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St. Clair, Arthur

Born: 1737-03-23 Scotland, United Kingdom

Died: 1818-08-31 Fayette County, Pennsylvania

Arthur St. Clair was an army officer, politician, and territorial governor. After receiving his pre-collegiate education, St. Clair reportedly matriculated at the University of Edinburgh before being apprenticed in 1756 to Dr. William Hunter. St. Clair abandoned his medical studies, however, for a career in the British Army, obtaining a commission as an ensign in the Sixtieth or Royal American Regiment of Foot. He saw action during the French and Indian War, earning promotion to lieutenant. In 1760, he married Phoebe Bayard, and in 1762, St. Clair resigned his commission and the couple settled on a 4,000-acre estate in Pennsylvania's Ligonier Valley. Arthur and Phoebe St. Clair would have seven children. In 1771, Arthur became a colonial agent for the Pennsylvania government, and with the creation of Westmoreland County in 1773, he became a proprietary magistrate and justice of the county court. When the American Revolution began, St. Clair raised a regiment, which elected him as its colonel. The Continental Congress commissioned St. Clair as a colonel, and he led his regiment during the American invasion of Canada in 1775 and at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. In February 1777, Congress promoted him to major general. In May 1777, St. Clair commanded a failed campaign to capture Fort Ticonderoga, prompting Congress to remove him from command. A court martial exonerated St. Clair from charges of negligence, but he did not receive another command, though he did see action as an aide-de-camp to George Washington at the battles of Brandywine and Yorktown. After the war, St. Clair became embroiled in Pennsylvania politics, joining in the opposition to the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. He also opposed the national government under the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, he served on the Pennsylvania Council of Censors, and in 1785, Pennsylvania voters elected him to the Confederation Congress. In February 1787, St. Clair became president of the Confederation Congress. In October 1777, Congress nominated him to be the first governor of the Northwest Territory. St. Clair accepted the appointment, establishing the territorial government in 1788. During his first three-year term (1788-91), St. Clair faced hostile Native American nations determined to stop white encroachment on their lands. Disputes led to war, and in November 1791, St. Clair lead an expedition against the Native Americans that resulted in the deadliest defeat of an American force in combat against Native Americans. Though exonerated by President Washington and a court martial, St. Clair resigned his military commission. A committed Federalist, St. Clair also faced opposition within the Territorial Legislature, which included an increasing number of Democratic-Republicans opposed to his narrow interpretation of the Northwest Ordinance and determination to sustain national authority against those seeking to divide the territory into states. Nevertheless, the U.S. Senate approved St. Clair's reappointment for another three-year term in February 1801. St. Clair's second term was marked by conflict with President Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Congress over the division of the Northwest Territory and the movement of respective areas to statehood. His lost the struggle to sub-divide the territory into two, rather than three, territories, and his public opposition to a congressional act allowing Ohio to call a convention to prepare for statehood caused President Jefferson to remove him in November 1802. St. Clair returned to the Ligonier Valley. Failing in efforts to get remuneration from Congress for his past service and expenses, he lost his property in 1810, and moved to log house at Chesnut Ridge, Pennsylvania, where he died in a carriage accident.

Gregory Evans Dowd, "St. Clair, Arthur," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 20:583-85.