Armstrong, John, Sr.

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Armstrong, John, Sr.

ARMSTRONG, JOHN, SR. (1717–1795). Continental brigadier general; major general. Ireland and Pennsylvania. Born in County Fermanagh, Ireland, on 13 October 1717, Armstrong crossed the Atlantic to Pennsylvania in the 1740s, becoming surveyor for the powerful Penn family. Elected to the Assembly in 1749, he became a key figure in the development of western Pennsylvania. During the Seven Years' War Armstrong persuaded the Assembly to establish its first forts in the west, which he commanded. He also led the 300-man force that destroyed the Delaware settlement at Kittanning, in Pennsylvania, on 8 September 1756, driving that nation out of the war. He was the senior Pennsylvania officer in Brigadier General John Forbes' expedition to Fort Duquesne in 1758. Colonel Armstrong also served in Pontiac's War (1763), fighting no battles but burning many Indian villages.

Although an elderly man and suffering from chronic rheumatism, he was named a Continental brigadier general on 1 March 1776. General Armstrong took part in the successful defense of Charleston in June 1776, but as a troop commander at Haddrell's Point, in South Carolina, he did not engage the enemy. During the New Jersey campaign he was useful to Washington in trying to "stir up the people" in his part of Pennsylvania (around Carlisle) and in establishing magazines. Dissatisfied with the promotion of junior officers over his head, Armstrong resigned on 4 April 1777 and the next day was appointed general of the state militia. At Brandywine (11 September 1777) he commanded the Pennsylvania militia posted at Pyle's Ford, a point where no enemy threat was expected and where none materialized. At Germantown (4 October 1777) he led the militia that constituted the right flank of George Washington's complicated attack and, although he made contact with the enemy, the battle was lost before his command became seriously engaged. He was named major general on 9 January 1778, and held this militia rank the rest of the war. After the Wyoming "massacre" (July 1778) he led part of the relief forces sent to the scene but again saw no action. A member of Congress from 1778 through 1789 and from 1787 through 1788, he also held many local public offices. He was the father of John and James Armstrong. He died 9 March 1795.

SEE ALSO Armstrong, James (quartermaster); Armstrong, John, Jr.; Forbes's Expedition to Fort Duquesne.


Flower, Milton. John Armstrong: First Citizen of Carlisle. Carlisle, Pa.: Cumberland County Historical Society, 1971.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

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