The Traitor’s Wife
A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason...
A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason…
Everyone knows Benedict Arnold—the infamous Revolutionary War General who betrayed America and fled to the British as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John André, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot; a charming and cunning young woman, who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.
Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as Military Commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former lover and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything,The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.
Behind the Scenes
Several years ago, while walking my dogs in the woods of upstate New York, I came across a faded, nondescript historical marker. Always up for an impromptu history lesson, I paused to read the brief blurb about the trail, known as ‘Arnold’s Flight’.
A few paragraphs told me what locals to the area already knew: that I was walking the same trail traversed by General Benedict Arnold, centuries earlier, when he fled from George Washington to the British warship, HMS Vulture. Most American school children grow up learning the history of this notorious traitor and his co-conspirator, and I had grown up knowing that I lived across the street from where Arnold and his family had once lived.
What I did not know, however, was whose face belonged to the portrait of the beautiful young woman beside Benedict Arnold. I stared at the image of the fine-featured woman, her hair piled high atop her head, a quizzical smile on her face. Peggy Shippen Arnold was described as a devoted wife, loving mother, and popular socialite who, with suspected fealty to the English crown, might have incited Benedict Arnold to his infamous treachery. As I continued my walk on that cold, clear morning, I could not stop thinking about this figure, largely obscured in history’s forward march. Who was Peggy Shippen Arnold? How must she have felt about these infamous events that unraveled around her? And what role, if any, did she play in this mesmeric plot?
I could not wait to dig deeper into these historical questions, and as I did so, I uncovered a tale and a cast of characters that proved truly Shakespearean in its scope and drama. Peggy Arnold is a confounding character – charming yet dangerous, loyal yet duplicitous, cunning yet reckless.
Writing this novel was an adventure that allowed me to investigate the story of America’s heroes and traitors; moments of triumph and moments of near disaster; stories of love and stories of lust. As I traveled from Philadelphia to West Point, from the backrooms of libraries into the Colonial exhibits of museums, all the while retracing the steps of one of history’s most salacious would-be power couples, I uncovered what I had always known to be true: that often times, real-life proves even more interesting than fiction.
– Allison Pataki