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Benedict Arnold Got Land, Money for Treason: Lewis Lapham

Lewis Lapham, of
Lewis Lapham, of "Lapham's Quarterly," in New York. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- The services of West Point commander Benedict Arnold did not come cheap.

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On July 15, 1780 he wrote a coded letter to spymaster Major John Andre demanding 20,000 pounds sterling for turning over West Point and its garrison to the British commander in chief, Sir Henry Clinton. He also wanted 10,000 pounds in case of loss and 100 pounds per year for life.

At a meeting with Andre, who arrived from New York City on the British sloop Vulture, Arnold gave him the plans of West Point, the placement of troops and other sensitive information.

Meanwhile, American forces bombarded the Vulture, forcing the ship to sail off. To return to New York, Andre now had to go overland through enemy-held territory. A trio of militia men stopped and searched him, finding the documents in his boots.

Andre was later hanged as a spy, but Arnold fled downriver to the Vulture and successfully defected to the British, who gave him a military commission, land in Canada and pensions for his family.

I spoke with John A. Nagy, author of “Invisible Ink: American Spycraft of the American Revolution,” on the following topics:

1. Revolutionary War Spies

2. Inks, Codes and Ciphers

3. Double Agents

4. Arnold’s Military Successes

5. Arnold’s Treachery

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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