Carole Owens: Arnold went through Berkshires to meet his destiny


STOCKBRIDGE >> The headline read "Restoration complete on a home tied to Arnold" (Berkshire Eagle, Feb. 8, 2016). The article was interesting and the photograph was tantalizing. It appeared to be an impeccable restoration by Bruce MacDonald; the kind that whets the appetite and allows one to step back in time. If you pulled back the chair, heard it scrape on the hard wood, sat and looked around,it could be 1775. You might see Benedict Arnold at the next table.

Arnold was there. On May 6,1775, at his farm in Williamstown, Nehemiah Smedley served eggs and Benedict.

That year Berkshire County was a crossroads. More traffic passed through than ever before. The run-up to war had soldiers, camp followers, and providers of goods and services to the troops moving north to south and east to west through Berkshire.

Epaphras Bull of Hartford, Connecticut travelled through Stockbridge on his way to Fort Ticonderoga. He stopped at the store of "Mr. Silas Bingham"(the Red Lion today) and purchased "Jack nives and tobacco."

As traffic thickened, the need for knives, tobacco, drink and beds rose exponentially. At the same time tables at a tavern and beds at an Stockbridge inn had decreased. Goodrich Tavern across the road from Bingham's store closed when Goodrich marched to war. Bingham saw the opportunity and by 1778 transformed his store into an inn and tavern.

Like Bull, Arnold was on his way to Ticonderoga. However, travelling from Boston, Arnold crossed Berkshire County in the north and arrived at Smedley's farm on May 6.

Smedley was among the first residents of West Hoosac (Williamstown today), arriving in 1753. He helped build the Meeting House. Smedley prospered, and sometime between 1770 and 1775, built one of the largest houses in town.

The three-story clapboard was called Green Mansion. It was famous for the vast basement fireplace and oven that could bake "all at one time a dozen loaves of bread and enough johnnycakes for a regiment." (Johnnycake, a flat cornmeal cake, was a staple in New England. The name, some say, was shortened from journey-cake meaning the cake travelled well so was used to feed the troops).

In those days farmers commonly rented rooms to travelers, and on May 6, 1775, Smedley's guest was Benedict Arnold. The visit is confirmed by payment made to Arnold for his expenses.

"The Honorable Provincial Congress of Massachusetts Bay To B. Arnold, Dr. May 6 To dinner and lodging, 4s. 10d; paid Nehemiah Smedley 60s"

The day before, in Deerfield, Arnold had paid 2s. 2d for breakfast and the same amount (4s. 10d) for dinner and a bed. So for what was the 60 pounds sterling paid to Smedley? It is an enormous sum to pay; too much for food and lodging alone.

Arnold's good plan

In Stafford's article, MacDonald is quoted assaying the money was for supplies. It would be logical to purchase supplies from a farm, but others conjecture Smedley was paid to help enlist men into a unit under Arnold's command. The money may have been paid for either or both.

Arnold would want both — supplies and men. He would have paid Smedley gladly for his help. It was Arnold who suggested capturing the Fort at Ticonderoga; a fort remote and not well protected. It also housed an impressive arsenal, and the rebels needed guns. Further Arnold proposed the guns be brought back to Boston to secure the port.

Arnold was considered a smart tactician and able soldier; his plan was approved. He was given the rank of colonel and set out to Fort Ticonderoga with high hopes. Arnold foresaw himself as a great commander of a large regiment; a hero of the Revolution. As he sat in front of that vast fireplace at Smedley's farm he had a rendezvous with destiny but not in the way he foresaw.

For his treason, many blame Arnold's wife Margaret Shipton Arnold. Peggy was a young beauty and a Tory. Peggy did introduce her husband to John Andre, British spy. However, other historians say the die was cast at Ticonderoga.

Arnold rendezvoused with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys. Arnold meant to assume command — Allen would not relinquish it. Arnold told him he was sent by the Continental Congress. Allen didn't care. Arnold out-ranked him. Allen didn't care. When Col. John Easton arrived, he sided with Allen.

When the battle was won, someone else, not Arnold, was sent to carry word of victory to Boston. Worse, the report purposefully diminished Arnold's role. When his plan to take the guns to Boston was implemented and Boston was saved, credit was given to Henry Knox; Knox Trail was celebrated not Arnold. Passed over for promotion, Arnold resigned.

It was George Washington who brought him back, but it didn't end well. What was Arnold thinking as he sat at Smedley's farm on May 6? He foresaw accurately the battles to come, but the man whose very name is now synonymous with treason,could not foresee everything.

A Berkshire writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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