, before succeeding Roger Williams as president of the colony, serving three years. When re-elected president in 1662, during his second term of this service, the Royal Charter of 1663 was delivered, which named him Governor of the colony and offering “broad freedoms and self-determination” to the colony. He is credited with being a “bold and decisive leader” and was elected to two additional terms as Governor, “the last time following the devastation of King Philip’s War.” He died 19 June 1678 while still in office. Thus, this Benedict Arnold will be referred to as Governor Benedict Arnold I in this thesis.
Governor Benedict Arnold I’s wife Damaris Westcott Arnold would bear a son named also Benedict, born 10 Feb 1641 in Pawtucket, Providence, Rhode Island. This we shall call Benedict Arnold II.
Benedict II wed Mary Turner on 9 Mar 1671 in Newport, Rhode Island. Their first son would also be named Benedict, born 1671 but this child died as a young boy in 1676. After several years, on 28 Aug 1683 another son was born to this couple, whom they named Benedict Arnold (herein referred to as Benedict III).
On 6 Nov 1733, Benedict III wed Hannah Waterman King in Norwich, Connecticut. Their life together was filled with tragedy, as four of their six children would succumb to yellow fever through the years. Only the second son, Benedict, and his sister Hannah would survive to adulthood.
Though his life began as the son of a prosperous businessman, the combined blows of the loss of four young children, his wife’s understandable sorrow and distress, as well as the financial burden took its toll on Benedict, the Traitor’s father. His business would suffer as his descent into alcoholism continued. A once bright future for young Benedict Arnold, the Traitor, would become lost through the despair of his parents and the collapse of the business empire along with the family’s stored wealth.
Next month, we shall explore the actual life of Benedict Arnold, his troubled efforts to recoup the family fortune and care for his mother and sister, and his eventual fate – how he became the most infamous of all American Revolutionaries – the Traitor.
We shall also explore the connection Benedict Arnold, Traitor, has to our own family line and then take up the story of his cousin who, though less notorious, became a true American Patriot.
(See portrait of Benedict Arnold below.)