A biography that sheds light on Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair (1734?–1818), a little-known Founding Father of the United States.
Although St. Clair fought in the American Revolution, served as president of the Continental Congress, was governor of the Northwest Territory, and gave much of his fortune to the American cause, he died in poverty and is little noted today. With this debut account, Phillips hopes to “tell the real story of this unrecognized American patriot.” Part One covers St. Clair’s Scottish heritage, including his connections with Freemasonry. Part Two follows him to the American colonies, where he served as a British officer, married in 1760, and retired from the British army two years later. He settled in Ligonier Valley, Pennsylvania, where he became a prominent landowner. In 1775, he accepted a commission in the Continental Army. Part Three covers the Revolutionary War, during which St. Clair participated in the Quebec invasion, helped organize militia, and took part in Gen. George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. His effort to defend Fort Ticonderoga against a larger British force ended in retreat. In Part Four, set after the war, St. Clair became governor of the Northwest Territory for 15 years; after a disastrous campaign against Native Americans in 1791, his reputation never recovered. Part Five considers his ultimate legacy. Phillips does amplify St. Clair’s contributions and shows how he was likely scapegoated for failures that were not of his making; for example, he points out that poor supplies, rather than poor leadership, helped to doom the aforementioned Native American campaign. But the book’s chronology is hard to follow, with chapters circling backward and forward to repeat events, information, and various points. Also, Phillips makes editorializing judgments (“This duty-bound patriot, St. Clair, had the courage to make decisions that needed making”) and relies on dubious sources, as when he offers Rhode Island’s Newport Tower as evidence of a 1398 Scottish visit to America, when it’s actually the remains of a mid-17th-century windmill. Notes, a bibliography, and an index are included.
Although there are a few good points to pick out of this discussion, its subject might have been better served by a more scholarly approach.