Benedict Arnold burned a Connecticut city. Centuries later, residents get payback in fiery festival

Sep 8, 2023, 9:12 PM | Updated: Sep 9, 2023, 5:44 pm

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — A month before the British surrender at Yorktown ended major fighting during the American Revolution, the traitor Benedict Arnold led a force of Redcoats on a last raid in his home state of Connecticut, burning most of the small coastal city of New London to the ground.

It has been 242 years, but New London still hasn’t forgotten.

A crowd of several hundred revelers, some in period costume, marched through the city’s streets Saturday evening chanting, “Burn the traitor!” before watching as officials set Arnold’s effigy ablaze for the Burning of Benedict Arnold Festival, recreating a tradition that was once practiced in many American cities.

“I like to jokingly refer to it as the original Burning Man festival,” said organizer Derron Wood, referencing the annual gathering in the Nevada desert.

For decades after the Revolutionary War, cities including New York, Boston and Philadelphia held yearly traitor-burning events. They were an alternative to Britain’s raucous and fiery Guy Fawkes Night celebrations commemorating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when Fawkes was executed for conspiring with others to blow up King James I of England and both Houses of Parliament.

Residents “still wanted to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, but they weren’t English, so they created a very unique American version,” Wood said.

The celebrations died out during the Civil War, but Wood, the artistic director of New London’s Flock Theatre, revived it a decade ago as a piece of street theater and a way to celebrate the city’s history using reenactors in period costumes.

Anyone can join the march down city streets behind the paper mache Arnold to New London’s Waterfront Park, where the mayor on Saturday cried, “Remember New London,” and put a torch to the effigy. The crowd chanted “U-S-A” as the life-sized Arnold burned.

Ellen Warfield, of Mystic, brought her 9-year-old son, Lucian Bace, because she said their ancestors fought in the Revolution and she hoped to get her son excited about the history that surrounds him.

“It’s wild to show the kids something like this,” she said. “You get to see it in real life, rather than see it play out on TV. They spend too much time on their screens today.”

Lucian had a singular focus.

“I just can’t wait to see them burn that man,” he said. “Burn that turncoat!”

Arnold, a native of nearby Norwich, was initially a major general on the American side of the war, playing important roles in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and the Battle of Saratoga in New York.

In 1779, though, he secretly began feeding information to the British. A year later, he offered to surrender the American garrison at West Point in exchange for a bribe, but the plot was uncovered when an accomplice was captured. Arnold fled and became a brigadier general for the British.

On Sept. 6, 1781, he led a force that attacked and burned New London and captured a lightly defended fort across the Thames River in Groton.

After the American victory at Yorktown a month later, Arnold left for London. He died in 1801 at age 60, forever remembered in the United States as the young nation’s biggest traitor.

New London’s Burning Benedict Arnold Festival, which has become part of the state’s Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, was growing in popularity before it was halted in 2020 because of the pandemic. The theater group brought the festival back last year.

“This project and specifically the reaction, the sort of hunger for its return, has been huge and the interest in it has been huge,” said Victor Chiburis, the Flock Theatre’s associate artistic director and the festival’s co-organizer.

The only time things got a little political, Chiburis said, is the year a group of Arnold supporters showed up in powdered wigs to defend his honor. But that was all tongue-in-cheek and anything that gets people interested in the Revolutionary War history of the city, the state and Arnold is positive, he said.

In one of the early years after the festival first returned, Mayor Michael Passero forgot to notify the police, who were less than pleased with the yelling, burning and muskets firing, he said.

But those issues, he said, were soon resolved and now he can only be happy that the celebration of one of the worst days in the history of New London brings a mob of people to the city every year.

A mob that included a very satisfied 9-year-old.

The coolest part was “probably the head falling off,” Bace said. “I really liked it.”

United States News

Associated Press

Tornado kills multiple people in Iowa as powerful storms again tear through Midwest

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) — Multiple people were killed when a tornado tore through Greenfield and left a wide swath of obliterated homes, crumpled cars and splintered trees, while outside the small town, massive wind turbines were buckled and twisted to the ground by the howling winds. After devastating the town of 2,000 residents, the storms […]

8 hours ago

Former President Donald Trump sits in a courtroom next to his lawyer Todd Blanche before the start ...

Associated Press

Trump hush money trial enters new phase after defense rests without testimony from former president

Donald Trump's hush money trial is now closer to the moment when the jury will begin deciding the former president's fate.

11 hours ago

Associated Press

Rangers recover the body of a Japanese climber who died on North America’s tallest peak

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Rangers have recovered the body of a Japanese man who died after an apparent fall while climbing North America’s tallest peak, authorities said Tuesday. Denali National Park and Preserve identified the climber as T. Hagiwara, from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. He was identified by his first initial in keeping with his family’s […]

12 hours ago

Associated Press

Detroit could be without Black representation in Congress again with top candidate off the ballot

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Detroit Democrat will not appear on the ballot after building significant support within the party in his attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar in Michigan’s August primary, after election officials determined that he had not submitted enough valid signatures. Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett’s ruling on Tuesday to keep […]

12 hours ago

DeAnn Kilgore grappled with the unexpected letter from her husband's killer, Michael Moore. Despite...

SuElen Rivera

Letters lead to meeting killer, life-changing moment

DeAnn Kilgore grappled with the unexpected letter from her husband's killer, Michael Moore. Despite initial reluctance, she read it, prompting a profound journey of forgiveness and spiritual healing for herself and her family.

12 hours ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

Sponsored Articles



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Benedict Arnold burned a Connecticut city. Centuries later, residents get payback in fiery festival