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First Name: Arthur

Last Name: St. Clair

Birthplace: Thurso, GBR

Gender: Male

Branch: Continental Army (1775 - 1784)

Date of Birth: 23 March 1736

Date of Death: 31 August 1818

Rank: Major General

Years Served:
Arthur St. Clair

•  Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)


Arthur St. Clair
Major General, Continental Army

Arthur St. Clair was born on 23 March 1736 in Thurso, Caithness, Scotland. Little is known of his early life. Early biographers estimated his year of birth as 1734, but subsequent historians uncovered a birth date of 23 March 1736, which in the modern calendar system, means that he was born in 1737. His parents, unknown to early biographers, were probably William Sinclair, a merchant, and Elizabeth Balfour. He reportedly attended the University of Edinburgh before being apprenticed to the renowned physician William Hunter.

Seven Years War

In 1757, St. Clair purchased a commission in the British Army, Royal American Regiment, 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 26 July 1758. On 17 April 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. St. Clair met young lady Phoebe Bayard, a member of one of the most prominent families in Boston, and they married in 1760. Miss Bayard's mother's maiden name was Bowdoin and she was a sister to James Bowdoin, colonial governor of Massachusetts.

Settler in America

On 16 April 1762, he resigned his commission, and, in 1764, he settled in Ligonier Valley, PA, 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, PA, and some residents of western Pennsylvania took up arms to eject 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.

Revolutionary War

By the mid-1770s, St. Clair considered himself more of an American than a British subject. In January 1776, he accepted a commission in the Continental Army as a Colonel of the 3rd Pennsylvania Regiment. He first saw service in the later days of the Quebec invasion, where he saw action in the Battle of Trois-Rivières. He was appointed a Brigadier General in August 1776, and was sent by General 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 that led to Washington's capture of Princeton, NJ, in the following days. It was shortly after this, that St. Clair was promoted to Major General.

In April 1777, St. Clair was sent to defend Fort Ticonderoga. 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 Siege of Fort Ticonderoga on 5 July 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, although he was no longer given any battlefield commands. He still saw action, however, as an Aide-de-Camp to General Washington, who retained a high opinion of him. St. Clair was at Yorktown when Lord Cornwallis surrendered his army.

President of Congress

St. Clair was a member of the Pennsylvania Council of Censors in 1783, and was elected a delegate to the Confederation Congress, serving from 2 November 1785 until 28 November 1787. Chaos ruled the day in early 1787 with Shays' Rebellion in full force and the states refusing to settle land disputes or contribute to the now six year-old federal government. On 2 February 1787, the delegates finally gathered into a quorum and elected St. Clair to a one-year term as President of Congress. Congress enacted its most important piece of legislation, the Northwest Ordinance, during St. Clair's tenure as President. However, time was running out for the Confederation Congress. During St. Clair's presidency, the Philadelphia Convention was drafting a new U.S. Constitution, which would abolish the old Congress.

Northwest Territory

Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which created the Northwest Territory, Major General St. Clair was appointed governor of what is now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, along with parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. He named Cincinnati, OH, 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 (named after its printer, William Maxwell), 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 militia men were defeated by the Indians in October 1790.

In 1791, St. Clair succeeded Harmar as the senior General of the U.S. Army. He personally led a punitive expedition involving two Regular Army regiments and some militia. This force advanced to the location of Indian settlements near the headwaters of the Wabash River, but on 4 November, 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, which has since borne the name "St. Clair's Defeat, also known as the "Battle of the Wabash," the "Columbia Massacre," or the "Battle of a Thousand Slain." It remains the greatest defeat of a U.S. Army by Native Americans in history, with some 623 American soldiers killed in action, contrasted with about 50 Native American dead. After this debacle, St. Clair 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-handedness 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.

Arthur St. Clair, Patriot and a Founder of the United States of America, died in Greensburg, PA, in his eighties and in poverty. His vast wealth was dissipated by generous gifts and loans, and by business reverses, but, mainly by the refusal of Congress to reimburse him for monies that he had loaned during the Revolution and while governor of the Northwest Territory. He lived with his daughter, Louisa St. Clair Robb, and her family on the ridge between Ligonier and Greensburg.


A portion of The Hermitage, St. Clair's home in Youngstown, PA, was later moved to Ligonier, PA, where it is now preserved, along with St. Clair artifacts and memorabilia at the Fort Ligonier Museum.

An American Civil War steamer was named USS St. Clair.

Places named in honor of Arthur St. Clair include:

In Pennsylvania:

Upper St. Clair, PA

St. Clairsville, PA

St. Clair Township, Westmoreland County, PA

East St. Clair Township, Bedford County, PA

West St. Clair Township, Bedford County, PA

&The St. Clair neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA

In Ohio:

St. Clair Township in Columbiana County, OH

St. Clairsville, OH

Fort St. Clair park in Eaton, OH

Other States:

St. Clair County, IL

St. Clair County, MI

St. Clair County, MO

St. Clair County, AL

Death and Burial

Major General Arthur St. Clair died on 31 August 1818 in Greensburg, PA. He is buried at Old Saint Clair Cemetery in Greensburg, PA. St. Clair's remains are buried under a Masonic monument in St. Clair Park in downtown Greensburg.

His wife, Phoebe, died shortly after and is buried beside him.

Honoree ID: 3106   Created by: MHOH




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