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Drawn portrait of Peggy Shippen Arnold

Peggy Shippen Arnold

Peggy Shippen Arnold had everyone fooled⏤even Alexander Hamilton⏤and the rest is history.

"All the sweetness of beauty, all the loveliness of innocence, all the tenderness of a wife and all the fondness of a mother showed themselves in her appearance and conduct. We have every reason to believe she was entirely unacquainted with the plan..."

Surrounded by politics

Margaret "Peggy" Shippen was born on July 11, 1760 to one of the most prominent families in Philadelphia. Her father was a merchant, judge, and member of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, ensuring that Peggy was surrounded by politics from an early age.

Map showing the location of the Battle of Brandywine just west of Philadelphia.

In 1777 British forces occupied Philadelphia after their defeat of the patriots at the battle of , and 17-year old Peggy was thrust into politics again.

Sketch by John André of Peggy Shippen in 1778, likely dressed for the elaborate fete, the Meschianza.

Attention from officers

Young Peggy attended balls and parties thrown by British officers, beguiling many a soldier and eventually catching the eye of Major John André. Shown here is a sketch that André, an artist, completed of Peggy in 1778.

Illustrated map showing the British retreat from Philadelphia.

When André retreated from Philadelphia with the rest of the British army in 1778, a new soldier came to attract Peggy's attention—

Portrait of Benedict Arnold.

—American General Benedict Arnold. The two married on April 8, 1779.

A treasonous role

A month after their marriage, Arnold began to conspire with the British Army. Peggy's friendship with John André allowed Arnold to easily communicate with the British, as Peggy passed information between the two with coded letters. This continued undetected for the next year.

But the Culper Spy Ring, which was operating around New York City, began to close in. Unbeknownst to the trio in May 1780 a woman—still only known as Agent 355—uncovered a message revealing that an American general was plotting with André to help the British Army take control of West Point.

An illustrated map showing Peggy Shippen moving to West Point

Several months later, Arnold took command of the fort at , moving there with Peggy and their newborn child. No one was the wiser that their plans to surrender West Point were no longer secret.

An illustrated map showing the location of Arnold and André's meeting in Haverstraw, NY.

On September 21, Arnold and André met on the shores of the Hudson River in Haverstraw. Arnold handed over maps and diagrams of West Point.

An illustrated map showing the location of Arnold and André's meeting in Haverstraw, NY.

Two days later, three patriot militiamen caught André with the maps, along with papers signed by Arnold stuffed into his boots. André was tried for being a spy and later hanged.

Image: The Capture of Major John André; Library of Congress

An illustrated map showing Benedict Arnold leaving Peggy Shippen behind in West Point.

Arnold escaped from Washington and Alexander Hamilton, but he left West Point—leaving Peggy behind to stall the inquisition.

Feigned ignorance

When Hamilton arrived he saw Peggy "frantic with distress," raving, crying, and nearly convulsing with emotion and turmoil over the whole situation. Hamilton returned the next day finding Peggy in bed "with every circumstance that could interest our sympathy," convinced that Peggy had been completely ignorant of Arnold's plot. Peggy played the part so well that Washington immediately let her and her son return to her family in Philadelphia.

Peggy's distraction allowed Arnold to escape to the British. It wasn't until November 1780 that a letter was discovered connecting Peggy to the plot.

The legacy of Peggy Shippen

History has remembered Margaret "Peggy" Shippen as a "treacherous beauty," but her memorial plaque in the crypt of St. Mary's of Battersea in greater London harkens back to the scene witnessed by Hamilton in 1780—a devoted wife and mother:

"In this crypt lie the bodies of Benedict Arnold, sometime general in the Army of George Washington and his faithful and devoted wife Margaret Shippen and their beloved daughter."

Themes of the period
Modern-day Legacy

Shippen House: Lancaster, PA

View full Monuments & Memorials Map