3. Arthur St. Clair and the Establishment of U.S. Authority in the Old Northwest
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RTHUR ST. CLAIR, the first governor of the Northwest Territory, played a significant role in the development of the early U.S. frontier and helped shape the state of Ohio’s early political system. In the process, St. Clair aroused much controversy during his long service as an army officer and frontier administrator. St. Clair rose to prominence from a relatively middle-class background through military service and an advantageous marriage. Born in Thurso, Scotland, in 1734 or 1736, he was probably the son of a merchant who died when Arthur was young. St. Clair attended the University of Edinburgh, evidence that his family had some money or connections, and in 1756 became an apprentice to a respected London physician. St. Clair decided that he did not want a medical career, however, and when his mother died in 1757, he apparently used his inheritance to buy his apprentice time and purchase a commission as an ensign in the Royal American Regiment of Foot. St. Clair came to North America during the French and Indian War with the regiment and never returned to Europe. Later in his career, St. Clair would be described as a gallant, polished man with a knack for setting people at ease. He probably made a good impression as a young officer, and in 1760 he courted and married Phoebe Bayard, the niece of wealthy Governor James Bayard of Massachusetts. Her dowry, reported to be 14,000£, made St. Clair one of the wealthier citizens of Boston. In 1762, however, he resigned his military commission and with his wife moved to the western Pennsylvania frontier. It is not clear why he made this move, although he had apparently toured the area on behalf of his kinsman, 3 26 Arthur St. Clair and the Establishment of U.S. Authority in the Old Northwest JEFFREY P. BROWN  A vantne_3rd_chap3.qxd 11/10/2003 3:27 PM Page 26 General Thomas Gage. While perhaps overextending his finances, St. Clair developed a four-thousand-acre estate at Ligonier and portrayed himself during the late 1760s as the wealthiest man on the Pennsylvania frontier. Although other major landowners in the region, as well as many ordinary settlers, accepted Virginia’s sovereignty over the area, St. Clair accepted Pennsylvania rule. He was appointed one of Pennsylvania’s judges in its new Westmoreland County in 1773. St. Clair opposed the mobs that supported Virginia rule in 1774 and was forced to flee after he ordered the arrest of an individual trying to organize Virginia’s militia in the area. This affair contributed to St. Clair’s skepticism of the Revolutionary groups who met in 1775 to proclaim their support for Massachusetts’ militiamen. He ignored an invitation to help choose the Pennsylvania delegation to the First Continental Congress and proudly wrote to John Penn that he had persuaded the local citizens’ association to adopt a resolution calling only for the restoration of pre–Stamp Act conditions. In a private letter, he observed that the people were “all mad.” St. Clair clearly believed that ordinary people should defer to their established 27 ARTHUR ST. CLAIR FIG. 2 Arthur St. Clair. Engraved by E. Wellmore from a drawing by J. B. Longacre after original portrait by C. W. Peale. From William Henry Smith, ed., The St. Clair Papers, vol. 2 (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1882). vantne_3rd_chap3.qxd 11/10/2003 3:27 PM Page 27 leaders, and relished his own status as a community leader. He served on the local Committee of Safety, and when the Westmoreland County militia elected him their colonel, he accepted. St. Clair, although rising to the rank of major general during the Revolutionary War, had a mixed military record. He received considerable criticism when he led an American retreat from Fort Ticonderoga , even though the fort could not have been defended. Anthony Wayne hated him, seeing him as a stodgy rival for attention. But St. Clair’s steadfast service throughout the war won him George Washington ’s friendship. He consistently opposed attempts to form officers ’ committees of grievance, seeing them as destructive to discipline, and in many ways he exemplified the type of officer who found comradeship , social status, and confirmation of patriotic devotion in his military service. St. Clair was a natural choice after the war to be president of Pennsylvania’s chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati, an hereditary organization for veteran officers. After the war, St. Clair fell into serious economic trouble. Wartime destruction in the Ligonier area had...


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