Arthur St. Clair
9th President of the United States
in Congress Assembled February 2, 1787 to October 29, 1787
Revolutionary War Major General
By: Stanley L. Klos
Arthur St. Clair was born in Thurso, Scotland on March 23, 1734 and died in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on August 31, 1818. There is much debate over President St. Clair’s Lineage and even his year of birth. The Clan Sinclair in U.S.A,. for instance maintains that St. Clair’s actual name in Scotland was Sinclair and he was born March 23, 1736 — (clarified by clicking here).
St. Clair’s life, more then any other U.S. President, was comprised of sterling and stark contrasts. Enjoying a great family inheritance in his youth only to end his life in desolate poverty; crossing the Delaware with Washington to capture Trenton and Princeton while later loosing Fort Ticonderoga under his own command; presiding as President of the United States in the Congress Assembled that produced the U.S. Constitution and Northwest Ordinance only to be removed by President Jefferson as Governor of the Northwest Territory for opposing Ohio Statehood.
St. Clair attended the University of Edinburgh and studied medicine, serving part of an apprenticeship with the renowned anatomist, William Hunter. In 1757, St. Clair changed his career path by purchasing a commission as ensign in the 60th Foot Infantry. He came to America with Admiral Edward Boscawen’s fleet in 1757 to exchange blows in the War for Empire. He served under General Jeffrey Amherst at the capture of Louisburg on July 26th, 1758. On April 17, 1759 he received a lieutenant’s commission and was assigned to the command of General James Wolfe. At the Battle of the Plains, which decided the fate of the French in America, St. Clair took a notable part:
“Then came the fatal struggle on the plains during which Lieutenant St. Clair seized the colors, which had fallen from the hand of a dying soldier, and bore them until the field was won by the British.”
One year later on duty in Boston, St. Clair married Phoebe Bayard in May of 1760 at the Trinity Episcopal Church. Phoebe was the daughter of Balthazar Bayard & Mary Bowdoin whose grandfather was James Bowdoin of Boston. In 1762 he resigned his commission and moved to Bedford, Pennsylvania to survey land for the Penn’s. By 1764 the couple decided to settle permanently in Ligonier Valley, Pennsylvania. St. Clair purchased land and erected mills, becoming the largest landowner in western Pennsylvania and a prominent British subject.
In 1770 he was made surveyor of the district of Cumberland. He subsequently 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. His offices were located in the basement of Bedford’s “Espy House” that still stands today. George Washington would later utilize the same home as his Whiskey Rebellion headquarters while St. Clair served as his Northwest Territorial Governor.
As Prothonotary of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Arthur St. Clair had a wide range of duties. In 1771 no other western Pennsylvania counties existed. Bedford County encompassed present-day counties of Fayette, Westmoreland, Washington, Greene and parts of Beaver, Allegheny, Indiana and Armstrong counties. This September 24th, 1771 Arthur St. Clair to William Allen gives a sampling of what his position entailed in the wild wild west of Colonial America.
September 24th, 1771 Arthur St. Clair to William Allen – Courtesy of the Author
Sir I am sorry to inform you that the Murder of two Six Nation Indians has lately happened in our County. The Murderer is now in our Gaol. I had him taken to Fort Pitt and confined there for a few days that the Indians might see him and know that we were inclined to do them Justice and took the information against him before them. They appeared to be well satisfied with it and declared in their way that their Hearts should still be well towards their Brothers tho’ this affair had given them much uneasiness. It has unluckily fallen in a bad Family as the People killed were near Relations to the Chief of the Six Nations in that part of the Country. That you may be the better acquainted with the Circumstances I have inclosed a copy of the Information and you will please to give Order for the Fellows Trial when you think Proper.
From the Appearance of things at first I flatter’d myself this County would soon be brought into good Order, but the Prospect is at present much altered, the People to the westward of the Allegany Mountain forming dangerous Associations to oppose the execution of the Laws. The Sherrif was lately escorted out of a settlement upon the Youghiogeny by a Body of Armed Men and threatned severly if he ever returned to execute his Office till the western line of the Province was run; and a number had the audacity to go to Col. Wilson, who is a Magistrate in that Quarter, and insist on his signing their Association; but he behaved with great spirit. Sized and confined their ring-leader and obliged them to relinquish their Agreement and burn the Paper before his Face. God knows where these things will end. I wish we have not something like the regulating scheme in Carolina. I have enclosed a copy of the Sheriff’s Deposition to Mr. Shippen together with Col. Wilson’s letter to me that he may lay them before Council. I am extremely glad to hear of Mr. Penn and his Lady and Mr. Allen’s safe arrival in England and am with great respect
Sir Your most obedient and very humble Servant
Arthur St. Clair.
September 24th, 1771 Arthur St. Clair to William Allen – Courtesy of the Author
By 1774 Arthur St. Clair had risen in favor and was now the Magistrate as well as Prothonotary in the newly formed Westmoreland County. Colonial Virginia was in a bitter border dispute with the Penn’s of Pennsylvania over large parts of the new Pennsylvania County including Fort Pitt.. Peace had reigned at Fort Pitt for 8 years but Britain was still in great debt from the War for Empire. A decision was made to abandon the Fort and in the confusion of the withdrawal, John Connolly quickly garrisoned the three rivers for Virginia:
“appeared on the ground, and having the authority and blessings of Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia, took possession of Fort Pitt.”
The Fort, upon Connolly’s seizure, was renamed Fort Dumore in honor of Virginia’s Colonial Governor. At the Fort Dunmore, in his official role of Captain Commandant of the Virginia Militia, Connolly issued a proclamation, calling on the people of Western Pennsylvania to meet him, as a militia, on the 25th of January 1774. Arthur St. Clair was the King’s magistrate of Westmoreland County that was founded February 26, 1773 and was the first county in the colony of Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny Mountains. Westmoreland County in 1774 included the present-day counties of Fayette, Washington, Greene and parts of Beaver, Allegheny, Indiana and Armstrong counties. St. Clair was appalled by Connolly’s seizure and issued a warrant for his arrest. Connolly was arrested the Virginia Captain was imprisoned in the jail at Hannastown the Westmoreland County seat.
In asserting the claims of Virginia, Lord Dumore insisted that Magistrate St. Clair should be punished for his temerity in arresting his Captain by dismissal from office. Governor Penn declined to remove St. Clair instead commending him as a superior magistrate by providing proper legal notice to Mr. Connolly who refused to surrender the Fort.
Mr. St. Clair is a gentleman, who for a long time had the honor of serving his majesty in the regulars with reputation, and in every station of life has preserved the character of a very honest, worthy man; and though, perhaps, I should not, without first expostulating with you on the subject, have directed him to take that step, yet you must excuse my not complying with your Lordship’s re1cttisition of stripping hire, on this occasion, of his offices and livelihood, which you will allow me to think not only unreasonable, but somewhat dictatorial.
Counter arrests and much correspondence followed, but the controversy was soon obscured by the stirring events of Lord Dunmore’s War. Disturbances were renewed by Connolly on several border fronts and once again he was arrested. The Virginia Colonial Governor ordered the counter arrest of three of the Pennsylvania justices and in an exchange Connolly was released. The Boundary Troubles between Virginia and Pennsylvania were finally settled by the Continental Congress while Arthur St. Clair was commissioned in the Revolutionary War.
Arthur St. Clair, who was appointed colonel of one of the Pennsylvania regiments, received his recruiting orders on the 10th of January. St Clair raised and trained a regiment in the dead of winter. Colonel St. Clair then marched six companies of the regiment from Pennsylvania to Canada, a distance of several hundred miles, and joined the American army in Quebec on April 11th, 1776.
General Montgomery, who in the fall of 1775 defeated the British at Chamblee, St. Johns, and Montreal, gave Congress a fair prospect of expelling the British from Canada annexing that province to the United Colonies. Unfortunately the General was defeated and killed before St. Clair’s arrival after the disastrous affair at Three Rivers. St. Clair, therefore, could only aid General Sullivan in the retreat as second in command under General Thompson. St. Clair’s familiarity with British military strategy and the Canadian wilderness were key assets that helped save the Northern army from capture.
According to 18th Century military historian David Ramsay:
The Americans were soon repulsed and forced to retreat. In the beginning of the action General Thomson left the main body of his corps to join that which was engaged. The woods were so thick, that it was difficult for any person in motion, after losing sight of an object to recover it. The general therefore never found his way back. The situation of Colonel St. Clair, the next in command became embarrassing. In his opinion a retreat was necessary, but not knowing the precise situation of his superior officer, and every moment expecting his return, he declined giving orders for that purpose. At last when the British were discovered on the river road, advancing in a direction to gain the rear of the Americans, Colonel St. Clair in the absence of General Thomson, ordered a retreat.
Colonel St. Clair having some knowledge of the country from his having served in it in the preceding war, gave them a route by the Acadian village where the river de Loups is fordable. They had not advanced far when Colonel St. Clair found himself unable to proceed from a wound, occasioned by a root which had penetrated through his shoe. His men offered to carry him, but this generous proposal was declined. He and two or three officers, who having been worn down with fatigue, remained behind with him, found an asylum under cover of a large tree which had been blown up by the roots. They had not been long in this situation when they heard a firing from the British in almost all directions. They nevertheless lay still, and in the night stole off from the midst of surrounding foes. They were now pressed with the importunate cravings of hunger, for they were entering on the third day without food. After wandering for some time, they accidentally found some peasants, who entertained them with great hospitality. In a few days they joined the army at Sorel, and had the satisfaction to find that the greatest part of the detachment had arrived safe before them. In their way through the country, although they might in almost every step of it have been made prisoners, and had reason to fear that the inhabitants from the prospect of reward, would have been tempted to take them, yet they met with neither injury nor insult. General Thomson was not so fortunate. After having lost the troops and falling in with Colonel Irwine, and some other officers, they wandered the whole night in thick swamps, without being able to find their way out. Failing in their attempts to gain the river, they had taken refuge in a house, and were there made prisoners.
In recognition of this service St. Clair was promoted to Brigadier-General on August 9th, 1776 and ordered to join George Washington to organize the New Jersey militia. Ramsay reports of these desperate times:
This retreat into, and through New-Jersey, was attended with almost every circumstance that could occasion embarrassment, and depression of spirits. It commenced in a few days, after the Americans had lost 2700 men in Fort Washington. In fourteen days after that event, the whole flying camp claimed their discharge. This was followed by the almost daily departure of others, whose engagements terminated nearly about the same time. A farther disappointment happened to General Washington at this time. Gates had been ordered by Congress to send two regiments from Ticonderoga, to reinforce his army. Two Jersey regiments were put under the command of General St. Clair, and forwarded in obedience to this order, but the period for which they were enlisted was expired, and the moment they entered their own state, they went off to a man. A few officers without a single private were all that General St. Clair brought off these two regiments, to the aid of the retreating American army. The few who remained with General Washington were in a most forlorn condition. They consisted mostly of the troops which had garrisoned Fort Lee, and had been compelled to abandon that post so suddenly, that they commenced their retreat without tents or blankets, and without any utensils to dress their provisions. In this situation they performed a march of about ninety miles, and had the address to prolong it to the space of nineteen days. As the retreating Americans marched through the country, scarcely one of the inhabitants joined them, while numbers were daily flocking to the royal army, to make their peace and obtain protection. They saw on the one side a numerous well appointed and full clad army, dazzling their eyes with the elegance of uniformity; on the other a few poor fellows, who from their shabby cloathing were called ragamuffins, fleeing for their safety. Not only the common people changed sides in this gloomy state of public affairs, but some of the leading men in New-Jersey and Pennsylvania adopted the same expedient. Among these Mr. Galloway, and the family of the Allens of Philadelphia, were most distinguished. The former, and one of the latter, had been members of Congress. In this hour of adversity they came within the British lines, and surrendered themselves to the conquerors, alleging in justification of their conduct, that though they had joined with their countrymen, in seeking for a redress of grievances in a constitutional way, they had never approved of the measures lately adopted, and were in particular, at all times, averse to independence.
On the day General Washington retreated over the Delaware, the British took possession of Rhode-Island without any loss, and at the same time blocked up commodore Hopkins’ squadron, and a number of privateers at Providence.
When George Washington and St. Clair retreated over the Delaware, the boats and barges along the east side of the Delaware River were removed and garrisoned by the remnants of the Continental Army. This act halted the progress of the British Forces into Pennsylvania in the winter months of November and December. The English commanders, sure of eminent conquest once the Delaware River froze, deployed their army in Burlington, Bordentown, Trenton, and on other waterfront towns in New Jersey.
On the Pennsylvania side of the river, General Washington ordered Generals Sullivan and St. Clair to recruit and train troops as the Continental Army was in desperate need of reformation. Together, with the Philadelphia troop recruiting successes of General Mifflin, Sullivan and St. Clair raised over 2000 new troops to support the Revolution. St. Clair and Sullivan joined Washington’s beleaguered 400 troops in Pennsylvania and prepared for Washington’s Delaware crossing to Trenton, New Jersey. On Christmas night 1776 St. Clair’s Continental troops, now under Washington’s command, crossed into New Jersey and attacked the Hessians at dawn on the 26th. Twenty-two Hessians were killed, 84 wounded and 918 taken prisoner. Ramsay account of the surprise attack states:
Of all events, none seemed to them more improbable, than that their late retreating half naked enemies, should in this extreme cold season, face about and commence offensive operations. They [The British] indulged themselves in a degree of careless inattention to the possibility of a surprise, which in the vicinity of an enemy, however contemptible, can never be justified. It has been said that colonel Rahl, the commanding officer in Trenton, being under some apprehension for that frontier post, applied to general Grant for a reinforcement, and that the general returned for answer. ‘Tell the colonel, he is very safe, I will undertake to keep the peace in New-Jersey with a corporal’s guard.’
In the evening of Christmas day, General Washington, made arrangements for recrossing the Delaware in three divisions; at M. Konkey’s ferry, at Trenton ferry, and at or near Bordentown. The troops which were to have crossed at the two last places were commanded by generals Ewing, and Cadwallader, they made every exertion to get over, but the quantity of ice was so great, that they could not affect their purpose. The main body which was commanded by General Washington crossed at M. Konkey’s ferry, but the ice in the river retarded their passage so long, that it was three o’clock in the morning, before the artillery could be got over. On their landing in Jersey, they were formed into two divisions, commanded by general Sullivan, and Greene, who had under their command brigadiers, lord Stirling, Mercer and St. Clair: one of these divisions was ordered to proceed on the lower, or river road, the other on the upper or Pennington road. Col. Stark, with some light troops, was also directed to advance near to the river, and to possess himself of that part of the town, which is beyond the bridge. The divisions having nearly the same distance to march were ordered immediately on forcing the out guards, to push directly into Trenton, that they might charge the enemy before they had time to form. Though they marched different roads, yet they arrived at the enemy’s advanced post, within three minutes of each other. The out guards of the Hessian troops at Trenton soon fell back, but kept up a constant retreating fire. Their main body being hard pressed by the Americans, who had already got possession of half their artillery, attempted to file off by a road leading towards Princeton, but was checked by a body of troops thrown in their way. Finding they were surrounded, they laid down their arms. The number which submitted was 23 officers, and 885 men. Between 30 and 40 of the Hessians were killed and wounded. Colonel Rahl, was among the former, and seven of his officers among the latter. Captain Washington of the Virginia troops, and five or six of the Americans were wounded. Two were killed, and two or three were frozen to death. The detachment in Trenton consisted of the regiments of Rahl, Losberg, and Kniphausen, amounting in the whole to about 1500 men, and a troop of British light horse. All these were killed or captured, except about 600, who escaped by the road leading to Bordentown.
The British had a strong battalion of light infantry at Princeton, and a force yet remaining near the Delaware, superior to the American army. General Washington, therefore in the evening of the same day, thought it most prudent to re-cross into Pennsylvania, with his prisoners.
The effects of this successful enterprise were speedily felt in recruiting the American army. About 1400 regular soldiers, whose time of service was on the point of expiring, agreed to serve six weeks longer, on a promised gratuity of ten paper dollars to each. Men of influence were sent to different parts of the country to rouse the militia. The rapine, and impolitic conduct of the British, operated more forcibly on the inhabitants, to expel them from the state, than either patriotism or persuasion to prevent their overrunning it.
On the 28th, Washington re-crossed the Delaware and took possession of Trenton. The British detachments that had been distributed over the New Jersey river towns had now assembled at Princeton. These troops were also reinforced by a British detachment from New Brunswick, N.J. commanded by General Cornwallis. From this position the English planned to overwhelm Washington, by sheer numbers, hoping to defeat the Continental Army on January 2nd. Realizing this Washington carefully considered his options. A retreat to the city of Philadelphia would have shattered the Continental Army’s confidence that permeated the new nation after their Victory at Trenton. George Washington decided to stand, fight and see what opportunities may arise in the heat of what would be a manageable late afternoon battle. The Continental forces readied their defenses.
The British began their advance from Princeton at 4 P.M. attacking a body of Americans that were posted with four field pieces just north of Trenton. This overwhelming military action required the forces to retreat over Assunpink Creek. Here Washington had posted cannons on the opposite banks of the creek. The cannons, together with musket fire, stalemated the pursuing British at the bottleneck created by the bridge. The British fell back out of reach of the cannons, and made camp for the night. The Americans remained defiantly camped on the other side cannonading the enemy until late in the evening.
Washington called a council of war that night on January 2, 1777 with his troops camped along Assunpink Creek. Many of St. Clair’s Biographers, and even St. Clair himself, claim that the movement that culminated in the Victory at Princeton the following day was his recommendation to the council. The General’s biographers purport that not only did St. Clair direct the details of the march but also his own brigade marched at the head of the advancing army.
Washington’s decision to go around the British lines at night and advance on Princeton was brilliant. The plan was a smashing success and British losses were estimated at 400 to 600 killed, wounded or taken prisoner. General Cornwallis and his troops were forced to withdraw into Northern New Jersey to protect key towns recently conquered by the British. Ramsay reports on the battle:
The next morning presented a scene as brilliant on the one side, as it was unexpected on the other. Soon after it became dark, General Washington ordered all his baggage to be silently removed, and having left guards for the purpose of deception, marched with his whole force, by a circuitous route to Princeton. This maneuver was determined upon in a council of war, from a conviction that it would avoid the appearance of a retreat, and at the same time the hazard of an action in a bad position, and that it was the most likely way to preserve the city of Philadelphia, from falling into the hands of the British. General Washington also presumed, that from an eagerness to efface the impressions, made by the late capture of Hessians at Trenton, the British commanders had pushed forward their principal force, and that of course the remainder in the rear at Princeton was not more than equal to his own. The event verified this conjecture. The more effectually to disguise the departure of the Americans from Trenton, fires were lighted up in front of their camp. These not only gave an appearance of going to rest, but as flame cannot be seen through, concealed from the British, what was transacting behind them. In this relative position they were a pillar of fire to the one army, and a pillar of a cloud to the other. Providence favoured this movement of the Americans. The weather had been for some time so warm and moist, that the ground was soft and the roads so deep as to be scarcely passable: but the wind suddenly changed to the northwest, and the ground in a short time was frozen so hard, that when the Americans took up their line of march, they were no more retarded, than if they had been upon a solid pavement.
General Washington reached Princeton, early in the morning, and would have completely surprised the British, had not a party, which was on their way to Trenton, descried his troops, when they were about two miles distant, and sent back couriers to alarm their unsuspecting fellow soldiers in their rear. These consisted of the 17th, the 40th, & 55th regiments of British infantry and some of the royal artillery with two field pieces, and three troops of light dragoons. The center of the Americans, consisting of the Philadelphia militia, while on their line of March, was briskly charged by a party of the British, and gave way in disorder. The moment was critical. General Washington pushed forward, and placed himself between his own men, and the British, with his horse’s head fronting the latter. The Americans encouraged by his example, and exhortations, made a stand, and returned the British fire. The general, though between both parties, was providentially uninjured by either. A party of the British fled into the college and were there attacked with field pieces which were fired into it. The seat of the muses became for some time the scene of action. The party which had taken refuge in the college, after receiving a few discharges from the American field pieces came out and surrendered themselves prisoners of war. In the course of the engagement, sixty of the British were killed, and a greater number wounded, and about 300 of them were taken prisoners. The rest made their escape, some by pushing on towards Trenton, others by returning towards Brunswick. The Americans lost only a few, but colonels Haslet and Potter, and Captain Neal of the artillery, were among the slain. General Mercer received three bayonet wounds of which he died in a short time. He was a Scotchman by birth, but from principle and affection had engaged to support the liberties of his adopted country, with a zeal equal to that of any of its native sons. In private life he was amiable, and his character as an officer stood high in the public esteem.
While they were fighting in Princeton, the British in Trenton were under arms, and on the point of making an assault on the evacuated camp of the Americans. With so much address had the movement to Princeton been conducted, that though from the critical situation of the two armies, every ear may be supposed to have been open, and every watchfulness to have been employed, yet General Washington moved completely off the ground, with his whole force, stores, baggage and artillery unknown to, and unsuspected by his adversaries. The British in Trenton were so entirely deceived, that when they heard the report of the artillery at Princeton, though it was in the depth of winter, they supposed it to be thunder: The Battle of Princeton was another important Continental Victory as it further raised the moral of the troops and the nation. The surprised British troops quickly evacuated Princeton on the onslaught and to Washington’s delight; they re-deployed their troops from quartering Bordentown and Trenton to New Brunswick. The British also decided to evacuate their troops from Newark and Woodbridge holding under force only Amboy, along with New Brunswick, in Central New Jersey. The British retreat from the victories of Trenton and Princeton sparked a resurrection of patriotism that kept George Washington and his troops invigorated throughout the winter of 1777.
General Washington, upon St. Clair’s council, retired to Morristown, as its passes and hills afforded geographical shelter to his suffering army. The negative outlook that had ceased these United States of America in the Fall of 1776 had all but dissipated in the northern hills of New Jersey. Recruiting that had been painfully measured just before the Battle of Trenton was successfully rehabilitated. It soon became clear to everyone that George Washington would quickly organize and train a permanent regular force to resume the offensive in the spring.
While in Morristown, the New Jersey militia was re-charged and conducted several successful skirmishes killing forty and fifty Waldeckers at Springfield. These were the same soldiers who were, but a month before, overrun by the British without even meager opposition. George Washington remained, throughout his incredible life, steadfastly loyal to Arthur St. Clair recognizing the Pennsylvania general’s deeds and council during the campaigns against Trenton and Princeton. It was a beginning of a friendship that would positively serve the United States, beyond anyone’s expectations, for the next 24 years. For his service in 1776 and 1777 St. Clair was promoted to Major-General.
Arthur St. Clair’s next call to action was by John Hancock who ordered him to defend Fort Ticonderoga. This upstate New York fort was built to control the strategic route between the St. Lawrence River in Canada and the Hudson River to the south. Overlooking the outlet of Lake George into Lake Champlain, it was considered a key to the continent. The fort was used in the War for Empire and largely abandoned except for British military stores that remained there at the beginning of the Revolution. In 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold surprised the British and captured Fort Ticonderoga. The cannons and armaments were used in the siege of Boston, which drove the British out of Massachusetts. The fort was garrisoned with 12,000 troops to counter any invading force coming into America from Canada.
In 1776 with Washington’s losses troops deserted and were moved to more pressing posts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. By the spring of 1777 Fort Ticonderoga had fallen in disrepair with only a handful of troops protecting the northern passage When it became clear that the British, under General Burgoyne, were marching to retake the position, Congress hastily ordered Major General Arthur St. Clair to command and defend Fort Ticonderoga, by a letter
The Congress having received intelligence of the approach of the enemy towards Ticonderoga have thought proper to direct you to repair thither without delay. I have it therefore in charge to transmit the enclosed resolve [not present] and to direct that you immediately set out on the receipt hereof.
John Hancock, Presidt.
To: Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair.
Major-General St. Clair arrived in early June and set about preparations for defense. Although Congress desperately wanted to retain Fort Ticonderoga, St. Clair was only spared some 2,500 men and scarce provisions to hold it. A minimum garrison of 10,000 men was required to check the British advance. Burgoyne’s army consisted of 8,000 British regulars and 2,500 auxiliary troops. When Burgoyne arrived in the area, St. Clair was outflanked as the British placed artillery batteries atop nearby Mount Defiance. St. Clair’s force was too small to cover all exposed points. In his scramble to post his men St, Clair made the decision not to fortify the steep assent to the mountain top which he deemed impassable for heavy artillery. The British were now capable of bombarding Fort Ticonderoga without fear of retaliation by the Americans. St. Clair and his officers held a council of war, and decided to evacuate the fort. Matthias Alexis Roche de Fermoy, by orders of Congress, and against the protest of George Washington was made the commander of Fort Independence, opposite Fort Ticonderoga. Fermoy made a grave military error that almost caused St. Clair the loss of a large number of his forces. Upon the retreat of St. Clair from Ticonderoga, Fermoy set fire to his quarters on Mount Independence at two o’clock on the morning of July 6th, 1777 thus revealing to Burgoyne St. Clair’s evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga. Had it not been for this, St. Clair would have made good his retreat with minimal causalities and loss of his supplies.
St. Clair fled through the woods, leaving a part of his force at Hubbardto. These troops were attacked and defeated by General Fraser on July 7th, 1777, after a well-contested battle. On July12th St. Clair reached Fort Edward with the remnant of his men. St. Clair reported:
“I know I could have saved my reputation by sacrificing the army; but were I to do so, I should forfeit that which the world could not restore, and which it cannot take away, the approbation of my own conscience”.
St. Clair’s action forced General Burgoyne to divide his forces between pursuit of St. Clair and garrisoning Fort Ticonderoga. Burgoyne, after a long and arduous trek through the New York frontier, made an unsuccessful attempt to break through American Forces and Capture Saratoga. Burgoyne retreated and ordered his troops to entrench in the vicinity of the Freeman Farm. Here he decided to await support from Clinton, who was supposedly preparing to move north toward Albany from New York City. He waited for three weeks but Clinton never came. With his supply line cut and a growing Continental Army he decided to attack on October 7th ordering a recon-naissance-in-force to test the American left flank. This attack was unsuccessful and Burgoyne loss General Fraser primarily due to Benedict Arnold’s direct counter-attack against the British Center.
That evening the British retreated but kept their campfires burning brightly to mask their withdrawal. Burgoyne’s troops took refuge in a fortified camp on the heights of Saratoga. Clinton never arrived, the Continental Forces swelled to over 20,000. Faced with overwhelming numbers, Burgoyne surrendered on October 17, 1777 to General Horatio Gates who was hailed the “Hero of Saratoga”. This was one of the great American victories of the war and made the British retention of Fort Ticonderoga untenable. This surrender shocked the European Nations and direly needed foreign aid poured into US coffers from France and the Netherlands.
Despite this outcome General St. Clair was accused of cowardice by the same faction (Conway Cabal) that sought the ousting of George Washington as Commander-in-Chief for “The Hero of Saratoga”.
Despite the Conway Cabal and charges George Washington remained loyal to St. Clair who remained with his army throughout the court-martial. St. Clair was with Washington at Brandywine on September 11th, 1777, acting as voluntary aide. A court-martial was held in 1778, and Major-General St. Clair was acquitted, “with the highest honor, of the charges against him,” which verdict was approved by congress. The court inquiry concluded:
“… the facts brought out by the court martial spoke eloquently in favor of St. Clair. Burgoyne’s army, when he met St. Clair, numbered 7,863. St. Clair had less than 2200 men, all of whom were ill fed and half clad. Burgoyne surrounded him with 142 guns, while St. Clair had less than 100-second rate cannon of various sizes and these were served by inexperienced men. It is scarcely necessary to defend his retreat in this age of general intelligence.”
Lafayette wrote to St. Clair,
“I cannot tell you how much my heart was interested in anything that happened to you and how I rejoiced, not that you were acquitted, but that your conduct was examined.”
John Paul Jones wrote,
“I pray you be assured that no man has more respect for your character, talents, and greatness of mind than, dear General, your most humble servant.”
St. Clair assignment after the ordeal was to assist General John Sullivan in preparing his expedition against the Six Nations and later was appointed a commissioner to arrange a cartel against the British at Amboy on March 9th, 1780. St Clair was then appointed to command the corps of light infantry in the absence of Lafayette, but did not serve, owing to the return of General George Clinton. He was a member of the court-martial that condemned Major Andre, commanded at West Point in October 1780, and aided in suppressing the mutiny in the Pennsylvania line in January 1781.
St. Clair remained active during the 1780’s Campaigns raising troops and forwarding them to the south to Lafayette and Washington. Congress in an attempt to protect Philadelphia from another British occupation ordered St. Clair’s to round up troops to defend the city from what was believed to be an imminent attack by General Clinton:
By the United States in Congress Assembled September 19, 1781 Ordered that Major General St. Clair cause the levies of the Pennsylvania line now in Pennsylvania to rendezvous at or near Philadelphia with all possible exposition.
Extract from the minutes
Specifically the Journals of the Continental Congress reported:
The report of the committee on the letter from Major General St. Clair was taken into consideration; Whereupon, The Committee to whom were referred the letter of the 28th. of August last from Major General St Clair, beg leave to report– That they have conferred with the Financier on the subject of the advance of money requested by General St Clair for officers and privates of the Pennsylvania line, and that he informs your Committee that it is not in his power to make the said advances
That your Committee know of no means which enables Congress at present to make the advance requested by General St Clair: and they are therefore of opinion that his application ought to be transmitted to his Excellency the President and the Supreme Executive of the State of Pennsylvania with an earnest request that they will take the most effectual measures in their power to enable General St Clair to expedite the march of the troops mentioned in his letter.
Ordered, That the application of Major General St. Clair be transmitted to his Excellency the president and the supreme executive council of the State of Pennsylvania and they be earnestly requested to take the most effectual measures in their power to enable General St. Clair to expedite the march of the troops mentioned in his letter.
Washington continued he maneuvers surrounding Cornwallis at Yorktown. When Congress realized that the British were not going to attack Philadelphia; orders were hastily given to St. Clair to move his forces south to Yorktown. St. Clair joined Washington at Yorktown only four days before the surrender of Lord Cornwallis.
In November he was placed in command of a body of troops to join General Nathanael Greene, and remained in the south until October 1782. St. Clair writes of this period:
“When the army marched to the southward, I was left in Pennsylvania to organize and forward the troops of that State and bring up the recruits that had been raised there. The command of the American Army was kept open for, the General intending to take it upon himself. Formally, the command of the allied army, which hitherto he ha had only done actually. After sending off the greatest part of that line under General Anthony Wayne, and on the point of following them, Congress became alarmed that some attempt on Philadelphia would be made from New York, in order to diver General Washington from his purpose against Lord Cornwallis, and they ordered me to remain with the few troops I had left, to which it was purposed to add a large body of militia, and to form a camp on the Delaware: of this I immediately apprised Washington, who had written to me, very pressingly, to hasten on the reinforcements of that State; informing me of the need he had of them, and, as he was pleased to say, of my services also. He wrote again on the receipt of my letter, in a manner still more pressing, and I laid that letter before Congress, who, after considerable delay and much hesitation, revoked their order, and I was allowed to join the Army at Yorktown, but did not reach it until the business was nearly over, the capitulation been signed in five or six days after my arrival.
From thence I was sent with six regiments and ten pieces of artilleray, to the aid of general Greene in South Carolina, with orders to sweep, in my way, all those British Posts in North Carolina; but they did not give me trouble, for, on my taking direction towards Willmington, they abandoned that place and every other post they had in that country, and left me at liberty to pursue the march by the best and most direct route; and on the 27th of December, I joined General Greene, near Jacksonburgh.”
The war was effectively over after this assignment and Arthur St. Clair was furloughed and returned home in 1782. His Ligonier estate, including the mill which he had opened for communal use, was in ruins. Titles to his lands were not carefully managed and squatters occupied key tracts. St. Clair noted in a letter that he lost £20,000 on one piece of real estate alone. His biographer William Henry Smith summed up his homecoming plight: as:
“The comfortable fortune, and the valuable offices, which were all his in 1775, and eight years of the prime of life were all gone —- all given freely, and without regret, for freedom and a republic.”
St. Clair, though still a major-general, was elected to the Council of Censors. He was an active member and drafted the report of the Censors, who were charged with correcting defects in the Pennsylvania Constitution. St. Clair’s authored the recommendations calling for a new Pennsylvania State constitutional Convention. The measure, however, was defeated as less then 2/3rds of the People supported the Resolution. In that same year he was elected Vendue-master of Philadelphia (auctioneer) which was thought to be a very lucrative position in City government. The victory in the war left the State with a lot of property to be sold of which St. Clair received a portion of the revenue. St. Clair later, as President, declared he lost money in that office fronting expenses that were never reimbursed by the financially distressed city.
In the summer of 1783, while General St. Clair was still discharging his duties as Vendue-master of Philadelphia, a crisis gripped the confederation government that would doom it from ever assembling at Independence Hall again. President Boudinot and the United States in Congress Assembled on a hot summer day were faced with a mutiny of soldiers in Philadelphia surrounding their session at Independence Hall. Congress called out the Pennsylvania militia but it failed to come to the rescue. The Government of the United States of America, the Delegates of Congress Assembled, were held hostage in Philadelphia’s famed Independence Hall. The mutineers demands were made in very dictatorial terms, that,
“unless their demand were complied with in twenty minutes, they would let in upon them the injured soldiery, the consequences of which they were to abide.”
Word was immediately sent, by President Boudinot, to General St. Clair and his presence requested. General St. Clair rushed to the scene and confronted the mutineers. St. Clair then reported to President Boudinot, Congress and the State legislators of Pennsylvania his assessment and the demands of the mutineers. Congress then directed him
” … to endeavor to march the mutineers to their barracks, and to announce to them that Congress would enter into no deliberation with them; that they must return to Lancaster, and that there, and only there, they would be paid.”
After this, Congress appointed a committee to confer with the executive of Pennsylvania, and adjourned awaiting St. Clair’s signal that it was safe to evacuate the building.. The Journals of the United States in Congress report on Saturday, June 21, 1783:
The mutinous soldiers presented themselves, drawn up in the street before the statehouse, where Congress had assembled. The executive council of the state, sitting under the same roof, was called on for the proper interposition. President DICKINSON came in, and explained the difficulty, under actual circumstances, of bringing out the militia of the place for the suppression of the mutiny. He thought that, without some outrages on persons or property, the militia could not be relied on. General St. Clair, then in Philadelphia, was sent for, and desired to use his interposition, in order to prevail on the troops to return to the barracks. His report gave no encouragement.
In this posture of things, it was proposed by Mr. IZARD, that Congress should adjourn. It was proposed by Mr. HAMILTON, that General St. Clair, in concert with the executive council of the state, should take order for terminating the mutiny. Mr. REED moved, that the general should endeavor to withdraw the troops by assuring them of the disposition of Congress to do them justice. It was finally agreed, that Congress should remain till the usual hour of adjournment, but without taking any step in relation to the alleged grievances of the soldiers, or any other business whatever. In the mean time, the soldiers remained in their position, without offering any violence, individuals only, occasionally, uttering offensive words, and wantonly pointing their muskets to the windows of the hall of Congress. No danger from premeditated violence was apprehended, but it was observed that spirituous drink, from the tip-pling-houses adjoining, began to be liberally served out to the soldiers, and might lead to hasty excesses. None were committed, however, and, about three o’clock, the usual hour, Congress adjourned; the soldiers, though in some instances offering a mock obstruction, permitting the members to pass through their ranks. They soon afterwards retired themselves to the barracks.
Thanks to Arthur St. Clair’s ability to reason with the mutineers, President Boudinot, the Delegates and the Pennsylvania legislators passed through the files of the armed soldiers without being physically molested. The committee, with Alexander Hamilton as chairman, waited on the State Executive Council of Pennsylvania to insure the Government of the United States protection when Congress was ready to convene the following day. Elias Boudinot, receiving no pledge of protection by the Pennsylvania militia advised an adjournment of the United States in Congress Assembled on June 24th to Princeton, New Jersey.