One of the most fascinating women during the Revolutionary War period is Peggy Shippen Arnold. Most students of American history know about her husband Benedict Arnold, who turned traitor, but few know the role that Peggy played in his betrayal of his country.
Peggy Shippen Arnold and Child by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Margaret “Peggy” Shippen was born June 11, 1760 in Philadelphia. The Shippen family was quite a prominent family. Her lineage included two mayors and the founder of Shippensburg, PA. Peggy’s father Edward was a judge and a member of the Provincial Council. Peggy was the baby of the family and her father’s favorite, so from an early age she had learned how to wrap a man around her little finger. Her only brother Edward was considered a bit of a dolt, so Peggy’s father took her under his wing, teaching her about finance and politics, which she took to like a duck to water. She also learned the usual female accomplishments of the 18th century: music, dancing, drawing, and needlework. Peggy was considered one of the most beautiful young women in Philadelphia, not just because of her looks, but because of her charm and wit. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, she came of age during a time of war.
Peggy’s family weren’t really Loyalists, but they weren’t Patriots either. They sort of straddled the fence. While they believed that the colonists had definite grievances against the Motherland, they thought that things could be worked out if both sides were willing to compromise. It was a tough line to walk, particularly since during the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia was occupied by both the British and the Americans at different times. While Peggy was growing up, both George Washington and Benedict Arnold had been entertained by her parents. When the British captured Philadelphia in 1777, they did the same for the British high command. The parties and balls that had been a feature of Philadelphia social life continued under British occupation, giving Peggy a chance to practice her dance steps and her flirting.