The wife of Benedict Arnold was a Philadelphian, a Peggy Shippen, and died on the 14th February, 1836, at Uxbridge, Mass., aged 83 [about the same time a sister of Major Andre, aged 81, died in England.] It seems a strange affair, that the wife of such a general should under any circumstances get back to America—to get, too, not to her own home, and with her nearest relatives, in Pennsylvania, but should go to Massachusetts—the same state where her first ancestor, Edward Shippen, first mayor of Philadelphia, had been publicly punished in Boston as a Quaker!Two years later Watson repeated his statement about Peggy Arnold in Annals and Occurrences of New York City and State, in the Olden Time:
Gen. [Benedict] Arnold died in London, in 1801, unhonoured and unnoticed there; and afterwards his wife returned to the United States, incognito, and died at Uxbridge, Mass. at the age of eighty-three years, on the 14th Feb. 1836.A similar statement, with the year of her death changed to 1834, appeared in The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1897 edition and probably others. It may well have popped up in other reference books.
Obviously, the death of Gen. Arnold’s widow in Massachusetts raises a lot of questions, as Watson acknowledged but didn’t pursue:
- If this woman was truly incognito and away from relatives, how could anyone identify her as Benedict Arnold’s widow after she died?
- How could this woman die at age 83 in 1836 (i.e., born around 1753) when Pennsylvania records show Peggy Shippen, future wife of the general, was born in 1760?
- Most important, why did the September 1804 Gentleman’s Magazine in London report the following among its death notices?
In Bryanstone-street, Portman-square, in her 44th year, Mrs. Margaret Arnold, widow of Brigadier-gen. A. who died June 14, 1801…, and daughter of the late Hon. Edward Shippen, chief justice of the state of Pennsylvania, N. America.Ah, but perhaps that was how the widow faked her death so that she could escape back to America. Because there’s an undisputed, contemporaneous record of the death of the widow of Benedict Arnold in Uxbridge in 1836.
TOMORROW: Examining the vital records.