John Armstrong Sr.
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John Armstrong Sr. (1717 - 1795)

Maj. Gen. John Armstrong Sr.
Born in Brookeborough, Lisnaskea, County Cavan, Irelandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 1746 [location unknown]
Descendants descendants
Died in Carlisle, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United Statesmap
Profile last modified | Created 15 Aug 2012
This page has been accessed 5,795 times.


Contents

Biography

Maj. Gen. John Armstrong Sr. served with the Province of Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War.
1776 Project
Maj. Gen. John Armstrong Sr. served with Pennsylvania Line during the American Revolution.
Notables Project
John Armstrong Sr. is Notable.
SAR insignia
John Armstrong Sr. is an NSSAR Patriot Ancestor.
NSSAR Ancestor #: 104500
Rank: Major General

Early Life

John Armstrong was born on October 13, 1717, in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, to James Armstrong and Jane Campbell. John was educated in Ireland and became a civil engineer before emigrating to Pennsylvania. Armstrong came to Pennsylvania as a surveyor for the Penn family, who owned the colony. In 1750 he laid out the first plat or plan for the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and was one of its first settlers. He was later appointed surveyor for the newly established Cumberland County.

Seven Years War

In 1756, he led the Kittanning Expedition. In 1758, Colonel Armstrong led 2,700 Pennsylvania provincial troops on the Forbes Expedition, the approach of which compelled the French to vacate and blow up Fort Duquesne. Armstrong became a good friend to the other militia commander in this expedition, Colonel George Washington.

American Revolution

In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, Armstrong was a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia. On March 1, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed him to that same rank in the Continental Army. He was sent south to begin preparations for the defense of Charleston, South Carolina. He contributed his engineering talents to the construction of defenses that enabled them to withstand the Siege of Charleston later that year. When General Charles Lee arrived to take command, he returned to his duties with the main army and with the Pennsylvania militia. Pennsylvania named him Major General in charge of the state militia. This ended his service in the Continental Army, but not the war or his cooperation with General Washington.
At the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Armstrong's militia held the far left of the American line. They were also to guard the Army's supplies. After a hard day's fighting the Americans were forced to withdraw or face being surrounded. Armstrong brought the supplies and his militia out from Pyle's Ford after dark.
In the Battle of Germantown on October 2, General Armstrong led the American right. His mission was to skirt the British left flank and attack there and in their rear. Despite delays and the troubles some units had in moving, the overall attack was going well, until the center was held up at the Benjamin Chew House. Then it collapsed after a friendly fire incident in the fog in which General Adam Stephen's men fired on Anthony Wayne's troops causing their withdrawal. Armstrong, whose men had advanced nearly to the center of Germantown, but were not greatly involved in the fight later complained that it was "....a glorious victory fought for and eight tenths won, ....mysteriously lost, for to this moment no one man can ....give any good reason for the flight."
After Germantown, Armstrong was granted permission to give up active command. At aged sixty, his health was declining, and old wounds were troubling him. Returning home to Carlisle, he was elected to the Continental Congress by the Pennsylvania Assembly. As a delegate from 1777 to 1780 he was a strong supporter of Washington and the Army. Armstrong was firm in his support for a new United States Constitution, and was returned to the Congress during its final days in 1787 and 1788.

Later Life & Death

Throughout his life Armstrong served in a number of local or civic offices. One of these, the Carlisle school board, led him to originally oppose Dr. Benjamin Rush's proposal to start a college in the town. He later relented, and became a member of the first Board of Trustees for Dickinson College. John died at home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on March 9, 1795, and is buried in the Old Carlisle Cemetery. In 1800, when Pennsylvania created a new county at Kittanning, it was named Armstrong County, in his honor.

Official Documents & Letters

Letter from George Washington to John Armstrong, dated May 18, 1779[1]
Dear Sir,
I have received your favor of the 10th Inst. and thank you for it. Never was there an observation founded in more truth than yours of my having a choice of difficulties. I cannot say that the resolve of Congress which you allude to has increased them; but with propriety I may observe it has added to my embarrassment in fixing on them inasmuch as It gives me powers without the means of execution when these ought to be co-equal at least. The cries of the distressed, of the fatherless and the Widows, come to me from all quarters. The States are not behind hand in making application for assistance notwithstanding scarce any one of them, that I can find, is taking effectual measures to complete its quota of Continental Troops, or have even power or energy enough to draw forth their Militia; each complains of neglect because it gets not what it asks; and conceives that no other suffers like itself because they are ignorant of what others experience, receiving the complaints of their own people only. I have a hard time of it and a disagreeable task. To please every body is impossible; were I to undertake it I should probably please no body. If I know myself I have no partialities. I have from the beginning, and I will to the end pursue to the best of my judgment and abilities one steady line of conduct for the good of the great whole. This will, under all circumstances administer consolation to myself however short I may fall of the expectations of others. But to leave smaller matters, I am much mistaken if the resolve of Congress hath not an eye to something far beyond our abilities; they are not, I conceive, sufficiently acquainted with the state and strength of the Army, of our resources, and how they are to be drawn out. The powers given may be beneficial, but do not let Congress deceive themselves by false expectations founded on a superficial view of the situation and circumstances of things in general and their own Troops in particular; for in a word, I give it to you as my opinion, that if the reinforcement expected by the enemy should arrive, and no effectual measures be taken to compleat our Battalions, and stop the further depreciation of our Money I do not see upon what ground we are able, or mean to continue the contest. We now stand upon the brink of a precipice from whence the smallest help plunges us headlong. At this moment, our Money does but pass; at what rate I need not add because unsatisfied demands upon the treasury afford too many unequivocal and alarming proofs to stand in need of illustration. Even at this hour every thing is in a manner, at a stand for want of this money (such as it is) and because many of the States instead of passing laws to aid the several departments of the Army have done the reverse, and hampered the transportation in such a way as to stop the Supplies wch. are indispensably necessary and for want of wch. we are embarrassd exceedingly. This is a summary of our affairs in Genl. to which I am to add that the Officers unable any longer to support themselves in the Army are resigning continually, or doing what is even worse, spreading discontent and possibly the seeds of Sedition.
You will readily perceive my good Sir that this is a confidential letter and that however willing I may be to disclose such matters and such sentiments to particular friends who are entrusted with the government of our great national concerns, I shall be extremely unwilling to have them communicated to any others, as I should feel much compunction if a single word or thought of mine was to create the smallest despair in our own people or feed the hope of the enemy who I know pursue with avidity every track which leads to a discovery of the Sentiments of Men in Office. Such (Men in Office I mean) I wish to be impressed, deeply impressed with the importance of close attention and a vigorous exertion of the means for extricating our finances from the deplorable Situation in which they now are. I never was, much less reason have I now, to be affraid of the enemys Arms; but I have no scruple in declaring to you, that I have never yet seen the time in which our affars in my opinion were at so low an ebb as the present and witht. a speedy and capital change we shall not be able in a very short time to call out the strength and resources of the Country. The hour therefore is certainly come when party differences and disputes should subside; when every Man (especially those in Office) should with one hand and one heart pull the same way and with their whole strength. Providence has done, and I am perswaded is disposed to do, a great deal for us, but we are not to forget the fable of Jupiter and the Countryman.
P.S. I am not insensible of the propriety of the observation contained in the postscript to your Letter and can assure you that the Person you allude to was not appointed from motives of partiality or in a hasty manner; after long and cool deliberation, a due consideration of characters and circumstances; and some regard to military rules and propriety I could do no better. I must work with such means as I have. You know I presume that the comd. was offered General Gates who declined the acceptance of it.

Letter from George Washington to John Armstrong, dated April 25, 1788[2]
Dear Sir,
For some cause or other which I do not know your favor of the 20th of February did not reach me till very lately. This must apologize for its not being sooner acknowledged. Altho’ Colo. Blaine forgot to call upon me for a letter before he left Philadelphia, yet I wrote a few lines to you previous to my departure from that place; whether they ever got to your hands or not you best know.
I well remember the observation you made in your letter to me of last year, “that my domestic retirement must suffer an interruption.” This took place, notwithstanding it was utterly repugnant to my feelings, my interests and my wishes; I sacrificed every private consideration and personal enjoyment to the earnest and pressing solicitations of those who saw and knew the alarming situation of our public concerns, and had no other end in view but to promote the interests of their Country; and conceiving, that under those circumstances, and at so critical a moment, an absolute refusal to act, might, on my part, be construed as a total dereliction of my Country, if imputed to no worse motives. Altho’ you say the same motives induce you to think that another tour of duty of this kind will fall to my lot, I cannot but hope that you will be disappointed, for I am so wedded to a state of retirement and find the occupations of a rural life so congenial; with my feelings, that to be drawn into public at my advanced age, could be a sacrifice that would admit of no compensation.
Your remarks on the impressions which will be made on the manners and sentiments of the people by the example of those who are first called to act under the proposed Government are very just; and I have no doubt but (if the proposed Constitution obtains) those persons who are chosen to administer it will have wisdom enough to discern the influence which their example as rulers and legislators may have on the body of the people, and will have virtue enough to pursue that line of conduct which will most conduce to the happiness of their Country; as the first transactions of a nation, like those on an individual upon his first entrance into life, make the deepest impression, and are to form the leading traits in its character, they will undoubtedly pursue those measures which will best tend to the restoration of public and private faith and of consequence promote our national respectability and individual welfare.
That the proposed Constitution will admit of amendments is acknowledged by its warmest advocates; but to make such amendments as may be proposed by the several States the condition of its adoption would, in my opinion amount to a complete rejection of it; for upon examination of the objections, which are made by the opponents in different States and the amendments which have been proposed, it will be found that what would be a favorite object with one State, is the very thing which is strenuously opposed by another; the truth is, men are too apt to be swayed by local prejudices and those who are so fond of amendments which have the particular interest of their own States in view cannot extend their ideas to the general welfare of the Union; they do not consider that for every sacrifice which they make they receive an ample compensation by the sacrifices which are made by other States for their benefit; and that those very things, which they give up operate to their advantage through the medium of the general interest.
In addition to these considerations it should be remembered that a constitutional door is open for such amendments as shall be thought necessary by nine States. When I reflect upon these circumstances I am surprised to find that any person who is acquainted with the critical state of our public affairs, and knows the variety of views, interests, feelings and prejudices which must be consulted in framing a general Government for these States, and how little propositions in themselves so opposite to each other, will tend to promote that desirable end, can wish to make amendments the ultimatum for adopting the offered system.
I am very glad to find, that the opposition in your State, however formidable it has been represented, is, generally speaking, composed of such characters, as cannot have an extensive influence; their fort, as well as that of those in the same class in other States seems to lie in misrepresentation, and a desire to inflame the passions and to alarm the fears by noisy declamation rather than to convince the understanding by sound arguments or fair and impartial statements. Baffled in their attacks upon the constitution they have attempted to vilify and debase the Characters, who formed it, but even here I trust they will not succeed. Upon the whole I doubt whether the opposition to the Constitution will not ultimately be productive of more good than evil; it has called forth, in its defense, abilities which would not perhaps have been otherwise exerted that have thrown new light upon the science of Government, they have given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible a manner, as cannot fail to make a lasting impression upon those who read the best publications on the subject, and particularly the pieces under the signature of Publius. There will be a greater weight of abilities opposed to the system in the convention of this State than there has been in any other, but notwithstanding the unwearied pains which have been taken, and the vigorous efforts which will be made in the Convention to prevent its adoption, I have not the smallest doubt but it will obtain here.
I am sorry to hear, that the College in your neighborhood is in so declining a state as you represent it, and that it is likely to suffer a further injury by the loss of Dr. Nisbet whom you are afraid you shall not be able to support in a proper manner on account of the scarcity of Cash which prevents parents from sending their Children thither. This is one of the numerous evils which arise from the want of a general regulating power, for in a Country like this where equal liberty is enjoyed, where every man may reap his own harvest, which by proper attention will afford him much more than is necessary for his own consumption, and where there is so ample a field for every mercantile and mechanical exertion, if there cannot be money found to answer the common purposes of education, not to mention the necessary commercial circulation, it is evident that there is something amiss in the ruling political power which requires a steady, regulating and energetic hand to correct and control. That money is not to be had, every mans experience tells him, and the great fall in the price of property is an unequivocal and melancholy proof of it; when, if that property was well secured, faith and justice well preserved, a stable government well administered, and confidence restored, the tide of population and wealth would flow to us, from every part of the Globe, and, with a due sense of the blessings, make us the happiest people upon earth.
With sentiments of very great esteem, &c.

Another Account

From Genealogical and Personal History of Western Pennsylvania:

Margaret Armstrong, sister of Colonel John Armstrong, one of the prominent and patriotic Pennsylvanians of Provincial and Revolutionary times.
John Armstrong, who was deputy surveyor and justice of the peace for Cumberland county, a well-educated man who had arrived from Ireland in 1748. Together they laid out the town of Carlisle, by order of the Proprietaries, in 1751, and the seat of justice was then permanently established there.

Sources

  1. The original letter (taken from the George Washington Papers at the Library Of Congress Online, linked below) may be viewed in the [source] images section of this profile.
  2. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/letter-to-john-armstrong/




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DNA Connections
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with John by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA. However, there are no known yDNA or mtDNA test-takers in his direct paternal or maternal line. It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share some percentage of DNA with John:

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Comments: 10

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Armstrong-5831 and Armstrong-1939 appear to represent the same person because: same first name, last name, birth date, death date, birth location, death location.
posted by Anonymous Nagel
Yeah I reckon he could be added to the Pennsylvania Project but currently there no project account for it so profiles are placed under the US History Project Account.

Steve. PA Coordinator

posted by Steve McCabe
I just noticed that General Armstrong was born in 1717 - the cutoff date for the Penn project is 1701 - I would think that the notables project should be sufficient, if not, he could be added to the Pennsylvania Project.

https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Project:Pennsylvania

posted by SJ Baty
There's confusion between John Armstrong, Sr. (1717), married to Rebecca Lyon and his son John Armstrong II (1758) who was married to Alida Livingston; they had a daughter, Margaret Alida Rebecca Armstrong, who married into the Astor family of New York, clearly documented in WikiTree.
posted by Michael Kerley
There are many many errors concerning the children of John Armstrong, Sr.

There are more errors than I am willing to devote the time to unravel. People have merged information without correct information. Jacob Waters aka John Charles Waters

posted by John Charles Waters
Armstrong-8482 and Armstrong-1939 appear to represent the same person because: Clear duplicate. Marriage information for Armstrong-8482 is incorrect. (See Armstrong-1939 for complete info & sources.)
posted by Jayme (McClary) Hart
Armstrong-8038 and Armstrong-1939 appear to represent the same person because: I cannot imagine why this merge was previous rejected. (Perhaps there's been additional info added since then?)
posted by [Living Winter]
Armstrong-7068 and Armstrong-1939 appear to represent the same person because: I cannot imagine why this merge was previous rejected. (Perhaps there's been additional info added since then?)
posted by [Living Winter]
2nd Cousins 8 times removed of Blackstone-170 this is great work, love it.
posted by Donnie Blackstone
Jami,

Your work here on John Long Armstrong Sr. is ten times better than the Wikipedia article on him.

posted by Jan Fillingim