Interview With a Local Historian

Benedict Arnold: Hero or Traitor?

Transcript of Interview with Chris Sabick

Chris Sabick is the director of research and archaeology at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont and has done extensive research and preservation of artifacts in and near Arnold Bay and Valcour Island. 

Quincy: I’m here with Chris Sabick and I just have a couple questions today

Quincy: So, the first question is; what was the impact of Benedict Arnold’s role in local Revolutionary war history? 

Chris: Yeah, Benedict Arnold played a very significant role in the local history of the American Revolution, starting with his actions in 1775, I believe it was May when he assisted in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and therefore all the cannons from that fort that were then sent down to Boston to be used at the Battle of Bunker Hill and the defense of Boston. And then in his command of the American fleet on Lake Champlain which helped to repel, or at least delay the British invasion in 1776. And between those two things, he helped lead the invasion of Canada, which, though he traveled to Canada through Maine, not through Lake Champlain, he did um end up retreating with the American army over the Winter and early Spring of 1776 from Canada up Lake Champlain to start building the fleet. 

Quincy: Okay, do you think that Arnold receives the credit he deserves for his contributions to the American cause? 

Chris: I think that the theater, the Northern theater, which included the majority of Benedict Arnold’s action doesn’t get enough credit in general for the important role it played in the early years of the American Revolution. I believe that Arnold, these days, probably does receive the proper amount of attention for his activities in the area. There has been, the past couple of decades a lot of scholarship and writing about his activities in the area which shines a brighter light on those activities and portrays them in a more nuanced way then has been discussed in the past. So, yeah, I think he’s getting the credit he deserves these days. 

Quincy: Okay, especially in this area, a debate exists between historians about how Arnold should be remembered. What has your work uncovered about this debate?

Chris: Yeah, in discussing my archaeology work it’s much more narrowly focused than thinking about how it supports or denies his activities as a hero or a villain in the area. But, I think that the work we do at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum helps us gain a better understanding of what life was like for all of the men that participated in, and women, all of the people that participated in the Revolutionary War in the Champlain Valley through examination of the archaeological remains. So, I don’t know that it feeds into, my work specifically feeds into that question of his being a hero or not, but it helps to set the setting, for lack of a better term in which these actions took place. 

Quincy: Okay, thank you. Do you think the traitorous legacy Arnold holds is an accurate portrayal of his actions?

Chris: I think that it’s, no, I’m just gonna start by saying no. I don’t think he deserves the revilement that is the automatic knee-jerk reaction that most people have when you say the words, “Benedict Arnold”, I think it was a much more nuanced situation than he was obviously a traitor. Because, you can’t deny that he was a traitor, but there’s a lot of reasons that he started to think that might be the way to go for him. So, I don’t think people have a complete understanding of his entire career when they jump to the conclusion that he’s just an evil traitor. 

Quincy: Okay, has your archaeological work given any evidence to the idea that Arnold was more of a military hero in this area? 

Chris: Only in that it gives us a better understanding of the actions that he participated in, and in some cases was the leader of. So, and specifically in the the case of the work we do at the Maritime Museum, that would center in the battle of Valcour Island and the activities that took place at Arnold’s Bay in October of 1776. So, giving us a better understanding of the whole defense of Lake Champlain in the summer and fall of 1776. 

Quincy: Okay. What is your personal opinion regarding the controversy of Arnold’s legacy?

Chris: I believe that it’s a much more nuanced question, as I mentioned earlier than just saying very clearly that he was a traitor or he was a hero, because in fact he was both things. So, you have to realize that a person’s life has a path that travels many different roads before you get to the end, and he chose two very different roads to travel during the course of his career, both as hero and traitor. But to just tar on one brush as a traitor, denies the really complicated history he had before then. 

Quincy: Okay, thank you.