Arthur St Clair

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St. Clair, Arthur

ST. CLAIR, ARTHUR. (1737–1818). Continental general. Scotland-Massachusetts-Pennsylvania. Born in Thurso, Scotland, on 23 March 1737, St. Clair gave up his medical education to buy an ensign's commission in the Sixtieth Foot (Royal Americans) on 13 May 1757. He took part in Amherst's capture of Louisburg and Wolfe's attack on Quebec, was promoted to lieutenant on 17 April 1759, resigned on 16 April 1762, and settled in Boston. After his Massachusetts wife inherited fourteen thousand pounds, he moved to the Pennsylvania frontier, where he used this money and his own military service claims to buy some four thousand acres in the Ligonier Valley. This made him the largest resident landowner "beyond the mountains," and he soon attained considerable influence. He was involved in the ugly land disputes between Pennsylvania and Virginia, but the latter province had gained the upper hand and St. Clair, an advocate of Pennsylvania's rights, accomplished little.

The Revolution made that dispute moot. In July 1775 he became colonel of a militia regiment, and in the fall he played a minor role in negotiations with Indians at Fort Pitt. On 3 January 1776 he became colonel of the Second Pennsylvania Battalion, led it north, and took part in the disaster at Trois Rivières in Canada on 8 June. On 9 August he was appointed brigadier general and in November he joined Washington's army. Authorized by the commander in chief to raise the New Jersey militia, he was at Trenton and Princeton. On 19 February 1777 he was promoted to major general and returned to the Northern Department to succeed Gates as commander on Lake Champlain.

His abandonment of Ticonderoga on 2-5 July 1777 climaxed his career as a field commander. St. Clair used sound military judgment in not risking his command in the defense of this untenable position and showed rare moral courage in ordering the withdrawal. Furthermore, his plans for this difficult operation were excellent, though ruined by incompetent subordinates. A court-martial in 1778 cleared him, but in their search for a scapegoat, many people suspected St. Clair of disloyalty. His foreign birth made this suspicion plausible, and when Arnold's treason in 1780 brought rumors that another high-ranking American officer was involved in dealings with the enemy, St. Clair's name was again mentioned.

The discredited general served Washington as a volunteer aide-de-camp at Brandywine, assisted Sullivan in mounting his expedition against the Indians, was a commissioner to arrange a cartel with the British at Amboy on 9 March 1780, served on the board that investigated André's conduct, and commanded West Point in October 1780. He had a minor part in settling the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line, helped raise troops for the Yorktown campaign, and joined Washington a few days before Cornwallis surrendered. Soon thereafter he led two thousand regulars south to reinforce Greene, joining him near Charleston on 4 January 1782. On 3 November 1783 he retired from the Continental army.

St. Clair was in Congress from 2 November 1785 to 28 November 1787, and ended as president of that body. He became the first governor of the Northwest Territory, serving in 1789–1802. On 4 March 1791 he was named major general and commander of the U.S. Army. Badly defeated by the Miami Indians under Little Turtle on 4 November, he was refused a court of inquiry and on 5 March 1792 resigned his military commission. A congressional investigation cleared him of responsibility for the disaster. Jefferson removed him as governor in 1802 because St. Clair opposed statehood for Ohio. Unable to gain remuneration from Congress for his many financial losses, St. Clair retired to a simple log cabin in Chestnut Ridge, Pennsylvania, where he died in a carriage accident on 31 August 1818.

SEE ALSO Champe, John; Ticonderoga, New York, British Capture of; Trenton, New Jersey; Trois Rivières.


Cayton, Andrew R. L. Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country, 1780–1825. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986.

Smith, William Henry, ed. The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair. 2 vols. Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1882.

Wilson, Frazer Ells. Arthur St. Clair, Rugged Ruler of the Old Northwest: An Epic of the American Frontier. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, 1944.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

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Arthur St. Clair

Arthur St. Clair (1736-1818), Scottish-born American soldier and politician, was the first territorial governor in United States history.

Arthur St. Clair was born on March 23, 1736, in Thurso. He attended the University of Edinburgh and had some training with the prominent London anatomist William Hunter. St. Clair joined the British army as an ensign in 1757 and served with Col. Jeffery Amherst in Canada. Three years later he married Phoebe Bayard, who bore him seven children. In 1762 he resigned his army commission and bought 4,000 acres of land in western Pennsylvania, which made him the largest resident landholder in that area.

This distinction brought St. Clair local responsibilities. He served as the agent for Governor William Penn in 1771 and justice of the Westmoreland County Court 2 years later. For several years he represented Pennsylvania in its fight with Virginia over the territory at Pittsburgh, but he had little success.

In 1775 St. Clair became a colonel in the American army, and a year later he became a brigadier general, serving with George Washington's forces in the American Revolution. By the spring of 1777 St. Clair had been promoted to major general and received command of Ft. Ticonderoga. When he evacuated that post, Congress recalled him. Although a court-martial cleared him in 1778, he received no further army assignments.

Returning to civilian life, St. Clair reentered politics. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Council of Censors in 1783; in 1785 he was elected to the Continental Congress, becoming president of that body 2 years later. When Congress established the Northwest Territory in 1787, St. Clair was appointed territorial governor.

St. Clair's career as governor was stormy. His territorial militia was dealt disastrous defeats by the Indians in 1790 and 1791. Meanwhile, his efforts to govern the territory caused considerable difficulty. He used his authority to obstruct legislation designed to curtail his power and democratize the territorial government. He opposed the move for statehood and, to delay it, tried to split the territory into smaller political units. When he denounced the Ohio Enabling Act as null, President Thomas Jefferson removed him from office. St. Clair then retired to his home near Ligonier, Pa., where he died on Aug. 31, 1818.

Further Reading

The most recent and only book-length biography of St. Clair is Frazer Ellis Wilson, Arthur St. Clair: Rugged Ruler of the Old Northwest (1944), which presents a laudatory account of his checkered career. William Henry Smith, The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair (2 vols., 1882), ignores St. Clair's weaknesses, presenting only his virtues. For general studies of the problems encountered in settling the Northwest Territory see Richard L. Power, Planting Corn Belt Culture (1953), and John D. Barnhart, Valley of Democracy (1953). Randolph C. Downes discusses frontier Indian affairs in Council Fires on the Upper Ohio (1940). □