Lot 70
Sold for £ 9,600 (US$ 12,880) inc. premium

Lot Details
File of papers relating to the early trading ventures of Benedict Arnold, including two autograph letters by Arnold himself, the archive comprising:

(i) Instructions [addressed to Bernard Lintot], signed by the “Creditors of Benedict Arnold of Newhaven in Connecticut”, authorizing him to act on their behalf to recover the sums owing (“...We do not wish or mean to Distress him unnecessarily or to stop him in Business if it can possibly be Avoided but we must Insist on speedy Payment or good Security for our Debts. It is not in our Power (at this Distance and not knowing the real State of his Affairs) to give thee Positive Instructions how to Act, therefore we leave it to thy Discretion Recommending to thee to Act with Vigour Resolution & Dispatch, And at the same time We desire thee to avoid (as much as may be, Consistent with our safety) all Severity and Rigour...”) and to remit the money to Thomas Corbyn & Co, signed by Thomas Longman, Benjamin Lamb, Thomas Corbyn & Co, William Evans, Wright & Gill, and William Parker, one page, integral blank, folio, [London, July 1766]

(ii) Agreement signed by Arnold’s creditors, that the moneys recovered from “Benedict Arnold of Newhaven in the Colony of Connecticut Merchant” be divided among them in the proportions stated, having “Authorized Bernard Lintot of New York Merchant to sue for and recover the same and have directed him to Remitt the money to the Undersigned Thomas Corbyn & Co”, with sums owing following each signature, signed by the six merchants in the foregoing as well as by Henry Overton; plus a copy of Overton’s invoice to Arnold, the agreement one page, integral blank, 18 July 1766

(iii) Series of fifteen autograph letters signed by Bernard Lintot to Thomas Corbyn & Co, giving a complete account of his dealings with Benedict Arnold, some 20 pages, two letters duplicates (13 texts in all), 2 conjoint, 2 incomplete and lacking signature, 8 address panels, postmarked, mostly folio, one headed “Derby in Connecticut (near New Haven)”, the rest from New York, 29 October 1766 to 15 September 1770

(iv) Set of accounts submitted by “The Creditors of Benedict Arnold in Account with Corbyn & Brown” and by “Messrs Corbyn & Brown and other Creditors of Benedict Arnold in Account with Bernard Lintot”, 7 bills in all, some incomplete, paper-losses (made good by professional repair), oblong folio and 4to, 1767-1770

(v) two autograph letters by Benedict Arnold, one signed (“B Arnold”) and one in the third person (as “General Arnold”), to Thomas Corbyn and his partner John Brown, concerning his refusal to settle his remaining debts; together with retained drafts of two letters by Corbyn to Arnold, Arnold’s letters 5 pages, one with minor rodent damage to the edge, one integral address panel, seal, postmarks, folio and 4to, Down Street [London], 16 May and 20 December 1782



    Not a great deal seems to have been known about this affair hitherto, the material available, for example, to Arnold’s principal modern biographer, Willard Sterne Randall, being comparatively scant (see, Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, 1991, pp.65-6, where Arnold is described as having settled his debts and Corbyn, the principal creditor, is not mentioned, with Thomas Longman being incorrectly named in his stead).

    The earliest material in this archive dates from 1766, when Benedict Arnold was twenty-five. He had visited London four years earlier, where he acquired stock on credit, and then set up shop in Newhaven under the famous sign (still preserved at the New Haven Historical Society): ‘B. Arnold Druggist/ Bookseller &c./ From London/ Sibi Totique’: “His was more a department store than an apothecary, and fancier than a general store... The only store of its kind in New Haven, it offered the usual herbs and medicines... but it specialized in luxuries” (Randall, p.38). While “for students across the green at Yale, he offered a rich assortment of books”; thus we find among his creditors many of the leading London publisher-booksellers of the day, including Thomas Longman himself, the map and printmaker Henry Overton, the Bible publishers Wright & Gill, and William Parker, proprietor of the radical General Advertiser. He also acquired a sloop and undertook trading voyages to the Caribbean and Canada. Most of these voyages however were devoted to smuggling: “Benedict Arnold’s business was secret by definition. To keep accurate records would have been self-destructive, yet not to engage to some degree of smuggling was all but impossible if such a business was to survive increasingly stringent British trade policies” (p.42).

    Thomas Corbyn, from whose papers this archive derives, represented Arnold’s creditors from the London end. Unlike Arnold, his business was rooted in Quaker probity; as Juanita Burnby in her notice of him for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography makes clear: “Corbyn's probity both at home and abroad was an important factor in the success of the firm... he frequently lent money to young men starting in business—and not infrequently lost it... The life and career of Thomas Corbyn shows that the expanding drug trade of the eighteenth century was based on greater trust and probity than is often thought”. To Bernard Lintot, author of most of the letters to Corbyn, fell the unenviable task of dealing directly with Arnold. After a great deal of trouble he eventually got Arnold to agree to pay ten shillings in the pound plus interest, only to find him reneging on the deal a month later. Lintot’s letters give a vivid idea of what it was like to deal with Arnold. In May 1767 he writes: “I went 18 Miles to procure an Attorney and spent the greatest part of a Fortnight in NHaven, endeavouring to bring him to a more just Settlement; He had given several Bills of Sale of his Vessel & Cargoe, The Negroes were like to be a contested propperty, and he had a most Vigorous & designing man to assist him in everything. Finding him endeavour to do you all possible Injustice, I resolved not to come into his terms. I Arrested his Person (for which he got Bail) and was going to get the Vessel & Cargoe apprised and send her to Sea When one of my Lawyers sent to speak with me. I found there Mr Arnold and Three Lawyers in his behalf, where after a good deale of altercation, I concluded upon his effectually returning to me Ten shillings in the Pound on the Principal Sum and Seventy five Pounds Sterling as Interest”. Lintot is forced to the weary conclusion: “I must now observe that Mr Arnold has by no means deserved the confidence you placed in him; which confidence induced me to treat with him as one willing to do all the Justice in his power to his Creditors; whilst he acted on principles directly opposite. Had I not with the greatest dispatch seized the Vessell he would have put it out of my Power to have secured you anything. It would take up too much of your time to enumerate the many exceptions I have to Mr Arnold’s Conduct”. But he was being too trusting. For Arnold did not in fact make settlement until September 1770, forcing Lintot to tell Corbyn: “I am very sorry I have been so often obliged to disappoint you of the balance remaining due to Benedict Arnold’s Creditors I was deceiv’d by him from time to time and was finally obligd to take the last resort the Law, which is also tedious, or should sooner have sent the balance remaining in my hands”.

    As for the remaining half of the debt, still outstanding, Quaker scruples were not for Benedict Arnold. In 1782, after he had settled in London, Corbyn’s partner John Brown raised the subject. Arnold replies in the third person – as “General Arnold” – telling Brown that he would have course have paid had Lintot asked nicely: “GA begs leave to say that had the Person Empowered to Collect the Debts (alluded to) Acted with honor and Fidelity, GA could have paid the whole amount with as much ease as He did a part, but when He violated his Agreement and Seized on the Effects of GA, He destroyed his Credit, and prevented his realising the Value of his property and of Course Answering the full Demands against him. The Principal part of GA property is in America, and out of his Reach, and perhaps will ever be so”. To this Corbyn himself replied, enclosing (unwisely perhaps) a homily on business ethics. Once again Arnold reposts: “ had your Agent waited with a little patience, and not departed from his agreement with me, I should have Discharged the whole of my Debts, and supported my Credits, but by grasping at the Shaddow he gave up the Substance”. He concludes his letter with a ringing declaration of his own probity: “As my Conduct has ever been Intentionally Right, No expressions of any set of Men, however respectable, can make an unpleasant reflection in a breast Conscious of not deserving blame, and I beg leave to say that the Aldermen [the booksellers Wright & Gill] who have been so Officious With you, would have been much better employed Attending to their own affairs”.
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