The 56 brave patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence did far more than sign a document; they identified themselves to the British government for all to see.
One man in particular, John Hancock, who, along with Samuel Adams, led the revolutionary group, was excluded from repeated offers made by the British to pardon the signers. Not only was his signature the biggest and the boldest of the signatures on the declaration, but he served two terms as president of this struggling republic.
Our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, however. was only as strong as our military's capacity to back it up. And with boatload after boatload of British soldiers arriving every day, that awesome responsibility fell squarely on the shoulders of General George Washington, commander of the United States Continental army.
However, during 1775-76, Washington's army had not been doing well.
After the successful siege of Boston drove the British back to their base in Nova Scotia, everything had proceeded to go downhill for Washington in 1776. He had lost Manhattan and its surrounding islands and, due to the inexperience of his young protege, Nathanial Greene, had surrendered 2,800 troops to the British at Fort Washington on the Hudson. In short, to preserve the existence of his Continental Army, he had been forced by the British to retreat from nine successive battles during 1776, reducing his army to only several hundred men, with which he crossed the ice-laden Delaware River into Newtown, Pa., to discourage the British pursuit. Unbeknown to Washington, however, was the fact that the British had bivouacked for the winter, leaving a Hessian outpost in Trenton.
Fortunately for Washington, it was then that he first met a 40- year-old brigadier general, who had renounced his national British loyalty to join America's cause for freedom against British tyranny. During the decade before the retired British captain joined the Continental army in 1774, he had led the western Pennsylvania settlers against the British-instigated Indian attacks and helped Governor Penn build Bedford and Westmoreland counties.
After the Revolutionary War and his serving in Congress and as its president, he would also take on the awesome responsibility as the federal governor of the lands between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, which was two-thirds the size of the original 13 states. He would also establish the justice system for the first six states of this Northwest Territory, the first of which was Ohio. During his 15 years as federal governor of the Northwest Territory, he also established and named Ohio's first 10 counties. Two of those counties, Jefferson and Belmont, were established by this patriot, who also established their county seats, Steubenville and St. Clairsville.
The above might be considered a significant life contribution by many. However it is what this man achieved during the American Revolution that had the greatest impact on our young nation, although his efforts have not usually been reported as such.
Few know what a brilliant military strategist this patriot was and how his courage and leadership helped Washington and the Continental Army survive and eventually prevail.
As mentioned earlier, Washington's army was in dire straits in December of 1776, but with this man's infusion of 2,000 fresh troops, strategic military planning and brigade leadership, Washington was able to avoid the loss of the war to the British with three victories in New Jersey
in only nine days from Christmas day to Jan. 4, 1777.
While some may have guessed that general's name as Arthur St. Clair, it has remained a mystery how this Scottish-born patriot could have done so much for his adopted country and yet has remained virtually invisible for two and a half centuries.
Phillips, of Belmont County, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "The Invisible Patriot," is due out this summer.