To Be Burgoyned

When you know someone well, you wind up having the same conversations more than once. My father and I, for example, have been having the same conversation about Benedict Arnold for the last few months. The problem is that my father met someone who doesn’t know why Benedict Arnold is famous.

(Benedict Arnold was a general in the American Revolution who betrayed George Washington and tried to give West Point to the British.)

My argument, which I make whenever the subject comes up, is that Arnold didn’t actually accomplish anything. His plot was discovered and he fled for his life. It makes sense to me that his legend would fade over the years when compared to a Quisling or a Judas, who successfully betrayed the people who trusted them, and who have entered into the English language.

However the last time he and I had this conversation, it was in front of my mother. I chose another Revolutionary War general as a comparison. General Burgoyne, I said, had suffered such a catastrophic defeat at Saratoga that for a while his name was synonymous with “to be overwhelmed,” but no one remembers him now.

“There’s the quilt block,” my mother said. “Burgoyne Surrounded.”

“What?” I said. This was new to me.

“It’s just some squares with a circle of little squares around them, but it’s called Burgoyne Surrounded.”

And it was, according to my research, designed in the 1800s to commemorate the Battle of Saratoga.

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