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General Arthur St. Clair

St. Clair, Arthur
March 23, 1736
Thurso, Caithness, Scotland
August 31, 1818
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania

Arthur St. Clair (March 23, 1736 –August 31, 1818) was the ninth President of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, holding office from February 2, 1787 to October 29, 1787. He was preceded in office by Nathaniel Gorham and succeeded by Cyrus Griffin. He was also a general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, the highest-ranking officer in the US Army (1791–1792), and the only territorial governor of Ohio.

St. Clair was born Thurso, Caithness, Scotland on March 23, sometime between 1734 and 1736. Reportably he was descended from the Sinclair Earls of Caithness. Among his indirect relatives {by marriage} was Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 1st Earl of Minto and Robert Louis Stevenson the poet. He attended the University of Edinburgh and studied medicine under the renowned anatomist William Hunter. In 1757, St. Clair purchased a commission in the British Army and came to America with Admiral Edward Boscawen's fleet for the French and Indian War. He served under General Jeffrey Amherst at the capture of Louisburg, Nova Scotia on July 26, 1758. On April 17, 1759, he received a lieutenant's commission and was assigned to the command of General James Wolfe, under whom he served at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

On April 16, 1762, he resigned his commission, and, in 1764, he settled in Ligonier Valley, Pennsylvania, where he purchased land and erected mills. He was the largest landowner in western Pennsylvania.

In 1770, St. Clair became a justice of the court, of quarter sessions and of common pleas, a member of the proprietary council, a justice, recorder, and clerk of the orphans' court, and prothonotary of Bedford and Westmoreland counties.

In 1774, the colony of Virginia took claim of the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and some residents of western Pennsylvania took up arms to reject them. St. Clair issued an order for the arrest of the officer leading the Virginia troops. Lord Dunmore's War eventually settled the boundary dispute.

By the mid-1770s, St. Clair considered himself more of an American patriot than a British subject. In January 1776, he took a commission in the Continental Army, as a colonel of Pennsylvania militia (3rd Pennsylvania Regiment). He was appointed a brigadier general in August 1776, and was sent by Gen. George Washington to help organize the New Jersey militia. He took part in Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776, before the Battle of Trenton. Many biographers credit St. Clair with the strategy which led to Washington's capture of Princeton, New Jersey in the following days.

In April 1777, St. Clair was sent to defend Fort Ticonderoga. Unfortunately, his small garrison could not resist British Gen. John Burgoyne's larger force in the Saratoga Campaign. St. Clair was forced to retreat at the Battle of Ticonderoga on July 5, 1777. He withdrew his forces and played no further part in the Campaign. In 1778 he was court-martialed for the loss of Ticonderoga. The court exonerated him, and he returned to duty. St. Clair was at Yorktown, Virginia when Lord Cornwallis surrendered his army.

St. Clair was a member of the Pennsylvania Council of Censors in 1783, and was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress from November 2, 1785 until November 28, 1787. He was President of the Continental Congress when Shays' Rebellion took place. He was a candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1790, but despite the support of notable citizens such as James Wilson, Robert Morris and Benjamin Rush, he was soundly defeated by Thomas Mifflin.

Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which created the Northwest Territory, General St. Clair was appointed governor of what is now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, along with parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. He named Cincinnati, Ohio after the Society of the Cincinnati, and it was there that he established his home. When the territory was divided in 1800, he served as governor of the Ohio Territory.

As Governor, he formulated Maxwell's Code, the first written laws of the territory. He also sought to end Native American claims to Ohio land and clear the way for white settlement. In 1789, he succeeded in getting certain Indians to sign the Treaty of Fort Harmar, but many native leaders had not been invited to participate in the negotiations, or had refused to do so. Rather than settling the Indian's claims, the treaty provoked them to further resistance in what is sometimes known as the "Northwest Indian War" (or "Little Turtle's War"). Mutual hostilities led to a campaign by General Josiah Harmar, whose 1,500 militiamen were defeated by the Indians in October 1790.

In 1791, St. Clair succeeded Harmar as the senior general of the United States Army. He personally led a punitive expedition comprising of two Regular Army regiments and some militia. This force advanced to the location of Indian settlements on the Wabash River, but on November 4 they were routed in battle by a tribal confederation led by Miami Chief Little Turtle and Shawnee chief Blue Jacket. More than 600 soldiers and scores of women and children were killed in the battle, called St. Clair's Defeat, the "Columbia Massacre," or the "Battle of the Wabash." It was the greatest defeat of the American army by Native Americans in history with some 623 American soldiers killed in action as opposed to about 50 dead braves. After this debacle, he resigned from the Army at the request of President Washington, but continued to serve as Governor of the Northwest Territory.

A Federalist, St. Clair hoped to see two states made of the Ohio Territory in order to increase Federalist power in Congress. However, he was resented by Ohio Democratic-Republicans for what were perceived as his partisanship, high-handededness and arrogance in office. In 1802, his opposition to plans for Ohio statehood led President Thomas Jefferson to remove him from office as territorial governor. He thus played no part in the organizing of the State of Ohio in 1803. The first Ohio Constitution provided for a weak governor and a strong legislature, in part due to a reaction to St. Clair's method of governance.

St. Clair died in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on August 31, 1818 in his eighties and in poverty; his vast wealth dissipated by generous gifts and loans, and by business reverses.

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