You don't have to spend too long in New London before you learn about its intimate history with the Revolutionary War and one of its most infamous characters.
This week's item portrays the scene of Benedict Arnold's raid on New London on Sept. 6, 1781, and the burning of the city. Rockingham Prints, the seller of the engraving, says it first appeared in the 1875 book The Centennial History of the United States by James D. McCabe.
The New London Historical Society has dedicated a detailed page to the incident and the reasons for the raid. In short, New London was active during the war as a privateering port. Arnold, a Norwich native who originally fought on the side of the Continental Army, turned traitor in 1779 when he began conspiring with British General Henry Clinton to deliver George Washington's headquarters at West Point (and its associated supplies and men) to the British in exchange for a reward of 20,000 pounds. The historical society suggests multiple reasons for Arnold's turncoat decision, namely "lack of recognition, the accusations of wrong-doing, the want of money, and his wife’s loyalist stance."
Arnold's plot was discovered in 1780 when one of his couriers was captured with incriminating evidence. Arnold himself escaped on the British ship Vulture and despite his failure to surrender West Point he was given a more modest payment and rank of provincial brigadier general. Before New London, he led another raid on Richmond, Va. in the winter of 1780 to burn the warehouses there.
The raid was meant as both a diversionary tactic during the climactic fight of the war in Virginia as well as a punitive action for New London's privateering. Arnold's familiarity with the region made him a perfect candidate to lead the attack. The overwhelmed defenders quickly abandoned Fort Trumbull to go across the river to Fort Griswold, where traditional American accounts say Col. William Ledyard and scores of his men were brutally slaughtered after surrendering.
Meanwhile, New London was put to the torch as the British sought to destroy anything of use to the privateers. The destruction included the Hannah, which was captured in July of 1781 and ended up being the largest British merchant ship taken by privateers during the war. The gunpowder aboard the ship exploded, helping to spread the flames among the city. By the time the raid was over, most of New London was in ruins.
The destruction at New London and slaughter at Fort Griswold were on the minds of the soldiers at Virginia, as the Marquis de LaFayette encouraged his men to "Remember New London" during the siege of Yorktown. Charles Lord Cornwallis surrendered the fort on Oct. 19, 1781, ending the fighting in the Revolution.
So what happened to Arnold? He couldn't exactly return to Connecticut after his actions, so he wound up going overseas to England soon after the surrender. With the British military reticent to accept a traitor into their ranks, Arnold's attempts at a continued military career were unsuccessful. He ended up starting a shipping business in New Brunswick but was unable to keep it going; he returned to London, dying in obscurity in 1801 at the age of 60.
The engraving is an original antique print from 1876 and measures three and a half inches by four inches with a professional mat bringing the size to eight inches by ten inches. The starting bid is $14.95 plus $3.50 for shipping; the auction ends at 7:31 p.m. tonight.