Colonial America – The Arnold Family of New England

Church of St. Mary Major, Ilchester, where Arnold was the warden in 1622.

While exploring the founding of Rhode Island, I mentioned that William Arnold, a founder of Pawtuxet, was the father of Benedict Arnold, who became governor after Roger Williams. This led to a question in a discussion that said, if I may quote “You mention William Arnold knocking about Rhode Island in the 1630s, but then say he’s Benedict Arnold’s father. Wouldn’t that make him about 120 yrs old when Ben gets born?”

Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t readily answer that so I did some research into the Arnold family, and the answer has become this article on The Arnold Family of New England. For a short answer, William would have actually been about 160 when Benedict was born, assuming that the infamous Benedict Arnold of the Rev. War was the only one in the family. In fact, the Benedict Arnold best known for his traitorous act during the Revolutionary War, is the great great grandson of William Arnold. To confuse the issue more, each descendant after William in this direct line was also named Benedict.

It has been recorded that the Arnold family is descended from Welsh Kings, dating back to the mid-twelfth century. On their paternal side, the Arnold family is descended from Ynir, King of Gwentland, and it is said that Gen. Benedict Arnold is also descended from King Egbert, the first Saxon King of all England, on his mother’s (Hannah Waterman’s) side. Some opponents like to say that Gen. Arnold was a crude and uneducated man. The opposite couldn’t be truer. His family has a long history of high social standing and trust within the community.

William Arnold was born on June 24, 1587 in Cheselbourne, England. His father Richard had lived on the estate there before him. In addition to his own nine children, William was appointed guardian of three of his brother’s children in 1616. (One of these children, Thomas, is noted in Watertown, Massachusetts as early as 1640. However, that line is not explored here).

In 1635, William brought his family from Dorsetshire to Hingham, Massachusetts. His son Benedict wrote that “my father and his family Sett Sayle from Dartmouth in Old England, the first of May, Friday and arrived in New England June 24 Ano 1635”. A contemporary of Roger Williams, Arnold’s name appears on the first charter of Rhode Island. The family settled in Providence on April 20, 1636. He owned land in Providence, Pawtuxet and Warwick, Rhode Island and it has been noted that he “lived at his pleasure”. It is assumed he was buried in Pawtuxet and it is known that he held various public offices. “Colonial Families of the United States” notes that he was President of Portsmouth, Newport, Providence and Warwick and that he was Governor of the colony for ten years.

In December 1640, his eldest son, Benedict Arnold, married Damaris Westcott, daughter of Stukely Westcott. They had a total of nine children, the first son being named Benedict after his father, who was born February 10 1641/42. In 1653, the family moved to Newport, Rhode Island. That same year, Benedict was chosen as Assistant to handle the affairs of the colony and succeeded Roger Williams as Governor of Rhode Island in 1657. He served in this capacity until 1660 and again from 1662 – 1666, 1669 – 1972, and from 1677 – 1678, in which year he died. It has been written that he was the wealthiest man in the colony and the most highly regarded negotiator with the American Indians.

Benedict Arnold of Newport, grandson of William, was married to Mary Turner on March 9th, 1670. He served as Assistant 1690 to 1695 and was a member of the Assembly in 1695 but did not become Governor as his father did. He served as Representative to the General Court in 1699. He had a total of nine children by two wives. The sixth and youngest child from his first wife, Mary, was named Benedict.

Captain Benedict, grandson of Governor Benedict Arnold, moved to Norwich, Connecticut shortly after 1730 with his brother, Oliver. By trade, he was a cooper and also commanded his own trading vessels, which he would often take along the coast and to the West Indies. He held several posts in the colony, such as surveyor, assessor, and collector. In November 1733, he married Hannah Waterman King, widow of Absalom King. They had a total of nine children, only two of whom lived to adulthood. They were Gen. Benedict Arnold and Hannah Arnold (who never married).

Gen. Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut January, 1740/41. Unfortunately, his betrayal to the British during the Revolutionary War has managed to wipe away all remembrance of years of loyal, patriotic service. In 1775, he married Margaret Mansfield and, in 1779, he married his second wife, Margaret Shippen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After moving to London, his second wife Margaret was regarded as the most beautiful women in England.

Several other descendants of William Arnold held high offices in the colonies and went on to become prominent citizens. Notably, Stephen Arnold, youngest son of William, became Deputy-Governor in 1664 and Assistant in 1667. He grew to become a wealthy and landed man. His grandson James Arnold was the recording clerk for the original Proprietors and his son James was a signer of the Declaration of Independence of Rhode Island in 1770.