Monday, June 24, 2013

Plantation of the Atlantic, XX: Making Homes With Bones

The Worthingtons may well have thought they deserved a monument to themselves. Owning 18,000 acres will do that to a family. If so, they got their wish. The mansion is gone, but before it vanished,  the Adena Estate lent its name to the burial mound excavated there in 1903 that gave its name to the  archaeological complex of the Adena Culture.

History can be tricky. Here's another monument founded on bones.

This obelisk commemorates the mass grave of 1200 Northwest War veterans at Fort Recovery, Ohio. Well, it commemorates St. Clair's Defeat, but it is not clear to me that a mass grave excavation actually took place in 1891. It goes unnoticed by Google, and the monument is actually pretty typical of its genre. Here's the one at (if I have the spelling right) Fort Amanadou, Ohio.

President McKinley seems to have enjoyed erecting obelisks in Ohio. It is not even clear where the remains are. William Henry Smith says that they were collected on the battlefield by General James Wilkinson in 1793 and removed. As industrious as General Wilkinson was in everything he did (war, treason, corruption, farming, other related hobbies), it is not likely that he managed to collect the bones that would have been left by 1200 bodies. So there might have been more to be interred --perhaps at this mass grave. There's something a little fishy about St. Clair's Defeat. Not terribly surprising, given how hard people have been working to lose the history of these times.

There's a number of places that I could start with that, but I choose to start with General and Governor Arthur St. Clair.

Who, you ask? Wikipedia calls Arthur St. Clair an American soldier and politician of Scottish descent and adds that

 "St. Clair was born in ThursoCaithnessScotland. Little is known of his early life. Early biographers estimated his year of birth as 1734,[2] but subsequent historians uncovered a birth date of March 23, 1736, which in the modern calendar system means that he was born in 1737. His parents, unknown to early biographers, were probably William Sinclair, a merchant, and Elizabeth Balfour."

Now let's take a moment to understand this. Arthur St. Clair, British officer, Revolutionary War Major-General, husband of a Bayard out of Bowdoin of Boston, President of the Continental Congress, autocratic first Governor of all the old Northwest, was of unknown issue until some late genealogist hung his name, "probably," on a Thuro merchant? As much as I hate to be seen arguing with Geoffrey Dowd, who wrote the relevant ANB article (which has a paywall, which means that I'm going to have to look at the paper copy), doesn't this sound suspicious?

Actually, it is more than suspicious. William Henry Smith flat-out tells us that, far from being "unknown to earlier historians," he knows excactly who Arthur St. Clair's parents were. He just is not going to tell us, for obvious reasons. He will correct the common misapprehension that St. Clair was the grandson of the "Earl of Roslin." This means that Arthur Sinclair is not the illegitimate son of either John St. Clair, Master of Sinclair or General the Hon. James Sinclair. He is, however, "descended from a common ancestor" with Henry St. Clair, 10th Lord Sinclair. Smith notices that a member of the legitimate lineage. William St. Clair, came out and settled at the American colony of New Design, at Cahokia (which apparently disappeared after the Lousiana Purchase), and speculates that St. Clair's noble ancestry helped win him Elizabeth Bayard's hand, and the £14,000 dowry that came with it.

This is pretty naked forgetting. It's right there on p. 2 of Smith's Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair, and the detail about William St. Clair puts the connection between the American aristocrat and Scottish nobility out of the realm of  romance and into that of interest.

As I say, though, forgetting is something that most Americans can agree on. Who worked the 18,000 acre Adena estate?  Jeffrey P. Brown has the answer: when the Worthingtons moved into Chilicothe in the late 1790s to take up their land, 130-odd Worthington family slaves were brought up from Virginia, freed, and settled on the land as tenant farmers.**

According to the American Census Bureau (via Wikipedia), Chilocothe's population as of 2010 was "88.1% White, 7.2% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.5% Asian, 0.5% from other races, and 3.4% from two or more races.Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.3% of the population." [Links broken.] And this may be true. The descendants of the tenant farmers might have been run off. They might not have been Black. And, anyway, hypodescent rules of racial identity are so obviously absurd that it's hard to take them as anything but a joke. 

But let's move on: Louis W. Potts has a very compelling explanation for how Arthur St. Clair came to  arrive in the Northwest as a "colonial" style governor. It is that the Reverend Doctor Manasseh Cutler was a very good lobbyist. Enough land had been given out in Ohio by the late 1780s to make it clear that there was something in the business. Kim Gruenwald has established that  . . . .[B]y 1785 some 300 [squatters] lived along the Muskingum, 300 along the Hocking, 1500 along the Scioto, and 1500 along the Miami. *** Fifteen thousand square miles had already been deeded to the "French" inhabitants of Post Vincennes [Smith, 144], and 23,000 acres of Ohio Valley land, admittedly in West Virginia, had gone to no less a figure than George Washington as part of the fuss over Vandalia that pitted George Washington against George Croghan and his extended relations in the Johnson and Brant family.  There were three Moravian mission towns whose claim to land and membership was steadily exceeding the original concept of communities of religious. 

Short of allowing some kind of democratic anarchy to flourish along the upper reaches of the Ohio, something needed to be done, and it that "something" meant New England grandees taking up vast grants of fertile land along the river and its tributaries, all the better! Although the heroic story of the settling of Marietta features General Rufus Putnam and 45 of his ilk, Potts finds in Cutler's papers that grants of shares in the Ohio Land Company went to: 

"Congressmen Edward Carrington (4), Elbridge Gerry (1), Melancton Smith (1), and Arthur St. Clair (1); Treasury officials William Duer (5), Arthur Lee (2), and Ebenezer Hazard (1); prominent investors included banker William Constable (5); lawyer Alexander Hamilton (5); and hero John Paul Jones (5). Hulbert (ed.), Ohio Company Papers, II, 235. Stockholders listed as of February 1, 1796, differs in small detail from
undated listings found in MCC."

St. Clair's award seems rather small considering that he was President of the Session and helped ram the crucial Northwest Ordinance through, and Potts concludes that the constitution of the Northwest was modified to make St. Clair a virtual dictator in order to interest him in the job. Now, to be fair, letters of the period tend to suggest a certain paranoia about foreign (Spanish) influence in the region that might have been seen to justify a certain heavy-handedness.

The first major political crisis St. Clair faced after establishing his capital at Cincinnati was his decision to throw over the Treaty of Fort McIntosh, negotiated under General Josiah Harmar's aegis. The third was to accept General Harmar's resignation after "Harmar's Defeat" in 1790. Now General St. Clair was to take the field in his own proper person to impose his vision of the future of the Ohio country.

Given that St. Clair was removed in 1803 by the rising Jeffersonians, this picture of aristocracy and proprietorship against republicanism and homesteaders has been retailed before, the implication being that General St. Clair's vision was defeated, and that a primeval democracy came into being on the Ohio frontier. Given that his enemies were, in fact, men like the Worthingtons, the early elites, the story is not necessarily wrong, but not nearly so progressive as it has been presented.

That being said, one might wonder about ordinary agency: this was, after all, the period of the Northwest War, and without getting too bloody minded and cynical, everyone who ever stands on a battlefield as a general relies on some measure of social consensus. Otherwise, he gets shot by his own men. It is always striking to see just how few generals get killed in national wars, and how many in civil wars.

Of course, the Northwestern War was not a civil war. Because Americans and Indians are different. 

Ahem. The easy notion is that the 1791 campaign was like the 1790, a punitive campaign directed on the granaries of the winter towns. It was not. St. Clair's intention was to build a line of forts covering a wagon road that would link the upper Ohio with the St. Joseph and Wabash. It was a war of manoeuvre --of the work of the hand. This is why he needed so many men, and so much money ($590,000 indented by the War Department, at a time when the daily hire of horse was 50 cents, and the bounty paid a six month levy was $6.)

It is also why he pushed on from Fort Jefferson to the ill-fated battlefield of St. Clair's Defeat. His plan was still a fortress short. Major Ebenezer Denny's journal of the campaign is available online, and confirms that most of the "casualties" of Harmar's expedition were actually deserted militia. The army that St. Clair was going to lead into the heart of the Old Northwest would be unreliable and unruly, as  many early modern armies were. It would not, however, be a militia rabble. There were two regiments of regulars and five battalions of six-month Pennsylvania and Kentucky levies. On the other hand, the levies were as difficult as the militia of the previous year, or more so, since their terms of enlistment began to expire as the campaign pushed forward, and men were routinely mustering out and heading home in the fateful days of late October and early November as the artificers and pioneers were desperately pushing the road forward and conveying the army to its fate.

Nor was it just the levies or the militia. On 23 October, 2 men of the artillery were "taken in the act of deserting to the enemy," and hung in a grand parade before the army along with an ordinary murderer. There were only 40 men in the regular artillery, presumably skilled tradesmen, and the unit had been with General Harmar in the Ohio since 1785. I do, however, note that they are described as "Ziegler's" command in 1785, while a Major Ferguson commanded them at St. Clair's Defeat.

Of the defeat, there is not much to say. Major Denny's account is transparently self-serving. Well-mounted, he was the first man off the battlefield and virtually the first man back to Fort Jefferson, but he was just doing his duty! All other accounts draw on Denny. This might not be that surprising, because my ruminations about the way that civil wars tend to be more lethal for officers than regular wars is abundantly illustrated in St. Clair's Defeat. It is famous for the proportion of officers killed and wounded (over half), and for having more officers killed than wounded. It ought to be more famous, however, for the very suspicious pattern of dead officers, which includes virtually all of the company commanders. More officers of captain's rank and higher (14) were killed than ensigns (13).

Military defeat, however, is one thing. Political defeat is another. While St. Clair withdrew to Philadelphia to do various important things, his Secretary, Winthrop Sargent, had a banner legislative year acting in his place, regulating enclosures, pastures, marriage law, the law for admitting attorneys, law of probate,civil law procedures, and appointing various officers, including county judges, and fixing their pay. These, unlike the law made by the judges earlier, could not be contested. St. Clair, in fact, did not embody a legislative council again until 1795. Sargent, according to his Ohio History Central biography, was twice wounded at St. Clair's Defeat, but his name does not appear on Denny's return.

He is also noteworthy for a book published in Boston in 1801, Political Intolerance, or, the Violence of Party Spirit; Exemplified in a Recent Removal from Office; With a Comment upon Executive Conduct, and an Ample Refutation of Calumny, in a Sketch of the Services and Sacrifices of a Dismissed Officer; by one of the American People (Boston, MA: Benjamin Russell, 1801). Unfortunately, the OpenRead file of this book is not only the worst piece of OCR that I have ever seen, but is incomplete as well, so it is hard to judge the claim that he was wounded on the Wabash, and I have no idea why President Jefferson removed Sargent in 1801. (A year before he removed St. Clair, so it was not an instant partisan purge.) What I do know is that Sargent was declaring that a state of profound peace existed in the Ohio in 1792 in letters intended to prevent Chickasaw raiding parties from entering the country. This is not the only source that indicates a lack of any sense that there might be a war going on in 1791 turns into 1792. In the summer of 1793, Thomas Woodbridge complains that the slack trade at Marietta that year would have been worse had his rival not sent his stock down the Ohio for sale downstream!

Things get even more complicated when the Spanish issue is raised. In the summer of 1790, it looked as though Britain and Spain were about to go to war, and as little or as much as the British along the Niagara frontier might have wanted to descend the Mississippi and attack New Orleans, or vice versa, neither colonial authority was necessarily in charge of what American freebooters would do in their name. In 1792, it again looked as though an Anglo-Spanish War were in train, but, the next year, it turned into an Anglo-Spanish alliance. In 1794, it was the turn of American policy to put the affairs of the Ohio into turmoil as the Whiskey Rebellion broke out just to the east. Finally, Washington's second term saw the quasi-war with France, and uneasy peace with France's old ally that had St. Clair writing to Philadelphia about Spanish forts and galleys on the Mississippi. 

In the midst of all of this, St. Clair broke decisively with his judges. The three Ohio-wide justices, who may have been appointed under the Northwest Ordinance specifically as a check on St. Clair's powers, had improvised a Smith cursorily describes the  grounds of the disagreement as to actions taken by the judges that amounted to  favouring the interests of squatters over non-resident proprietors. Or something. It's all very delicate and indirect in an Eighteenth Century way, and the names of Putnam, and Symmes his counterpart in the Miami Company, get dragged into the discussion. Meanwhile, allied Choctaw Indians, returning from the theatre of war where they were scouting for General Wayne, were being beaten by mobs in the streets of Cincinnati. At the same time, St. Clair allows his critics (above all Judge Turner) to understand that there will be no interference with William St. Clair's business further west.

I could go on, but, really, I've shot off all my big guns. There is no doubt that Arthur St. Clair was an agent for a British interest as well as an American politician, that the pattern of early Ohio democracy was of closed county town elites of large landholders/merchants, and not of primitive democracy, and that these elites were linked to Atlantic wealth by family ties similar to that of the St. Clair's. The possibility that the men who "died" at St. Clair's Defeat in fact just shot their officers and went home, untroubled by the "Indian" opponents who were actually their relatives, remains speculation founded on an unlikely casualty roll.

So instead I will end romantically, with the "The Legend of Louisa St. Clair," as told by Smith. The legend is that when her father refused to go to an Indian peace conference to be held at the falls of the Scioto in 1789, his daughter, a veritable frontier Diana, went in his place, along with the invaluable Major Hamtramck, another of the lesser names that actually got things done on this frontier, and there met an otherwise unknown son of Joseph Brant (an otherwise unknown child by his second wife, for the timing to work), who later pressed suit for Lydia's hand in person in Cincinnati. St. Clair refused the suit, and the Brants were instrumental in St. Clair's Defeat, perhaps even commanding on the field. The bullets that whizzed about the General that day were deliberately mis-aimed, but, to the chagrin of the the Brants, the General did not relent, and the young lovers were never united.

Except that there are a very few odd facts to be teased out of this. Louisa (1773--1840) was in Cincinnati in 1789, while her mother remained in Philadelphia, and just marriageable in the winter of 1792. The heroic story of St. Clair rallying his troops at the Wabash is uncorroborated. What we have from Denny is that St. Clair tarried on the battlefield, and Denny saw very little of him, because Denny was flying as fast as he could. Perhaps St. Clair surrendered his daughter's hand as the price for whatever part of his army chose to leave with him?

As for Louisa St. Clair, she provided her father a roof in his old age, when his expense accounts were being debated by the state government of Pennsylvania and the United States. According to Smith, all of St. Clair's very large estate was embroiled in these disputes, and it is not clear just how much there was for his children to inherit. According to anyone who has ever cocked a jaundiced eye at an expense account, this may be overstated.

Louisa, however, was no spinster. The Daughters of the American Revolution took it upon themselves to erect a replacement for her original headstone in 1932, so we know that she died at 67 as Louisa St. Clair Robb. Her "calculated" husband was a man named Samuel Robb. Somehow, however, the writer of this anecdote discovers that Louisa was divorced, which seems a little unlikely in the Ligonier Valley of circa 1818.

What can I say? I know how I'd end this if it were a romance novel. I suspect that the husband of a daughter of a St. Clair and a Bayard would have more going on for him than being a frontier farmer. But what do I know, and even if my suspicions are correct, would a son by Joseph Brant's most obscure wife be a proper match?

*Courtesy of Ohio History. The entire pre-Internet run is up online at Thumbs up!
**Jeffrey P. Brown, "Chillicothe's Elite: Leadership in a Frontier Community" Ohio History 96 (1988): 140-56
***KIM M. GRUENWALD, "Marietta's Example of a Settlement Pattern in the Ohio Country: A Reinterpretation" Ohio History 105 (1999): 125--144


  1. Ft Amanda (located in Allen county, Ohio) is also a national cemetery, though no longer accepting burials.
    According to Pennsylvania state archives, Louisa did divorce Samuel Robb for desertion....

  2. Thanks for that, Gary. Just goes to show what happens when you open your mouth . . . Now I'm wondering why Governor St. Clair's daughter needed to petition the legislature for a divorce. The memorial doesn't suggest a remarriage. Something about the estate?