We’re back with the video series “A City Full of History,” delving into the lesser known aspects of New York City history produced by Untapped Cities contributor Dan Thurber, who runs the YouTube channel Bookworm History. The last week we visited the Grand Central Stones in Van Cortlandt Park, as well as discussed the New York Central’s now-defunct Putnam Branch. This week we track down the story of John Champe, a cavalry sergeant during the American Revolution who was given the mission to infiltrate New York City and kidnap Benedict Arnold.
It was October, 1780, and George Washington had a problem. General Benedict Arnold, decorated officer, the hero of Saratoga, had just defected to the British, and rumors were running wild that other high-ranking officials might follow his lead. Not only did Washington want Arnold to stand trial for what he had done, he needed to know exactly who else was involved. For help he turned to one of his most trusted subordinates, Major Henry Lee III, affectionately known as “Light-Horse Harry” Lee.
Champe’s Escape – Image from NYPL
Washington wanted Arnold to be brought back to American custody to face justice for his defection. He was adamant from the beginning that Arnold was not to be harmed, and that if, during the course of abducting him, it came down to killing Arnold or letting him go that he was to be released. Of course, kidnapping a man from New York City, where Arnold was then staying, and carrying him back to the American lines near Tappan Creek would not be easy, and would require someone brave, smart, and quick on their feet. Lee felt he had just the man for the job: Sergeant John Champe.
See the video to learn more!