Biography of Arthur St. Clair
Arthur St. Clair was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was born in Scotland and served in the British Army during the French and Indian War. When the war was over, he settled in Pennsylvania. In December 1775, he was appointed as a Colonel in the Continental Army. In January 1776, he was sent to Canada to aid Northern Army at Quebec and arrived in time to help cover the American retreat when British reinforcements attacked and broke the siege. When he returned, he was sent to assist Washington. He crossed the Delaware with Washington and fought in the Battle of Trenton, Second Battle of Trenton, and Battle of Princeton and was then placed in command of Fort Ticonderoga. In the spring of 1777, the British launched Burgoyne’s Campaign and an army led by General John Burgoyne marched out of Canada and into New York. The goal was to capture Fort Ticonderoga and then Albany, New York, which would cut New England off from the other colonies. St. Clair was badly outnumbered and decided to evacuate Ticonderoga, which brought him heavy criticism from his men, leaders in Congress, and people all over America. Despite the blow to his reputation, George Washington kept his faith in him. St. Clair joined Washington and served as an aide at the Battle of Brandywine. In 1781, he was with Washington at Yorktown when the British surrendered. After the war, he served in the Confederation Congress and served as President from February 2, 1787, to October 5, 1787. In February 1788, he was appointed Governor of the Northwest Territory. In 1791, he became commander of the United States Army and led forces against Native American Indian tribes in the Northwest Territory. He lost the Battle of the Wabash — also known as St. Clair’s Defeat — and was asked to resign from the army. When he opposed the political party of President Thomas Jefferson, he was removed from office as Governor.
This painting by Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum depicts fighting at the Battle of the Wabash. Image Source: Wikipedia.
5 Things to Know About Arthur St. Clair
- St. Clair was born on March 23, 1737, in Scotland, and died on August 31, 1818, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
- During the New York-New Jersey Campaign, St. Clair gained the trust and friendship of General George Washington. Washington even asked for St. Clair’s advice after the Second Battle of Trenton, and St. Clair suggested marching the Continental Army around the British flank during the night and attacking Princeton the next day.
- St. Clair was accused of cowardice by some of the same men who were involved in the “Conway Cabal,” a plot to replace George Washington as Commander-in-Chief with Horatio Gates. Their plot failed, and St. Clair was also acquitted of all charges against him.
- During his tenure as President of Congress, the Northwest Ordinance was passed, and he also helped write the laws of the territory, which are known as “Maxwell’s Code.”
- At the Battle of the Wabash, St. Clair led American forces against tribes in the Western Confederacy of Native Americans. The battle was part of the Northwest Indian War. His defeat is the largest defeat by U.S. military forces at the hands of Native American Indians in history.
Arthur St. Clair was important to United States history because of his military leadership during the American Revolutionary War. He also showed political leadership during the early days of westward expansion when he served as the first Governor of the Northwest Territory.