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Exposing Benedict Arnold's Betrayal

Lesson Overview

Overview: During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) General George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, wrote his generals often over the years. This is the story of one general who betrayed his country and took the name "traitor" to his grave. Students will look at personal letters written by Arnold, Washington and others to come to their own conclusions as to why a person would betray his countrymen. Arnold wrote "Love to my country actuates my present conduct, however it may appear inconsistent to the world, who very seldom judge right of any man's actions." Students will study a brief biography of Benedict Arnold's life and also use a timeline of the Revolutionary War from the Library of Congress.
Grade Range: 7-9
Objective: Students will:
  • Analyze letters written by Washington, Arnold, and Andre.
  • Use their analysis to deduce the actions of Benedict Arnold and understand his motives.
  • Participate in small learning groups, in whole class discussion, report to the class, and reflect together a timeline of these documented events. 
Time Required: Two class periods of 50 minutes
Discipline/Subject: Social Studies, American History, Colonization
Topic/Subject: War, Military
Era: The American Revolution, 1763-1783


Illinois Learning Standards:  Social Studies:
14.C.3-Compare historical issues involving rights, roles and status of individuals in relation to states and nations.
16.A-Apply the skills to historical thinking analysis and interpretation.
18.B-Understand the roles and interactions of individuals and groups in society.
Language Arts:
5.A-Locate, organize, and use information from various sources to answer questions, solve problems, and communicate ideas.
5.C-Apply acquired information, concepts and ideas to communicate in a variety of formats. 


Handouts:  Copies of primary sources for learning groups four copies per group (five or six groups per class).
Analysis Tools: Analyzing Photographs and Prints 
More You Look Photo Analysis Sheet 
Written Document Analysis   
Other:  Smartboard or document camera for displaying the investigative questions and primary sources for the entire class during discussion and group presentations. 
Library of Congress Items:  Title of Source: Letter, Benedict Arnold to George Washington, pleading for mercy for his wife, Sept 25, 1780. 
  Title of Source: Benedict Arnold, 1741-1801 
  Title of Source: Benedict Arnold, September 15, 1775, Journal 
  Title of Source: George Washington to Benedict Arnold, May 7, 1779 
  Title of Source: George Washington to Benedict Arnold, May 15, 1779 
  Title of Source: George Washington to Benedict Arnold, August 3, 1780 
  Title of Source: George Washington to Benedict Arnold, September 14, 1780 
  Title of Source: By Brigadier-General Arnold, A proclamation to the officers and soldiers of the Continental army who have the real interest of their country at hear, and who are determined to be no longer the tools and dupes of Congress or France.
  Title of Source: General Arnold 
  Title of Source: Major General Arnold Wounded Dec. 31-1775 at the attack of Quebec 1780 
  Title of Source: Le General Arnold undes chefs de l'armee Anglo-Americaine. 
  Title of Source: George Washington, October 19, 1780, General Orders.
  Title of Source: Looking up the Hudson, West Point 
  Title of Source: The Capture of Andre, 1780 


1. Previous to this lesson, the class will have been studying the Revolutionary War including Benedict Arnold's role in the Battle of Saratoga as a war hero. Students will have been placing key events on a timeline on the bulletin board as we learn about them.
2. The class is divided into six cooperative learning groups. Each group is given one image (such as a print of Benedict Arnold) and one letter written about a key event, and an analysis sheet. Students will work together to analyze their assigned primary sources, use the analysis sheets to drive discussion and complete the tasks of the analysis sheet, and discuss the letter and the image.
3. When all groups have completed their analysis, discussion and analysis guide sheet, each group will create a summary of their findings and where they think this evidence fits on the timeline displayed on the bulletin board. Each group will share their primary source on the Smartboard, or under the document camera and reveal their findings to the class. The whole class will then engage in discussion and questions about the primary source projected, led by the cooperative learning group presenting that particular source.
1. Continue step three until everyone has presented. 
2. At the conclusion of the group presentations, the teacher will guide a class discussion to connect all of the events that lead to Major J. Andre' being executed and Benedict Arnold becoming a Brigadier General for the British. 


The teacher will evaluate the lesson through engagement during learning group activities, time on task in groups, group summaries to the class, class participation in discussion, and individual work on analysis sheets. 


The letters can become "evidence" in a mock trial of benedict Arnold. Students can act out various parts  such as General Washing, Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold, and Major John Andre'. Other students can become the jury and decide if Arnold was indeed guilty of treason.

Author Credits:

L. St Gemme'
Charleston Middle School