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.
Thomas Franklin Waters recorded the passage through Ipswich:
“The patriot army lay encamped for weary months, while the siege of Boston dragged on, neither party making any active assault. In September, Gen. Montgomery set out to take Quebec. A force of 1100 men, consisting of two battalions of musketmen and 3 companies of riflemen as Light Infantry under the command of Col. Benedict Arnold, was detached for this service. The little army marched in several separate bodies. They reached Ipswich on September 15th, and all day long, the stillness of the summer air was broken by the shrill notes of fifes and the roll of drums, as company after company marched along the old Bay Road, followed by the rumbling wagon trains with their camp equipment. The excitement occasioned by the marching soldiery, with music and flags, was only a prelude to the astonishment and wonder, roused by the camp. The spectacle of tents pitched, camp fires lighted and supper cooked, was the rarest sight Ipswich had ever seen. These riflemen, with their fur caps and deerskin frocks, fresh from the wild life of the woods, were strange figures in the old Puritan town. Perhaps they gratified the throng of towns folk with an exhibition of their skill as marksmen. “
The Battalion commanded by Major Return J. Meigs marched on the 14th, through Maiden, Lynn and Salem and encamped in Danvers. In the morning they continued their march through Beverly, Wenham and Ipswich and encamped at Rowley. It reached Newburyport at 10 A. M. on the 16th. The 2nd Battalion encamped at Salem on the 14th, on the 15th encamped at Ipswich, and reached Newburyport on the 16th.
Dr. Isaac Senter, traveling with this company wrote, “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.”
The Journal of Ebenezer Wild notes that the division of which he was a member marched very early in the morning, and though the weather was very sultry, covered 25 miles and encamped at Beverly, Sept. 15. “This morning marched briskly along and got into Newburyport at 8 o’clock at night. After a general review on the 17th, embarked on the 18th and sailed on the 19th.'”
The expedition planned to sail to Casco Bay on the 18th but bad weather delayed the departure for one day. 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.
Waters wrote about the defection:
“Col Nathaniel Wade’s regiment, which included many Ipswich men, was stationed at West Point. Gen. Benedict Arnold, the commander of the post, had made overtures to the British officers to surrender it to them. Upon the arrest of Major Andre, who acted as agent in the secret communications, Arnold fled precipitately to the British ship, “Vulture” lying in the Hudson. A family tradition has always affirmed that Stephen Pearson of the Village was one of the crew which rowed the traitor’s boat. Indeed, the whole boat’s crew may have been detached from Col. Wade’s command. The defection of Arnold was a crushing blow.”
The social dynamics of the Revolutionary War are portrayed in Nathan Philbrick’s book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. His fresh account of the Revolution and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold focuses on the uncertainty of the times, and Washington’s ability to succeed in the face of betrayal and despair, enabling him to win the war. Listen to an interview with author Nathaniel Philbrick at npr.org/.
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters
- 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
- Wikipedia: Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec
- Journal of Ebenezer Wild
- Journal of Dr. Isaac Senter