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Arthur St. Clair

Arthur St. Clair, by Charles Willson Peale, in the Independence Hall Museum in Philadephia, PA


Arthur St. Clair was a prominent American political figure and military officer who lived from 1734 to 1818. Born in Scotland, St. Clair immigrated to Pennsylvania in his youth and played a significant role in the American Revolutionary War. He served as a major general in the Continental Army and fought in notable battles such as Trenton, Princeton, and Germantown. Later, St. Clair’s many questioned his military expertise and leadership abilities after his abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga to the invading British in 1777. A court-martial eventually cleared his name, but Washington did not assign St. Clair to any critical commands for hte remainder of the war.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Arthur St. Clair’s contributions extended beyond his military service. He became the first governor of the Northwest Territory, tasked with overseeing its development and governance. However, his tenure was marred by a significant defeat known as St. Clair’s Defeat. In 1791, he led an ill-fated expedition against a confederation of Native American tribes led by Little Turtle. The battle resulted in a resounding victory for the Native Americans and inflicted heavy casualties on the American forces. Despite this setback, St. Clair remained committed to his duties and continued to work towards establishing settlements and implementing policies to promote growth in the region.

Memoirs and Papers

Smith, William Henry, ed. The St. Clair Papers.  The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair  Soldier of the Revolutionary War, President of the Continental Congress and Governor of the North-Western Territory with His Correspondence and Other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1882.


Phillips, R. W. Dick, Arthur St. Clair: The Invisible Patriot, Bloomington, IN:  iUniverse. 2014.

Rorison, Arda Bates, and John Newton Boucher. Major-General Arthur St. Clair:  A Brief Sketch. New York: Cornell University Press, 1910.

Other Secondary Sources

Hogeland, William. Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion That Opened the West. First edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

In 1791, Arthur St. Clair led a US Army force into the Ohio Country. A large party of Native Americans confronted the St. Clair’s unit. The resulting battle was the most significant defeat of US Army forces by Native Americans. Over one thousand of St. Clair’s troops were lost. St. Clair lost his military command but retained the governorship of the Northwest Territories for the Washington Administration.

A later army under the command of General Anthony Wayne defeated the Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near present-day Toledo, Ohio. Wayne benefited from St. Clair’s experiences and avoided his mistakes. The resulting Treaty of Greenville opened up vast lands in Ohio to American settlers and pushed Native Americans further west and north into Canada.

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