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Biannual Meeting of the European Early American Studies Association
December 14, 2018 - December 16, 2018
Presenter: “Benedict Arnold’s House: The Making and Unmaking of an American”
Benedict Arnold (1740/41-1801) was a member of the Revolutionary generation whose life and legacy took a different turn from the men with whom he was most closely associated. Historians have examined the many aspects of his life and legacy and their impact on the course of events leading to the establishment of a new country. Yet the largely unanalyzed material culture of his existence—the objects he acquired and the buildings in which he resided—tell us much more about the contours of his life as he fashioned it, and how others crafted it in historical memory. This paper looks at the cultural landscape of one of his homes, the New Haven, Connecticut house he built and resided in from 1769 until wartime. Through an analysis of the choices Arnold made in location, size, and architectural style, I will interrogate how he constructed his Atlantic World identity from the house which overlooked New Haven Harbor on Long Island Sound. Arnold signed the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America at Valley Forge in 1778. Two years later, he deconstructed his hard won identity for financial promises and his house was eventually torn down. Although today most Americans paint Arnold simplistically as a “traitor,” the transitory nature of the Atlantic World has yet to be fully applied to his story.