BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
ARTHUR ST. CLAIR
Arthur St. Clair, Ligonier Valley’s most famous citizen of Revolutionary times, was born in Thurso, Caithness, Scotland, in 1734. As a young man he joined the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot to fight in Canada against the French.
After marriage to a niece of the governor of Massachusetts, he served as an agent of the Penn family interests in western Pennsylvania, and as civil commandant of the decommissioned British fort at Ligonier. At the outbreak of hostilities with the English, St. Clair was commissioned as a colonel in the American army. He rose to the rank of major-general, becoming the highest ranking Pennsylvania officer in the Revolutionary War.
After the close of the war, St. Clair held civil offices in Philadelphia, and in 1787 was elected president of the Continental Congress. When the ordinance for establishing the government in the Northwest Territory was passed, he was nominated as first governor, a post he held until 1802.
Although at times living near Philadelphia or in the Northwest Territory, St. Clair and his family maintained large land holdings and a home in Ligonier Valley throughout his long military and civil career. When his mansion house, “The Hermitage” (two miles north of Ligonier on the right side of the road), iron furnace, grist mill, and adjoining lands were sold by the sheriff for debts in 1808, St. Clair was forced to move to property in Unity Township on the Chestnut Ridge.
The Chestnut Ridge tract had been granted to St. Clair in September of 1783 by a special resolve of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania:
Whereas Major General St. Clair of the Pennsylvania line hath signified to the General Assembly of this state his desire to obtain leave to take up and purchase a tract of Vacant mountainous land lying adjacent to his other land on Loyalhanning Creek and known by the name of the Chestnut ridge, beginning at the lower end of a tract of land settled by George Keltz, Jr.,…including by estimation about 5,000 acres; therefore and in consideration of the merits of the said Major-General St. Clair; Resolved, a preference of right to the above described tract of land be given unto the said Major-General St. Clair.”
When the tract was surveyed for St. Clair on Oct. 21, 22, and 23, it was found to contain 6,219 acres and 35 perches. Adjoining landowners included David Band, George Leashle, George Eager, and the heirs of William Jenkens. Two other properties belonging to St. Clair also formed the boundary. The Kittanning Path intersected the northeastern side of the survey, and the Pennsylvania Road (sometimes called the State Road or the Great Road), which followed the old Forbes Road, cut across the southern end.
In 1794, St. Clair sold the entire Chestnut Ridge tract to Revolutionary War financier and friend, Robert Morris, of Philadelphia, for $5,600, but in 1796 he repurchased two parcels for $510.13. One lot contained 209 acres 54 perches and the other, 300 acres 134 perches. Morris sold the remainder of “St. Clairs Forrist” to fellow Philadelphian Samuel Mickie Fox for $12,000 the following year.
St. Clair’s residence on the ridge was a small log house along the State Road, where he operated a tavern. His wife, Phoebe (much impaired in mental health), divorced daughter Louisa St. Clair Robb, and several grandchildren lived with him. Although his daughter Jane often visited and he maintained correspondence with his other children, particularly Daniel in Montgomery County and Betsy and her children in the state of Indiana, no doubt his was a lonely existence.
When work was begun on the Stoystown-Greensburg Turnpike in 1815, the route followed the Loyalhanna Creek, thus by-passing St. Clair’s tavern. A few hardy souls continued to use the old trail and some folks even followed the road up from Kingston Forge, stopping to visit the old General. Lewis Cass reported seeing St. Clair “some years before his death in a rude cabin, supporting himself by selling supplies to wagoners on the road, one of the most striking instances of mutations which checker life.”
Ohio congressman Elisha Whittlesey wrote to a friend, “In 1815 three persons and myself performed a journey from Ohio to Connecticut on horseback in the month of May. Having understood that Gen. St. Clair kept a small tavern on Chestnut Ridge, eight miles east of Greensburg, or the distance may have been greater, I proposed that we stop at his house and spend the night. He had no grain for our horses, and after spending an hour with him in the most agreeable and interesting conversation respecting his early knowledge of the Northwestern Territory, we took our leave of him with deep regret.
“I never was in the presence of a man that caused me to feel the same degree of veneration and esteem. He wore a citizen’s dress of black of the Revolution; his hair clubbed and powdered. When we entered he arose with dignity and received us most courteously. His swelling was a common double log house of he western country, that a neighborhood would roll up in an afternoon. Chestnut Ridge was bleak and barren. There lived the friend and confidant of Washington, the ex-Governor of he fairest portion of creation. It was in the neighborhood, if not in the view, of a large estate at Ligonier that he owned at the commencement of the Revolution, and which, as I have at times understood, was sacrificed to promote the success of the Revolution. Poverty did not cause him to lose self-respect; and were he now living his personal appearance would command universal admiration.”
In August of 1818, on his way down to the neighboring community of Youngstown, perhaps for supplies or a visit with his friend William Findley, Arthur St. Clair fell from his wagon onto the rutted road. He was found, unconscious, later in the afternoon, and taken back to his home. There he died on August 31, to be followed in just eighteen days by his wife. Both are buried in old St. Clair Park in Greensburg.
Early in the twentieth century the St. Clair chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution marked the tavern location with a wooden sign denoting it as the site of the “cabin where died Major General Arthur St. Clair.” The Daughters of the American Revolution, feeling that a more permanent plaque was needed, dedicated a monument there as reported in The Ligonier Echo of June 7, 1935: Members of the Phoebe Bayard Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution of Westmoreland County, paid tribute to the memory of Phoebe Bayard St. Clair and her illustrious husband, Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, Memorial Day, by unveiling a tablet on a large boulder erected near the log dwelling house near Ligonier, where the two patriots died in 1818.
The bronze tablet has inscribed upon it the following: “Site of the last home of Phoebe Bayard, 1734-1818, and her husband, Gen. Arthur St. Clair, 1734-1818. This monument erected in honor of the beautiful, cultured and wealthy woman, who sacrificed all she had for liberty of the American colonies, and in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of her soldier husband, Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, who was one of Washington’s faithful friends and trusted officers, Phoebe Bayard Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.”
Several hundred persons were in attendance at the unveiling of the marker at the very place on Chestnut Ridge where the two patriots lived and died. Boy Scouts participated in the program.
Mrs. John Brunot, regent of the Chapter, gave the welcoming address and dedicated the marker. Miss Elizabeth Sweeney, chaplain of the Chapter, read the ritualistic grave-marking service and the closing ritual. The flags with thirteen stars and thirteen stripes, that of the latter part of the Revolutionary War, which draped the marker, were removed by Miss Nellie Woods and Mrs. Frank E. Madocks.
Dr. Thomas St. Clair, of Latrobe, a descendant of General St. Clair, was the orator. He urged the members of the Daughters of the American Revolution to strive to preserve the ideals that the couple carried out during their lives. (Author’s note: Dr. Thomas St. Clair of Latrobe was not a direct descendant of Arthur St. Clair. They did, however, share a common ancestor.)
Along Route 30 East near the former Sleepy Hollow Inn are two markers designating St. Clair Hollow, which is to the right. The metal marker was placed there by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The stone monument was erected by E. B. McColly and Son in 1927. County Commissioners Elliott L. Hibbs, James F. Torrence, and John P. Kilgore approved the $350 cost in 1928. The inscription reads:
“St. Clair Hollow,
Named In Honor Of
Gen. Arthur St. Clair,
The Source Of This Hollow Is
A Large Spring Two Miles
South, Where Gen. St. Clair, In A
Log Cabin, Spent His Last Days.
A Major General In
President Of The
First Governor Of The
A Pioneer Ironmaster In
Born 1736—Died 1818
Buried In Greensburg.”
The Planinsek family, owner of the tavern site since 1917, report that travelers over the Darlington-Youngstown Road still visit the spot where St. Clair spent his last years. While the present spring house and watering trough are not the original structures, no doubt they stand on the same locations as in St. Clair’s day.
A solitary stone step is all that remains of the cabin; a mute reminder of Arthur St. Clair’s years of poverty and his belief, “I hold that no man has a right to withhold his services when his country needs them. Be the sacrifice ever so great, it must be yielded upon the altar of patriotism.”