Burning Benedict Arnold Instead

After Gen. Benedict Arnold defected to the British in 1780, he became America’s most unpopular man. On September 30, Philadelphians created a procession that appears to have adopted many symbols from the 5th of November: a wagon carrying a large lantern and effigies, including a devil and Arnold himself; a parade of noisy boys and young men; and a bonfire at the end of the day. Compare this engraving from Philadelphia to the earlier pictures of “Pope-Night” in Boston.

Arnold was depicted as having two faces and carrying a mask, details to symbolize his duplicity. He was not hanged in effigy, but two nooses on the lantern signaled the crowds’ wish to see him executed for treason.

Philadelphia was not the only American city that carted around an effigy of Arnold. After Arnold led a British raid on New London, Connecticut, on September 6, 1781, town magistrates tried to change Pope Night into a new patriotic holiday: “they suggested to the populace the substitution of Arnold for the Pope, and the 6th of September for the 5th of November.”

For a few years, the youth of New London chanted a new song:

“Don’t you remember, the 6th of September,
When Arnold burnt the town,
He took the buildings one by one,
And burnt them to the ground,
And burnt them to the ground.

“And here you see these crooked sticks,
For him to stand upon,
And when we take him down from them,
We’ll burn him to the ground,
We’ll burn him to the ground.

“Hark! my little bell goes chink! chink! chink!
Give me some money to buy me some drink.
We’ll take him down and cut off his head,
And then we’ll say the traitor is dead,
And burn him to the ground,
And burn him to the ground.”

Quotation source: Frances Manwaring Caulkins, History of New London, Connecticut: From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612, to 1860 (New London: H. D. Utley, 1895), 482.

Image source: Engraving from the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Text copyright © 2007 by J. L. Bell and The Bostonian Society.