Re­call­ing Nor­wich’s in­fa­mous son on his birth­day

The Day - - PERSPECTIVE - By RE­GAN MINER Re­gan Miner is consultant for the Nor­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

B ene­dict Arnold is an his­tor­i­cal fig­ure fraught with en­mity; his very name be­ing syn­ony­mous with the word traitor. De­spite Arnold’s damn­ing de­fec­tion to the Bri­tish, he was a fierce pa­triot for the Con­ti­nen­tal Army and often put him­self in the thick of bat­tle with lit­tle re­gard for his own safety. There are in fact two sides to Bene­dict Arnold — pa­triot and traitor — yet often it is dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile both as­pects of his com­plex pro­file.

Bene­dict Arnold was born on Jan. 14, 1741, in Nor­wich. Many of his fa­vorite haunts in­clude places con­tem­po­rary Nor­wich res­i­dents visit to­day such as: Un­cas Leap, Meet­ing­house Rocks, and the Nor­wich Har­bor.

As a boy, Nor­wich His­to­rian Frances Caulkins de­scribed Arnold as, “bold, en­ter­pris­ing, am­bi­tious, ac­tive as light­ning, and with a ready wit at com­mand” and was often the mis­chievous ring­leader among his friends. Arnold’s sup­port­ive fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment was dev­as­tated by the tragic loss of his im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers and the hu­mil­i­a­tion his fam­ily sus­tained re­sult­ing from his fa­ther’s al­co­holism. Arnold’s sole piece of good for­tune in his early life was the ap­pren­tice­ship his mother se­cured for him with his rel­a­tives the Lathrop Brothers.

In the past year, The Nor­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety cre­ated four self-guided walk­ing trails as part of the Walk Nor­wich Trail sys­tem: The Un­cas Leap Trail, the Bene­dict Arnold Trail, The Free­dom Trail, and the Mil­lion­aires’ Tri­an­gle.

The Bene­dict Arnold Trail ex­plores Nor­wich dur­ing the colo­nial pe­riod and its role through­out the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War with an em­pha­sis on Nor­wich’s in­fa­mous na­tive son. The trail ex­plores the im­por­tance of Arnold’s up­bring­ing in Nor­wich while al­low­ing vis­i­tors to judge Arnold’s ac­tions in the af­ter­math of his ser­vice in the Con­ti­nen­tal Army for them­selves. The trail also high­lights many sig­nif­i­cant Nor­wich fig­ures who played key roles in the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion such as Gov. Sa­muel Hunt­ing­ton and Christo­pher Leff­in­g­well. Fur­ther, the trail has an au­dio com­po­nent where vis­i­tors can learn about the his­tory of the area on their mo­bile de­vice or com­puter. The Bene­dict Arnold Trail can be ac­cessed via wal­knor­ and trail brochures are avail­able at the Greater Nor­wich Area Cham­ber of Com­merce, Otis Li­brary, and City Hall.

Sim­i­lar to how Salem, Mass., has de­vel­oped its tourism in­dus­try un­der the con­tro­ver­sial Salem Witch­craft Tri­als, Arnold’s in­ter­na­tional name recog­ni­tion rep­re­sents an op­por­tu­nity to in­vite vis­i­tors to re-ex­am­ine his dual his­tory. Re­cently, Bene­dict Arnold has seen a resur­gence in pop cul­ture ref­er­ences such as Brad Meltzer’s novel “House of Se­crets,” Nathaniel Philbrick’s new book “Valiant Am­bi­tion,” and he is fea­tured as a promi­nent char­ac­ter on AMC’s TV se­ries, “Turn: Wash­ing­ton Spies.”

This re­newed in­ter­est in Bene­dict Arnold is a phe­nom­e­non that should not be ig­nored by his home­town and as such, Arnold de­serves his place at the head of Nor­wich’s her­itage tourism ef­forts. In Nor­wich, an­nual events such as “Bene­dict Arnold Re­turns” at Leff­in­g­well House Mu­seum and his­tor­i­cally themed pub crawls — Epi­cure Brew­ery in down­town Nor­wich named a beer af­ter Arnold called “Damned Yan­kee” — ac­knowl­edge our in­fa­mous na­tive son while draw­ing upon the rich colo­nial his­tory that de­fined Nor­wich from 1659, un­til the end of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.

Over the past cou­ple of years, the Nor­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety has brain­stormed and ex­e­cuted unique ef­forts to cap­i­tal­ize on the valu­able his­tory tied to this im­por­tant yet de­cid­edly con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure.

On Mon­day the lights on Nor­wich City Hall will be switched off in ac­knowl­edg­ment of Arnold’s Birth­day. Nor­wich may never have asked for Arnold nor his trea­son, yet Arnold is our his­tory and that piece of our his­tory de­serves to be told.

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