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Arthur St. Clair
Chapter I. St. Clair's History Prior to 1787


The early colonies of America clung timidly to the sea board, in fact it took them a century and a half to spread from the Atlantic to the Alleghanies, and three quarters of a century more to reach the Pacific, turning out the European powers and driving back the Indians as they proceeded. In the course of this advance an especially valuable section was opened up in the lands northwest of the Ohio, to which numerous rivers and the Great Lakes give ready access. Settlement began here in earnest during the years 1787 to 1802, an important period which saw the Indian title extinguished, the English forced to leave, large land sales made and the colonies firmly established. During these significant years in the history of the Northwest, Governor St. Clair held the first position in the territory, as the executive appointed by the federal government.

Arthur St. Clair when he became governor of the Northwest was already a man of fifty three, who had enjoyed experience in various lines. Of Scotch descent and noble lineage, he had been educated at the University of Edinburgh, where he took up the study of medicine. After the death of his parents, as this occupation was not especially congenial, he obtained a commission in the Sixtieth or Royal American regiment of foot.

Thus it was that in 1758 he came with Lord Amherst to America where he conducted himself so well before Louisburg that he was commissioned lieutenant. It was then his fortune to aid General Wolf in the reduction of Quebec, where he played a conspicuous part.

His battalion was one of those chosen to scale the heights and in the struggle on the plains it is said that St. Clair carried the colors, rescued from a dying soldier. During the following winter he remained in the garrison before Quebec, and, when the capitulation was finally signed September 8, 1760, which transferred the western posts from Prance to Great Britain, he obtained a furlough and went to Boston to marry Hiss Phoebe Bayard, the daughter of a half sister of Governor Fouidoin of Massachusetts.

By this marriage St. Clair received considerable property which added to his own enabled him to resign his commission April 1762. He settled in Pennsylvania at Ligonier Valley where he acquired an immense tract of land partly by purchase and partly through a grant of the king for his services in the French war. Here he erected his residence and the first grist mill of that section.

St. Clair entered almost at once into the civil life of the region. In April 1770 he was appointed surveyor for the district of Cumberland the western part of the state. In May he was made Justice of the court of Quarter Sessions and Common Pleas, and member of the governor’s council for Cumberland County. The next year when Bedford county was erected, the governor conferred on St. Clair the offices of Justice of the Court, Recorder of Deeds, Clerk of the Orphan’s Court and Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas for that county. Corresponding appointments were sent him in 1773 when Westmoreland County was erected from Bedford.

Westmoreland County during the period that St. Clair held office there was the scene of much disturbance, and St. Clair was busy with sending reports to Governor Penn. There was considerable feeling in western Pennsylvania over the lands about the head waters of the Ohio which were contested by the Virginians. The controversy was an old one but Pennsylvania had rather taken her possession for granted, the land having been surveyed by the proprietors of Pennsylvania and magistrates appointed by that state. Early in 1774 John Conolly with authority from Lord Dunmore took possession of Pert Pitt and issued a proclamation, as Captain Commandant of the Virginia militia, calling the people to meet him as militia January 25, 1775, and stating that a new county was contemplated including Pittsburgh. This gave a chance for all the disaffected and those who wished to avoid the law to gather about him. St. Clair accordingly as a magistrate of Westmoreland had Conolly arrested. Por this step Lord Lunmore wished to have him removed from office but Governor Penn refused, in fact St. Clair was practically acting under his orders. Some further conflicts took place between ^Virginia and Pennsylvania magistrates, but before long the controversy was swallowed up by the Indian war.

Virginia and Pennsylvania had very different Indian policies. Virginia wished to get possession of the soil, while Pennsylvania wished the Indians to keep their lands so that she might continue to trade with them. The Virginian borderers had considerable trouble with the Indians, who were led by the Shawnees, and year after year it grew worse, until at last it resulted in Lord Dunmore's War. In this war Pennsylvania remained neutral, though some of her inhabitants were killed by mistake, yet there was great uneasiness among the people of the western part of the state, which St. Clair strove to allay by arranging for militia and building forts. To prevent a more serious outbreak a conference was arranged at Port Pitt which St. Clair attended and at which he addressed the Six Nations.

The next year, 1775, began St. Clair's connection with the United States Congress had appointed commissioners to treat with the Indians at port Pitt and induce them to neutrality in the coming war. Two of them were St. Clair's friends and they asked him to act as secretary during the negotiations. While there, St. Clair conceived the idea of a volunteer expedition to Detroit which was strongly recommended to Congress by the commission but disapproved. This proposal, however, brought him into the notice of congress so that without application he received in December 1775 his commission as colonel from President Hancock, who urged him to repair to Philadelphia at once, which St. Clair says he did not hesitate to do although he had five little children and six lucrative offices in Pennsylvania.

His first duty came in January 1776 when he was instructed to raise a regiment to serve in Canada. This was completed in six weeks, leaving Philadelphia in March for the north where it was just in time to cover the retreat of the army from Quebec. General Thomas had withdrawn to the mouth of the Sorel where he was joined by four regiments, of which St. Clair's Pennsylvania troops constituted a part. St. Clair himself came on to Sorel in the middle of May from Montreal where he had been to consult with the committee of congress. He suggested to General Thompson the practicability of retarding the British transports from passing up the river by taking the post at the village of Three Rivers with 600 men. An attempt was made to carry out this plan but it failed through a blunder of General Thompson's. The general himself and several other officers were taken prisoners so it fell to St. Clair to conduct the remains of the detachment back to Sorel which he accomplished successfully.

A retreat from this camp soon became imperative because of its poor location for defense. The Americans then pressed on to Crown Point which was also decided untenable by a council of offices; under General Schuyler. In defending this step to Washington General Gates wrote that "Colonel St. Clair and Colonel De Haas, in particular, men whose long service and distinguished characters deservedly give their opinions a preference" were among those to advise it. Consequently the army moved on to Ticonderoga where St. Clair spent the summer and on July 28th had the honor of reading the Declaration of Independence to the troops. While here, he also received the promotion to Brigadier General, which excited some jealousy among the other officers.

Shortly after, St. Clair left the northern department and joined General Washington in Hew Jersey where he arrived in December and took an active part in the winter's campaign and the affair at Trenton. He claimed that he suggested the march on Princeton and the cantonment of the army at Morristown, because he had a slight acquaintance with the country. In recognition of his services he was commissioned Major General in February.

The following spring he was ordered back to command at Ticonderoga. On his arrival here in June, 1777, he found 2,000 ill-equipped men and boys for its defense, while the year before General Gates had demanded 10,000 regular troops and as many militia as he wished for that purpose. But congress thought the enemy would make no attempt in that quarter. St. Clair, however, made what repairs he could on the fortifications and got it in such share that had General Burgoyne made a direct attack, he might have resisted him but instead he began to surround St. Clair and took Mt. Defiance which commanded the works of Ticonderoga and Independence.

The position of the Americans was critical and a council of general officers decided for evacuation. Accordingly a retreat was made to Fort Edward which was reached on July 12th, whence St. Clair wrote President Hancock, "It was my original plan to retreat to this place, and that the militia might have something round which to collect themselves; it is now effected, and the militia are coming in, so that I have the most sanguine hopes that the progress of the enemy will be checked; and I may yet have the satisfaction to experience that, by abandoning a post, I have eventually saved a "state."

The evacuation of Ticonderoga caused a great deal of surprise and censure of St. Clair, as its defenses had been over estimated. Even Washington could not understand it, but the account of the number in the garrison sent him by Major General Heath was much larger than it actually was. He wrote General Schuyler that St. Clair owed it to his character to insist on an opportunity of of defending his evacuation of the post and the sooner he justified himself the better, for his action appeared unaccountable to the people in the east. By a resolution of Congress - July 30th St. Clair was ordered to repair to head-quarters and, although he disliked leaving the army at such a critical time, the anticipation of an inquiry into his conduct was some compensation.

Accordingly, after the battle of Saratoga, St. Clair left the Northern Department August 20th and repaired to congress where he demanded a court martial which was, however, delayed by intrigue.

It is said that this hostility was not directed against St. Clair on personal grounds, but was occasioned by his friendship for Washington. Court martial was not permitted and a committee appointed to collect testimony did not report as they could not find testimony to convict.

Later, in November, a resolution was adopted by congress permitting St. Clair to attend to "his private affairs". Washington was indignant at this treatment. In October he wrote President Hancock that it would be well that the inquiry be brought to a speedy issue as St. Clair's services were valuable. The following May he wrote again, "with pain, I add, that the proceeding, or, more properly, not proceeding, in this matter, is looked upon as "cruel and oppressive". Finally in April 1778 Governor Morris succeeded in getting a committee appointed with instructions to prefer charges. The next September the court martial was held, of which Major-General Lincoln was president, which rendered the verdict, "The court having duly considered the charges against Major-General St. Clair, and the evidence, are unanimously of the opinion, that he is not guilty of either of the charges preferred against hinj and do unanimously acquit him of all and every one of them with the highest honor". This decision was the occasion of many congratulations to St. Clair; among them a very warm one from Lafayette.

Although he had been suspended from command, pending the court martial, St. Clair had served under Washington without regularly assigned duties, talking an active part in the battle of Brandywine and sharing in the trials at Valley Forge. The winter of 1779 found American affairs at an extremely low point; the troops unpaid and congress very weak; St. Clair succeeded in keeping the Pennsylvania line from dissolution and its numbers in excess of the others of the army, although there was much dissatisfaction. It v/as from his division that the soldiers were taken to head the column which assaulted the works at Stony Point.

Throughout 1780 St. Clair's services were very valuable. He was appointed to investigate how a detachment of the enemy crossed on the ice from Staten Island, entered Elizabethtown and Newark on January 25th and plundered the inhabitants, and see what measures might be taken for retaliation. Again in March he was authorized with two others to meet British commissioners to settle a general cartel for the exchange of prisoners at Amboy. Nothing came of this, however, as the enemy refused to treat on mutual terms.

In August of the same year a compliment was paid St. Clair in the offer of the command of the light infantry which was generally under Layfayette. The latter was to attack New York on Clinton's removal to Rhode Island, but as Clinton returned suddenly, Layfayette again took command of the light infantry. About a month later when the cavalry was surprised by Arnold's treason, St. Clair was directed to take command of West Point and guard against any movement by the enemy. While stationed here it fell to him to be one of the court to try and convict Major Andre.

Probably Washington intended to leave St. Clair in command at West Point but as Greene asked for the position, St. Clair was ordered to move the Second Pennsylvania brigade and Meig's regiment to the army.

The poverty and suffering to which the army was exposed during these years finally brought about a revolt in January 1781 among the Pennsylvania troops under General Bayne at Morristown, the immediate cause of which was a disagreement between the men and the officers over the term of enlistment, whether it was for ; three years or for the war. St. Clair went to Morristown and, although he could not see the mutineers, assured the few remaining soldiers of future consideration. Terms were finally arranged by President Reed of Pennsylvania and a congressional committee. This unexpected reduction of the line made recruiting necessary and St. Clair was entrusted with the work of filling the Pennsylvania lines, a vexatious task, especially as it was difficult to get the necessary funds from the Pennsylvania Assembly.

Just when this was finished and St. Clair was ready to follow the army south, congress became afraid that an attempt would be made on Philadelphia from New York and ordered him to remain with the troops he had left. On his informing Washington of this, the latter wrote urging him to come on and congress finally revoked the order, so he joined the army at Yorktown, shortly before the capitulation. He was then sent to aid General Greene in South Carolina and to sweep away all the British posts in North Carolina which were, however, abandoned before he reached them. After a weary march he joined Greene on December 27th.

In the summer as the war was virtually over and as his finances required his presence, St. Clair returned home. He was again called into service in 1783 when the lines at Lancaster refuse, to be discharged without pay and marched to Philadelphia. Congress sent for St. Clair to march the mutineers back to Lancaster and tell then that they would be paid there only. A resolution was later passed authorizing General Howe to march 1500 troops to Philadelphia to disarm the mutineers but before his arrival St. Clair and the executive council had succeeded in quieting the disturbance peaceably. This ended St. Clair's connection with the revolution, a period in his life second only in importance to his governorship in the Northwest.

He now found himself ready to begin again with neither property nor offices, but he was not long without the latter. In 1783 he was elected from the county of Philadelphia a member of the council of censors, a body to inquire whether the constitution had been preserved inviolate, whether the taxes were properly expended, etc. as a member of this council he participated in the debates and committee work. He was also elected to the office of Vendue-master of Philadelphia, an honorable and paying position, through which the public revenues were received at the time. There was just then an extra amount of property to be sold as a result of the revolution.

In February 1786 he first attended congress as delegate from Pennsylvania. During his term the discussion took place on Jay's proposal to give up the Mississippi navigation, temporarily. St. Clair in the debates supported this compromise. He thought it better to give up the exercise of a right they could not maintain and receive something for it than to insist on it and lose both the right and the advantage. In February 1787 St. Clair was elected president of Congressman important piece of legislation occurring while he held the office in the Ordinance for the government of the Northwest territory. To understand that document a glimpse at the early history of the Northwest is indispensable.


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