Friday, March 23, 2012

Great Scot, it's St. Clair's Birthday!

Mr. President Governor
Major General Arthur St. Clair
Today is the 275th (possibly 276th or 278th) birthday of my favorite US frontier General, Arthur St. Clair (pronounced "Sinclair" if you didn't know). He's one of those forgotten founding fathers that played a huge part in the shaping of the US and Ohio...but one teeny little incident sealed his legacy.

Art was born in Scotland on March 23rd, 1737... or 1736 or 1734. No one really knows the exact year.  Bad records and a calendar change kind of messed that up and makes it very confusing.

He served for the British in the French & Indian War (1754-1763) and then later as a General for the Americans in the Revolutionary War until 1778 when he was court-martialed for his loss at the Siege of Fort Ticonderoga in 1777 and served the rest of the war as an aide to General Washington. Well, that was the end of St. Clair, right? Not quite.

Eaton, OH - Fort named for Art while he was the Gov

After the war, in 1787 he was elected as the 15th President of the Continental Congress which enacted the Northwest Ordinance and created the Northwest Territory, encompassing present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan. The Northwest Ordinance served as the blueprint for the upcoming the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. After his term as President of Congress, he was then appointed Governor of the Northwest Territory by President Washington.

As Governor in 1790, he gave the settlement Losantiville its new name, Cincinnati named after a club of veteran's that honored Washington called The Society of Cincinnati which he was a member of. People in Cincinnati sort of know him for this but we haven't gotten to the oopsy part yet.

Losantiville OH - a nice plaque on a rock in Clifton 
While he was Governor, President Washington, who still thought highly of his military capabilities, called him up for service to end the ongoing hostilities with the Native Americans in the NW Territory. St. Clair underestimated the enemy, was poorly prepared and had a force of demoralized men by the time the battle had even begun. This resulted in the 1791 St. Clair's Defeat*, a resounding Native American win where in just three hours, one-quarter of the *entire* US Army was wiped out with over 600 men killed and over 200 wounded out of 1400 under his command. By comparison, the Indian Confederacy under the Miami Little Turtle's command lost 21 men out of 1000. Oops. This was the greatest disaster in American military history and as you've probably guessed, this is what he ended up being most known for. That was the end, right? Well not quite. He was forced to resign from the Army by the President but stayed on as Governor. Go figure.

He played the game of politics for another decade or so but it turned out that the new President Jefferson didn't care for Art too much and fired him in 1802 over political differences. His firing led to Ohio to becoming a state in 1803.

Toledo OH - Tom & Art at a crossroad
St. Clair was kind of like the comeback kid but he never really recovered from that last one. Once a very wealthy man, he died penniless at the age of 82 in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on August 31, 1818.

Maybe today everyone can raise a glass of whiskey and toast the words of Stuart Rankin, "if it's not Scottish, it's craaaapp!!"

*For more about St. Clair's Defeat, I highly recommend the 2011 book Wabash 1791: St Clair's Defeat by John Winkler.

Related Gehio links: 

Gehio: The Ballad of St Clair
Gehio: WKRP in Losantiville
Gehio: a visit to Chalahgawtha
Gehio: The Battle of Fallen Timbers