What You Didn't Know About Benedict Arnold's Time As A Smuggler

Before he became the most infamous traitor of the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold operated an apothecary. His legitimate business soon shifted into the shady practice of smuggling to help him make more money (via U.S. History).

Born on January 14, 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut, Arnold grew up in an affluent family. Unfortunately, an outbreak of yellow fever took the lives of many of his siblings. Arnold was dealt another serious blow when his merchant father's business hit hard times, forcing Benedict to leave school.

Arnold was aimless for a time, then ended up serving in a militia during the French and Indian War (via Mount Vernon). He then returned to Connecticut, where he worked as an apprentice to an apothecary in New Haven (via History). After his apprenticeship, he started up his own business, using supplies he had bought in Europe to initially stock the shop. His only surviving sibling, Hannah, worked for him at the store. He seemed to prosper for a time, and he became involved in trading in the Caribbean and Canada using three sailing vessels he had purchased. But British taxation on the colonies took a bite out of his earnings, and Arnold looked for a way to recoup his losses.

Benedict Arnold became a smuggler to avoid taxes

In the 1760s, the British government instituted the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act, which combined affected both imported and exported goods. Arnold, like many others, flouted the tax laws by smuggling items in and out of the country under the noses of British officials. One account shows that Arnold had a sloop known as Charming Sally that traveled from the West Indies to Holland and back in 1767 (via William Reese Company). This ship was refused entry to the port of New Haven when it returned. It's unclear what cargo the vessel was carrying.

It's likely that Arnold trafficked items popular with other smugglers, such as molasses and rum, but because of the secret nature of his activities, specific details are hard to come by. He did, however, make it clear to everyone that he didn't want anyone sharing any details of his illegal activities. Arnold publicly whipped a man who was going to tell the authorities what he had been up to (via History).

After Arnold's treachery during the American Revolution was revealed, it looks like he may have gone back to his old smuggling tricks. He spent several years living in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, where he revived his trading business (via Mysteries of Canada). According to the St. Croix Historical Society, Arnold set up some operations there and had his ships bring lumber from Canada to the island. He later moved to London, where he died in 1801.