- 11th Governor of the State of Ohio -
Duncan McArthur was a self-made man. His varied and remarkable career is indicative of what a man can become. He embodied the qualities that make up the ideal American: self-reliance, integrity, industry, and perseverance. He rose to prominence and affluence unaided by the hand of ancestral wealth and carved for himself an honorable name in the annals on Ohio history.
Duncan McArthur was born in Dutchess County, New York on June 14, 1772. His was the son of John MacArthur and Margaret Campbell. His ancestors were proud Scottish Highlanders. When he was three years old his mother died. His father remarried and moved the family to a log cabin in the wilderness of Western Pennsylvania in 1780.
The family was very poor. As a consequence, Duncan was hired out to work for his neighbors. His job was to clear trees to make room for farmland. His early education was limited, but he did learn to read and write by the age of thirteen.
Like most adventurous young men of the day, McArthur decided to emigrate to the West. With this in mind, at age eighteen, he enlisted with General Harmar in the expedition against the Indians north of the Ohio River. After surviving the perils and hardships of this campaign Private McArthur re-enlisted in 1792.
McArthur took part in the battle of Captina in May 1792, which was fought in what is now Belmont County. An overwhelming force of Indians attacked the small band of Americans. The commanding officer was killed early in the action. McArthur, although the youngest man in the company, was unanimously chosen to its command. He fought in such a manner as to protect the remaining men as much as possible. His conduct on this occasion made him a favorite of the frontiersmen.
After his term of service expired, McArthur took a job at the salt-works in Maysville, Kentucky. In early 1793, General Nathaniel Massie hired him as a chain bearer to assist in the surveying of the Scioto Valley. During this time period, a surveying expedition was also a military demonstration against the Indians.
This experience led McArthur to a position as a scout to watch the Indians north of the Ohio River and give warning of their approach on Kentucky. This was a most difficult and dangerous job. If captured, death by torture was certain. McArthur had several close calls, but was never apprehended by the Indians.
In the fall of 1793, McArthur was designated assistant surveyor under General Massie. In this capacity, McArthur assisted in laying out several towns including Chillicothe. It was also in this service that he became acquainted with the lands in the Scioto Valley.
On February 20, 1797 McArthur married Nancy McDonald. They settled on a tract of land just north of Chillicothe. They built a home and called it “Fruit Hill.” He established this as his permanent residence and it was one of the historic homes of Chillicothe until it was destroyed by fire. Here the McArthurs had eleven children.
Faced with the responsibility of a growing family, McArthur began buying land for himself and locating land warrants for others. He was a good judge of land and a shrewd buyer. His investments proved to be quite profitable. By 1804, McArthur had become one of the wealthiest landholders in Ohio.
With increasing wealth and reputation, and growing confidence in himself and his abilities, McArthur began to have political ambitions. He was elected to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives in 1804. He served one term.
His service as a soldier led him to take a deep interest in the military organization of the Ohio. He was considered an authority on military affairs. In 1805 he was elected Colonel in the Ohio Militia.
McArthur continued his service in the State Legislature. He was elected in 1805 for the first of four consecutive two-year terms in the Ohio Senate. He was elected Speaker in 1809 and 1810. In 1808, McArthur was named as the successor to General Massie and elected by the legislature as Major General in the Ohio Militia.
At the beginning of the War of 1812, Governor Meigs asked McArthur to form a regiment to serve in the defense of Detroit. He raised the 2nd Ohio Infantry Regiment and was assigned to General William Hull. While attempting to re-open the supply line to Ohio, McArthur’s troops were included in Hull’s surrender. Upon the surrender, McArthur became a prisoner of war to the English. He was released on parole and returned to Chillicothe.
In the fall of 1812, an overwhelming majority elected McArthur to the U.S. House of Representatives. On April 5, 1813, after his release from parole, he resigned both his seat in Congress and his position in the Ohio Militia in favor of a commission as Brigadier General in the U.S. Army.
When General William Henry Harrison’s invasion of Canada finally took place in September of 1813, General McArthur liberated Fort Detroit and Lower Michigan. In May of 1814, General McArthur succeeded General Harrison in command of the Northwestern army. On November 6, 1814 General McArthur’s troops defeated the Canadian militia at the battle of Malcom’s Mills. This raid disrupted the British supply lines.
Upon the declaration of peace, Gen. McArthur was discharged from the army and retired to his home in Chillicothe. In the fall of 1815, he was again elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. At the same time, the War Department appointed him as one of the Commissioners to the Indians at Detroit, Fort Meigs, and St. Mary’s. His job was to negotiate treaties with the Indians. McArthur helped negotiate the Treaty of the Rapids of the Miami of Lake Erie in September of 1817. This gave nearly all the remaining Indian lands in Ohio to the United States. These duties lasted three years.
In the fall of 1817, McArthur was once again elected to the Ohio House of Representatives and elected Speaker. In 1819 he was defeated in the race for the Ohio House, but in 1821 he was again elected to the Ohio Senate.
In 1822, McArthur was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served as chairman of the Committee on Public Expenditures. After serving one term, he retired once again to Chillicothe. He devoted his energies to the management of his business interests.
In 1826, McArthur was again sent to the Ohio House of Representatives, and in 1829 again sent to the Ohio Senate. In December 1829, however, McArthur suffered an injury that effected his health for the rest of his life.
As McArthur was walking on High Street, a snow covered shed collapsed and knocked him to the ground. A number of people witnessed the accident and came to his aid. McArthur’s head and body were slightly injured but his right knee required care for the rest of his life.
In 1830 he resigned his seat in the Ohio Senate in order to become a candidate for Governor of Ohio. He ran against Robert Lucas and won by a narrow 482 vote margin to become Ohio’s 11th Governor.
During the McArthur administration, progress was made in revising old laws and in amending the tax laws. Work on the canals progressed and the National Road was completed to Zanesville. All in all, the term was uneventful.
McArthur declined to run for re-election as governor in 1832. Instead he became a candidate once again for the U.S. House of Representatives. He was defeated by a single vote.
Weary of public life, McArthur once again retired to his homestead in Chillicothe. This is where he spent the remainder of his life occupied with his business interests. These included an iron furnace and an agricultural society. He also served as president of The Ohio Company for the Importation of English Cattle, president of the Chillicothe Hydraulic Association and as a director of the Bank of Chillicothe.
Family affairs also occupied his time. His youngest daughters as well as some of his grandchildren were just growing up. Several of the grandchildren lived with him. McArthur took care of them and provided for their education.
In 1835 McArthur suffered a stroke. His health declined rapidly over the next few years. McArthur died on April 28, 1839 at age 67. He was survived by five of his eleven children. He is buried at Grandview Cemetery in Chillicothe.
McArthur was a pioneer in every sense of the word. He was an active frontiersman, a brave soldier, an excellent businessman and a successful politician. McArthur was the architect of his own fortune. His outstanding characteristic was the vigor and energy that he applied to the problems confronting him. He rose from the obscurity of a backwoodsman to the highest office in Ohio. His life is an example of what an iron will can accomplish.
Abbott, John S.C., The History of the State of Ohio, Detroit, Michigan; Northwestern Publishing Company, 1875 (pp. 347-348, pp. 747-749)
“McArthur, General Duncan,” The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Ohio of the Nineteenth Century, Cincinnati and Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1876. (pp. 481-482)
“McArthur, Duncan,” A Biographical Cyclopaedia and Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Men, with an Historical Sketch, of the State of Ohio, Cincinnati: John C. Yorston & Company, 1879. (pp. 69-70)
“McArthur, Duncan,” The Biographical Cyclopaedia and Portrait Gallery with an Historical Sketch of the State of Ohio, Volume I, Cincinnati, Ohio: Western Biographical Publishing Company, 1883. (p. 101)
Bennett, Henry Holcomb, The County of Ross, Madison, Wisconsin: Selwyn A. Brant, 1902 (pp. 113-115)
Roster of Ohio Soldiers in the War of 1812, The Adjutant General of Ohio, 1916.
Ryan, Daniel J., History of Ohio, Volume Three, New York: The Century History Company, 1912 (p.6, pp.453-454)
Galbreath, Charles B., History of Ohio, Volume II, Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1925 (pp. 497-502)
Cramer, Clarence Henley, “The Career of Duncan McArthur,” Columbus: Ph.D. Dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1931
Smith, S. Winifred, “Duncan McArthur,” The Governors of Ohio, Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1969.
“McArthur, Duncan,” Ohio Biographical Dictionary, Wilmington, Delaware: American Historical Publications, Inc. 1986. (p. 214)
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Last update 09 April 2004