Irvine, William

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Irvine, William

IRVINE, WILLIAM. (1741–1804). Continental general. Ireland and Pennsylvania. Born in County Fermanagh, Ireland, on 3 November 1741, Irvine was briefly in the British army but resigned after arguing with a superior officer. He studied medicine at Dublin University and served as a naval surgeon during the Seven Years' War. In 1764 he settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, establishing a medical practice there. Siding with the Patriots, he attended the Provincial Congress of 1774 in Philadelphia. On 9 January 1776 he was commissioned a colonel in the Sixth Pennsylvania Regiment, and joined General John Thomas's forces for the invasion of Canada. Captured at Trois Rivières, Canada, on 8 June, he was paroled on 3 August but was not exchanged until 6 May 1778, almost three years later. Almost immediately after his return, he led troops at the battle of Monmouth (New Jersey), on 28 June 1778. In July he sat on the court-martial of Charles Lee, who was convicted of dereliction of duty at Monmouth. On 12 May 1779 he was appointed brigadier general and given command of the Second Brigade of General Anthony Wayne's Pennsylvania Line. He took part in the unsuccessful operations against Staten Island on 14-15 January and Bull's Ferry, New Jersey, on 21-22 July 1780.

After failing to raise new troops in Pennsylvania, Irvine was made commander of the western military department on September 1781. When he arrived at Fort Pitt in November, he found that the garrison consisted of 200 regulars. In his estimation, this was too few to take the field. Irvine called for volunteers to launch an attack on the Indians, which led to the massacre of innocent Moravian Indians at Gnaddenhutten (in present-day Ohio) on 8 March 1782. This crime was followed by William Crawford's disastrous expedition in June. Leaving Fort Pitt on 1 October 1783, Irvine resigned from the army on 3 November. In 1785 he was appointed agent to purchase lands for distribution to Pennsylvania veterans. He recommended purchase of the "triangle" that gave Pennsylvania an outlet on Lake Erie. He was a congressman from 1786 to 1788 and from 1793 to 1795. He was involved in the Whiskey Rebellion, first as a commissioner and then as commander of the state militia. During the French war scare of 1798 he again commanded Pennsylvania troops. He moved from Carlisle to Philadelphia, and in March 1801 was appointed superintendent of military stores there. He died of cholera in Philadelphia on 29 July 1804.

SEE ALSO Trois Rivières.


Butterfield, C. W., ed. Washington-Irvine Correspondence: 1781–1783. Madison, Wis.: D. Atwood, 1889.

Irvine Papers. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Williams, Edward G. Fort Pitt and the Revolution on the Western Frontier. Pittsburgh: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1978.

                                        revised by Michael Bellesiles

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