- 10th and 12th President of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
- 1st, 3rd and 7th Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
Benedict Arnold was president and then governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, serving for a total of 11 years in these roles. He was born and raised in the town of Ilchester, Somerset, England, likely attending school in Limington nearby. In 1635 at the age of 19, he accompanied his parents, siblings, and other family members on a voyage from England to New England, where they first settled in Hingham in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In less than a year, they moved to Providence Plantation at the head of the Narragansett Bay at the request of Roger Williams. In about 1638, they moved once again, about five miles south to the Pawtuxet River, settling on the north side at a place commonly called Pawtuxet. Here they had serious disputes with their neighbors, particularly Samuel Gorton, and as a result put themselves and their lands under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, a situation which lasted for 16 years.
Arnold learned the Indian languages at an early age, and became one of the two leading interpreters in the Rhode Island colony, Roger Williams being the other. He was frequently called upon to interpret during negotiations with the Indians, but on one occasion was accused by them of misrepresentation.
In 1651, Arnold left Providence and Pawtuxet with his family, settling in Newport where he began his public service, which lasted continuously until his death. He quickly became a freeman, Commissioner, and Assistant, and in 1657 succeeded Roger Williams as president of the colony, serving for three years. In 1662, he was once again elected President and, during the second year of this term, the Royal Charter of 1663 was delivered from England, naming him as the first governor of the colony and offering broad freedoms and self-determination to the colony.
Arnold was a bold and decisive leader. He was elected for two additional terms as governor, the last time following the devastation of King Philip's War. He died on 19 June 1678 while still in office, and was buried in the Arnold Burying Ground, located on Pelham Street in Newport. In his will, he left to his wife his "stone built wind mill," which still stands as an important Newport landmark. His many descendants include General Benedict Arnold, best known for his treason during the American Revolutionary War, and Senator Stephen Arnold Douglas who debated Abraham Lincoln in 1858, and lost to him during the 1860 presidential election.
Benedict Arnold was born 21 December 1615 in Ilchester, Somerset, England, the second child and oldest son of William Arnold and Christian Peak. He was familiar with the nearby villages of Northover, from where his grandparents Nicholas and Alice Arnold had come; Yeovilton, where his Aunt Joane's husband William Hopkins (ancestor of Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins) was from; and Limington, after which he named one of his properties in New England, calling it "Lemmington Farm." All four of these localities lie within two miles of each other. Arnold was likely educated at the Free Grammar School associated with the parish church in Limington, slightly more than a mile to the east of Ilchester. This ancient school is where Thomas Wolsey was the curate and schoolmaster from 1500 to 1509. Wolsey later became the Lord Cardinal and Primate of England.
At the age of 19, Arnold accompanied his parents and siblings aboard a ship destined for New England. The Arnolds gathered their baggage and supplies in the spring of 1635 and made the trip from Ilchester to Dartmouth on the coast of Devon. He wrote in a family record begun by his father, "Memorandom my father and his family Sett Sayle from Dartmouth in Old England, the first of May, friday &c. Arrived in New England June 24o Ano 1635." The name of the ship on which he sailed was not recorded, nor has it been identified since. It is possible that Stukeley Westcott of Yeovil was also on the same ship with his family, including his daughter Damaris, aged 15, the future wife of Arnold.
Marriage and Family
Arnold was married on 17 December 1640 to Damaris, the daughter of Stukeley Westcott and Julianna Marchante. They had nine children: Benedict, Caleb, Josiah, Damaris, William, Penelope, Oliver, Godsgift, and Freelove. All but William grew to adulthood, married, and had children. His son Caleb, a physician, married Abigail Wilbur, who was the daughter of Samuel Wilbur, Jr. and the granddaughter of both Samuel Wilbore [Sr.] and John Porter, two signers of the compact establishing the town of Portsmouth with Anne Hutchinson.
- Benedict Arnold (1642-1727)
- Caleb Arnold (1644-1719)
- Josiah Arnold (1646-1725)
- Damaris Arnold (1648-1747)
- William Arnold (1651-1651)
- Penelope Arnold (1653-1718)
- Oliver Arnold (1655-1697)
- Godsgift Arnold (1658-1691) - married Jireh Bull (1659-1709), grandson of Rhode Island Governor Henry Bull (1609-1693).
- Freelove Arnold (1661-1711)
Notable descendants of Benedict Arnold through his son Benedict include his great-grandson, also named Benedict Arnold, the general of the American Revolutionary War who is remembered primarily for his treason to America when he switched sides to fight with the British. Descendants through his son Caleb Arnold include Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, American hero of the Great Lakes during the War of 1812, and his younger brother Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who compelled the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854. Senator Stephen Arnold Douglas is also descended through this line, who debated Abraham Lincoln in 1858 before a senate race and later lost to him in the 1860 presidential election. Rhode Island colonial Deputy Governor George Hazard is another descendant. Rodeo champion, western artist, and inventor Earl W. Bascom is also a descendant.
Namesakes of Benedict Arnold (1615-1678)