The Putnam Examiner

Benedict Arnold’s Wife Gets a Novel

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By Tom Auchterlonie 

When Allison Pataki and her mother were walking along a trail called Arnold’s Flight, she came across a marker that included a portrait and brief description of the famous traitor’s wife, Peggy Shippen Arnold. This encounter at the trail, which is located in Putnam County and is the path that Benedict Arnold used to flee, led her to write an historical fiction book, which is called The Traitor’s Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America.

The author, who is the daughter of former Gov. George Pataki and grew up in Garrison, spoke about it on Saturday at the Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring.

Pataki spent a considerable portion of her talk discussing the history of the couple. Benedict Arnold, she noted, was “one of our more infamous local residents.” Although Arnold was important in major battles during the Revolution – the victory at the Battle of Saratoga, where he was shot in his left kneecap, was noted for its significance in keeping the colonies from being split – he grew dissatisfied due to several events. They included being passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress and being publicly rebuked by George Washington – he was a key supporter of Arnold’s – for selling goods on the black market. Pataki likened this rebuke to being a “final straw.”

Arnold, a widower, met his future wife, who was a loyalist and came from a well-to-do Philadelphia family, after the British were driven out of the city. Within a month of their marriage, Arnold reached out to the British and offered to spy. British officer John André, who is well known as being Arnold’s collaborator, got an overture from him but was skeptical. However, Pataki noted, he was willing to deal with his wife, who he knew due to an earlier romantic courtship. She also noted that it was André who drew a portrait of her that is included in the display at the trail.

The plot that forms, Pataki explains, is for Arnold to surrender West Point to the British and for his men to be taken prisoner. In exchange he would get a high commission in the British and the equivalent of about $1 million in today’s money. Losing West Point, which was key for the containing the British due the defensibility of the area, would have been a significant blow in the revolution. Arnold was able to convince Washington to give him a key post for it and then made sure to sabotage its strength by diverting manpower and neglecting maintenance, she explained.

The plot was foiled when André, who missed his ship because it came under fire, had to travel on foot with the documents that Arnold supplied him. At the time Britain occupied New York City and territory north. Pataki then explained that André was captured by three men just miles away from friendly territory after admitting his role for the British because one of the men wore clothing that led him to believe they were on the same side. Although Arnold wrote a letter mentioning André’s travel – he referred to him with an alias – André was detained and the sensitive documentation regarding West Point was to be given to George Washington, who was traveling to meet Arnold at a local residence.

Pataki, not wanting to give away the entire plot, concludes her synopsis, which is met with laughter from the audience. Taking questions from folks she discussed some rumors, such as whether Peggy Shippen Arnold kept a lock of André’s until she died and whether Arnold, before dying, asked for forgiveness for changing sides.

The novel, Pataki explained in an interview, is not from Peggy Shippen Arnold’s perspective. Instead, she wants the reader to be able to watch her. The book, for example, includes a fictional lady’s maid character and a cast. Asked whether the book could come a movie, she is “optimistic” about it happening.

There were more than two dozen attendees, including George Pataki, mother Libby Pataki – she is a tourism director for Putnam County and gave an introduction speech – Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and County Executive Mary Ellen Odell.

In her remarks, Libby Pataki noted the local connection of what happened.

“This is where it all came to pass,” she said.

In an interview, Odell referred to what Pataki is doing for historical fiction, saying she is “generating a buzz for this genre of writing.” The county executive also mentioned upcoming Putnam events, including a cycling classic in May that is in Southeast and the 50th anniversary of the monastery in Kent.

Jonathan Kruk, a Cold Spring storyteller who has been telling Arnold’s tale, is excited about the book coming out. Referring to Pataki’s work, he suggested it looks as though Arnold’s wife’s spirit has been captured.

John Duncan, a director at the museum, thought the talk was great. Asked about upcoming events, he noted that the museum will have its annual meeting, which is set for this week and involves electing board members.




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