A memorial sits in the intersection between the South Green and the site of the former South Congregational Church in Ipswich. It reads, “The expedition against Quebec, Benedict Arnold in command, Aaron Burr in the ranks, marched by this spot, September 15, 1775.”
In September, 1775, Gen. Montgomery set out from Lake Champlain to take Quebec from the British forces. Another force of Continental Army troops set off from Cambridge, MA with an infantry of riflemen under the command of 20-year-old Col. Benedict Arnold. Aaron Burr, sick with fever in Cambridge, heard about Arnold’s Expedition, and raising himself up, declared he would go at once to join them.
The force of 1100 men marched along the Old Bay Road, followed by wagon trains carrying their camp equipment. They camped at Beverly on the 15th, and reached Ipswich during the day. The riflemen with their fur caps and deerskin jackets were surely a strange site for this old Puritan town as they marched across the newly-constructed Choate Bridge.
Dr. Isaac Senter, traveling with the company, wrote about the journey in his diary:
September 14: “Finding the flees and other Tory insects not a little free with our property, we though best to decamp very early this morning, and proceeded as far as Salem, where we dined; from thence to Old Ipswich, where we found very agreeable lodgings etc. By this time our feet began to be very sensible of our undertaking, and threatened an immediate excoriation; however, being all in the same predicament, afforded a seeming alleviation.”
They arrived in Newburyport at 8 o’ clock that night, and set sail to Casco Bay on the 18th. Arnold led his men from the mouth of the Kennebec through Maine forests to Quebec with incredible hardships. The expedition marched 350 miles through uncharted wilderness, twice the distance they had expected. More than a third of the men turned back even before fast-flowing turbulent water led to the destruction of boats and supplies in the descent to the Saint Lawrence River on the Chaudière.
By the time Arnold reached the French settlements above the Saint Lawrence River in November, his force was reduced to 600 starving men. Admiral Samuel Graves received intelligence about Arnold’s activities and sent two Royal Navy ships to guard the river against a crossing. Arnold’s troops crossed the Saint Lawrence on November 13 and 14 in an attempt to take fortified Quebec City, but suffered defeat. They maintained a partial siege of the city until the next April, then Arnold went on to Montreal where he served as military commander of the city until the British Army retook it.
Benedict Arnold’s actions temporarily delayed the British advance against Ticonderoga, and he was rewarded with a promotion to brigadier general, but his political enemies orchestrated a court-martial. Arnold deserted to the British in September, 1780, and his command at Valley Forge was assumed by Col. Nathaniel Wade, whose home still stands across from the South Green.
- Voices From A Wilderness Expedition: The Journals And Men Of Benedict Arnold’S Expedition To Quebec In 1775
- Codman: Arnold’s Expedition To Quebec
- Smith: Arnolds March From Cambridge to Quebec
- The Magazine of History with Notes and Queries: Extra number, Volume 11