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 Ohio Revisited: Belmont County, Part 06 -- Arthur St. Clair and the Notes of Judge Burnet.

by Henry Howe.

St. Clairsville derives its name from the unfortunate but meritorious Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair was born in Scotland, in 1734, and after receiving a classical education in one of the most celebrated universities of his native country, he turned to the study of medicine. However, having a taste for military pursuits, he sought and obtained a subaltern's appointment, and was with Wolfe in the storming of Quebec, Canada.

After the peace of 1763 he was assigned the command of Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania, and received there a grant of 1,000 acres of land. Prior to the Revolutionary war he held several civil offices. His military skill and experience, intelligence and integrity were such that, when the revolutionary war began, he was appointed Colonel in the Continental Army. In August 1776, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier, and took an active part in the battles of Trenton and Princeton.

He subsequently was made Major-General, and ordered to Ticonderoga, New York, where he commanded the garrison. However, on the approach of Burgoyne's army, St. Clair abandoned it. As a result, charges of cowardice, incapacity, and treachery were brought against him. He was tried by a court-martial, which, with all the facts before it, acquitted him. The court supplemented its report with the declaration that "Major-General St. Clair is acquitted, with the highest honor, of the charges against him." Congress subsequently, and unanimously, confirmed this sentence.

The facts were, that the works [fortifications] at Ticonderoga were incomplete and incapable of being defended against the British army. Although St. Clair might have gained great fame by attempting to defend the position, such action would have resulted in the death of many of his men and probably the capture of the remainder. It is believed that this outcome was foreseen by St. Clair, and that he sought to preserve his army in order to fight later on better terms. In daring to do an unpopular act for the public good, St. Clair exhibited a high degree of moral courage, and deserved more honor than he would have won in battle.

St. Clair served until the close of the war. In 1785, while residing on his farm, at Ligonier, he was appointed a delegate to the Continental Congress, and was later chosen president of that distinguished body. After the passage of the ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory he was made governor, and continued in the office until within a few weeks of the termination of the territorial form of government -- in the winter of 1802-1803 -- when he was removed by President Jefferson.

The remainder of this brief biography of Gov. St. Clair is from the "Notes of Judge Burnet", who was personally acquainted with him. This account contains important facts in the legislative history of Ohio.

Judge Burnet's Account of Governor St. Clair

"During the first stages of that imperfect government, Arthur St. Clair enjoyed the respect and confidence of every class of people. He was plain and simple in his dress and equipment, open and frank in his manners, and accessible to persons of every rank. In these respects he exhibited a striking contrast with the secretary, Col. Sargent; and that contrast, in some measure, increased his popularity, which he retained unimpaired until after the start of the first session of the legislature. During that session St. Clair showed a strong desire to enlarge his own powers, and restrict those of the assembly. This was especially surprising because St. Clair had opposed the usurpation of power by the legislative council, which was composed of himself -- or in his absence, the secretary -- and the Judges of the General Court. St. Clair had already submitted his views on that subject to the general assembly....

"The effect of his powers (based on his interpretation and implementation of them), may be seen in the fact that of the thirty bills passed by the two houses during the first session, and sent to him for his approval, he refused his sign eleven -- some of which were of considerable importance, and all of them calculated, more or less, to advance the public interest. Some of them he rejected because they related to the establishment of new counties; others, because he thought they were unnecessary or inexpedient. Thus more than a third of the fruits of the labor of that entire session was lost, by the exercise of the arbitrary discretion of one man ....

"This, and some other occurrences of a similar character, which were manifest deviations from his usual course and not easily accounted for, multiplied his opponents very rapidly, and rendered it more difficult for his friends to defend and sustain him. They also created a state of bad feeling between the legislative and executive branches, and eventually resulted in his removal from office, before the expiration of the territorial government.

"The governor was unquestionably a man of superior talents, of extensive information, and of great uprightness of purpose, as well as suavity of manners. His general course, though in the main correct, was in some respects injurious to his own popularity; but it was the result of an honest exercise of his judgment. He not only believed that the power he claimed belonged legitimately to the executive, but was convinced that the manner in which he exercised it was imposed on him as a duty by the ordinance, and was calculated to advance the best interests of the Territory ....

"Soon after the governor was removed from office he returned to the Ligonier valley, poor and destitute of the means of subsistence, and unfortunately too much disabled by age and infirmity to embark in any kind of active business. During his administration of the territorial government he was induced to make himself personally liable for the purchase of a number of packhorses and other articles necessary to fit out an expedition against the Indians, to an amount of some two or three thousand dollars, which he was afterwards compelled to pay. Having no use for the money at the time, he did not present his claim to the government. After he was removed from office, he looked to that fund as his dependence for future subsistence, and, under a full expectation of receiving it, he went to Washington City, and presented his account to the proper officer of the treasury. To his utter surprise and disappointment it was rejected, on the mortifying ground that, admitting it to have been originally correct, it was barred by the statute and that the time which had elapsed afforded the highest presumption that it had been settled, although no voucher or memorandum to that effect could be found in the department. To counteract the alleged presumption of payment, the original vouchers, showing the purchase, the purpose to which the property was applied, and the payment of the money, were exhibited. It was, however, still insisted that, as the transaction was an old one, and had taken place before the burning of the war office in Philadelphia, the lapse of time furnished satisfactory evidence that the claim must have been settled, and the vouchers destroyed in that fire.

"The pride of the old veteran was deeply wounded by the ground on which his claim was refused, and he was induced from that consideration, as well as by the pressure of poverty and want, to persevere in his efforts to maintain the justice and equity of his demand, still hoping that presumption would give way to truth. For the purpose of getting rid of his solicitations, Congress passed an act, purporting to be an act for his relief, but which merely removed the technical objection, founded on lapse of time, by authorizing a settlement of his demands, regardless of the limitation. This step seemed necessary to preserve their own character; but it left the worn out veteran still at the mercy of the accounting officers of the department, from whom he had nothing to expect but disappointment. During the same session a bill was introduced into the House of Representatives, granting him an annuity, which was rejected, on the third reading, by a vote of 48 to 50.

"After spending the principal part of two sessions in useless efforts, subsisting during the time on the bounty of his friends, he abandoned the pursuit in despair and returned to the Ligonier valley, where he lived several years in the most abject poverty, in the family of a widowed daughter, which was as destitute as himself. At length Pennsylvania, his adopted State, from considerations of personal respect and gratitude for past services, as well as from a laudable feeling of State pride, settled on him an annuity of $300, which was soon after raised to $650. That act of beneficence gave to the gallant old soldier a comfortable subsistence for the little remnant of his days which then remained. The honor resulting to the State from that step was very much enhanced by the fact that the individual on whom their bounty was bestowed was a foreigner, and was known to be a warm opponent, in politics, to the great majority of the legislature and their constituents.

"He lived, however, but a short time to enjoy the bounty. On 31 August 1818, that venerable officer of the Revolution, after a long, brilliant and useful life, died of an injury occasioned by the running away of his horse, near Greensburgh, in the eighty-fourth year of his age."

This entry is adapted from Henry Howe's HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS OF OHIO (2 vols., 1907). The book has been reedited, updated, and restructured for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This entry is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. This entry may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that the Stratton House Inn iteration of this entry does NOT include the subject headings assigned the entry for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Burnet, Judge.

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 1998 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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