“Timeless” is at its best when they introduce a lesser-known person from history and delve into their pivotal roles during what we now consider infamous moments. In the NBC drama’s midseason finale airing on Monday night (Dec. 11), the time traveling trio head back to the American Revolution with an episode entitled “The Capture of Benedict Arnold.” It’s safe to assume Lucy (Abigail Spencer), Wyatt (Matt Lanter), and Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) will be following Flynn (Goran Visnjic) to 1780 — the year Benedict Arnold, once a well respected military hero, became known as the most infamous traitor in the world.
After playing key roles helping the American army win numerous battles, turning down the opportunity to return to his lucrative trading job to keep working for the Continental Army, and continuing his allegiance to the cause even after sustaining two major injuries, Arnold was passed over for a promotion numerous times. The constant disses from the Continental Congress were infuriating for Arnold. Not only was he not receiving the recognition he felt he deserved, Arnold was publicly accused of corruption — and even though he was eventually cleared, questions of his loyalty led him to be court-martialed.
After his first wife died, Arnold married a girl half his age, the young and beautiful Peggy Shippen (Annie Young). She came from a very wealthy family who remained mostly neutral during the war, but continued relations with their royal connections. Aligning himself with such a politically connected family made Arnold an even more disliked target — and according to author Nathaniel Philbrick, it was within a month of marrying Peggy that Arnold began his scheme against America.
While the timing is suspect, there’s much more to this story. In the fall of 1780, the U.S. colonies were a mess. Without the power to tax its citizens, America had run out of money to fund the war, and with all the in-fighting, Arnold couldn’t help but wonder whether, even if they won the war, establishing a successful autonomous country afterwards was possible. He felt that England needed to regain control — and there are people who see Arnold’s next move as an act of patriotism, not that of a traitor.
Through Peggy’s connections, Arnold made a deal to give up the strategically vital West Point to the red coats in exchange for 20,000 pounds and a high ranking position in the British Army. As it’s written in history, however, after Arnold met with Major John Andre to confirm the deal and set the plan in motion, Andre was caught by three militiamen (Talk about a perfect coincidence!) while still in possession of the papers detailing the scheme.
While Andre was later executed, Arnold had managed to escape and then continued to fight on the British side. He led battles in Virginia and Connecticut before he and Peggy settled back in London after the war.
After Benedict and Peggy died, the biographer of Aaron Burr, James Parton, wrote that Peggy was instrumental in turning Arnold into a traitor. He alludes that she once vented about her disgust with America’s revolution to the woman who eventually become Burr’s wife, Theodosa Provost, while riding in a carriage from West Point to Philadelphia. According to Burr’s notes, Peggy credited herself for getting Arnold to surrender West Point.
While Peggy’s family chalked this up as rubbish lies, nonsensical allegations made up after Burr came on to Peggy during said carriage ride and she denied him, other historians note that Parton’s allegations do hold weight. First of all, Burr was not on that carriage ride, which makes Peggy’s family’s story an obvious lie — and then in 1972, British papers revealed that Peggy received compensation for having an active role in the West Point conspiracy.
What led Arnold betray America, however, isn’t merely his young wife. Eve didn’t force Adam to eat the apple, and Peggy is far from the sole reason he chose to switch sides.
It is safe to say that she did encourage him. Some also believe that Peggy’s lavish lifestyle put pressure on Arnold to find a way to quickly make money. So that, in combination with Arnold feeling jilted by the same people he risked his life and gave up his profession for, doubled his anger.
For most his life, Arnold was one of the finest and most successful soldiers America had. And if he never switched sides, many believe America would have never won the war: His act of treason created such an uproar for America’s citizens, during a very crucial time, that it stopped the infighting between the colonies. News of Arnold’s actions spread like wildfire and once more united America’s passionate effort towards independence.
Now, doesn’t that sound a lot like the very kind of historically important moment that Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus would do anything to protect?
The “Timeless” midseason finale airs on Monday, Dec. 12, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.