It is fair to say there’s a true love affair between Professor Eric D. Lehman and the nutmeg state. When he arrived from Pennsylvania two decades ago, Lehman began to hike and discovered Connecticut’s little hills, rivers and forests. He soon fell in love with the museums and the wine trail and most importantly, fell in love with and married his wife, poet and professor Amy Nawrocki. His literary work celebrates our state like no other author, taking on the topics from Tom Thumb to The History of Bridgeport to A History of Connecticut Wine and so much more. In his recent work, Lehman takes on the legacy of our nation’s most notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold, in Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London.
Professor Lehman chose Benedict Arnold as his subject because his first experience learning about the figure failed to answer the questions he felt needed to be asked. “When I first came to CT almost 20 years ago one of the first things I did was to drive around the state. I went to Groton and saw the huge monument there to the Battle of Groton Heights,” says Lehman. “I also started reading books on Connecticut figures, PT Barnum, among others. One of the books I read was about Benedict Arnold and the one I chose was very complimentary to him, so I was confused. I had this contradiction in my mind for many years…This book is a result of figuring out what was going on and why some people could be fans of Benedict Arnold at the same time he’d done all these horrible things.” Lehman’s book Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Battle of New London answers those questions.
The first thing Lehman chose to do when he embarked on this literary exploration was to find primary sources. He researched Benedict Arnold’s letters, some were available on line and he utilized the resources of the historical society. The letters illuminated the fact that there were connections between people within Connecticut and the continental army and Benedict Arnold. Lehman realized he had to write about him in relation to all of the people with whom he was connected. The salient point was that Arnold was not betraying an abstract concept of his homeland, he was betraying his friends, real people, who were free masons, merchants and the army.
Homegrown Terror is an depth look not just on the man and his villainous deeds but on the people and the world that surrounded him. Professor Lehman shared that in some ways biography can be an art of forgiveness; in order to write about an individual there can be a tendency to empathize with the individual at some level to understand them. But with Lehman’s work here, he weighs that against a real focus on the relationships that Arnold betrayed so that we may understand the full impact his actions had on those around him.
We might see Benedict Arnold’s time in Philadelphia, his marriage to a beautiful demanding young Tory half his age and his need for money to keep her happy along with his unhappiness of not being promoted as reasons for his actions but they never excuse them. The book is almost a counter point to David McCullough’s John Adams, which had been made into an HBO miniseries, in that McCullough’s Adams is an somewhat flawed but ultimately heroically principled figure during the founding of our country, whereas Benedict Arnold’s choices and trajectory in life are the polar opposite. We would benefit from an HBO miniseries based on Professor Lehman’s Benedict Arnold book as it would illustrate that difference.
Eric D. Lehman is a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Bridgeport.
His book Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London is available in bookstores, on amazon and wherever fine books are sold.
Categories: Torrington Stories