New London’s Tradition of Burning Benedict Arnold…in Effigy – Who Knew?
Print of a parade of a two-faced Benedict Arnold through the streets of Philadelphia

Detail from a 1780 broadside depicting one of the first burning of Benedict Arnold's effigy in Philadelphia - Library of Congress

…that New London has a yearly tradition of burning an effigy of Benedict Arnold, the infamous Revolutionary War general turned traitor.

Norwich-born Benedict Arnold was a lauded major general in the Continental army during the American Revolution before he switched sides and joined the British army in September 1780. Almost a year later, on September 6, 1781, Arnold led British troops in burning New London—destroying more than 140 homes, shops, warehouses, and other buildings.

Parade of people through the streets of New London, Connecticut with a two-faced Benedict Arnold effigy

New London’s March of the Traitor – Vincent A. Scarano, Flock Theatre

After betraying the Continental army, Arnold’s name became synonymous with a traitor. On September 30, 1780—days after Arnold jumped ship—Philadelphia held a parade through the streets that included an effigy of a two-faced Benedict Arnold with the Devil shaking money in his ear. After the crowd “[expressed] their abhorrence of the Treason and the Traitor,” the colonists burned the effigy and wagon. Many other cities, such as Boston and Newport, created their own burning of Benedict Arnold traditions—each one with its own interpretation. Having literally been burned by Benedict Arnold, New London started its event sometime after the American Revolution. Around the country, the practice died out sometime around the Civil War.

New London’s Flock Theatre, however, revived the local tradition in 2013. Part historical reenactment, part street theater, the theatre worked with the New London County Historical Society to find historical evidence of the event. While there are no historical images of the burning of Benedict Arnold in New London, organizers based their performance off the 1780 etching from Philadelphia. On a weekend around September 6 every year, “The March of the Traitor” parades down Bank Street to burn the effigy on New London’s waterfront. To pay tribute to a detail in the historic event, they cut off the effigy’s leg to deliver to Norwich—an homage to Arnold’s injured leg when he was still fighting for the Continental army.

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