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Getting to Know 'Mad' Anthony Wayne

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

The kick-off of our weekly Wayne Wednesdays seems like the perfect time to explore our township’s namesake, General Anthony Wayne (1745-1796)!

Figure 1- Anthony Wayne, painted by James Sharples ca. 1796. From Independence National Historical Park, Portrait Collection (Second Bank of the United States).

Anthony Wayne was born at his family home in Chester County, Pennsylvania- aptly named Waynesborough- on January 1st, 1745. Wayne was named after his grandfather, who had distinguished himself as part of William of Orange’s troops in the Battle of the Boyne before immigrating to Chester County in 1722. Military service was a common theme amongst the Wayne men; Wayne’s father, Isaac Wayne, was an officer during the French and Indian War.

In his youth, Wayne was sent to a school run by his uncle, Gilbert Wayne. Though he was known for his childhood interest in military matters, he also excelled at mathematics, which encouraged him to train as a surveyor. In 1765, he put these skills to the test when he was sent to Nova Scotia as a surveyor and agent for a real estate company; there, he surveyed 100,000 acres of company-owned land. Returning home the next year, Wayne also helped to develop the settlement of Monckton, named after Robert Monckton, gaining leadership experience as he made sure that the settlement had water, fertile land, and supplies to last through the winter.

Returning to Pennsylvania the next year, Wayne helped to run the family farm and worked for his father’s tannery business. However, as discontent with England grew in the colonies, he was quick to get involved. Wayne served in the Pennsylvania Legislature from 1774 to 1775 and soon joined his local Committee of Public Safety. By January 1776- at the age of 31- Wayne joined the Continental Army and was commissioned as a Colonel in the Pennsylvania Line. His early service led him back to Canada where his battalion reinforced General John Thomas’ retreat during the Battle of Trois-Rivières. Thomas died shortly after Wayne’s arrival, leaving Wayne, along with Colonel Arthur St. Clair and General John Sullivan, to organize the remaining troops. Though the 1,450 Continental soldiers outnumbered their 800 British foes, the British were well-trained and organized, while the Continental Army was poorly equipped and dealing with a smallpox epidemic. It was a losing battle, but Sullivan proceeded on. Little did he know that the British had reinforced with multiple warships, bringing thousands more soldiers. Sullivan had split his forces, leaving Wayne with 200 men to fight what became around 3,00 British troops. It was a slaughter for the Americans. Wayne lost most of his men but did his best to hold off the British for the last hour of the battle, as the remaining American forces retreated.

Wayne and the remaining Continental Army forces retreated to Fort Ticonderoga in update New York. Conditions were difficult- Wayne’s men were fatigued and lacked necessary equipment, such as stockings, proper shoes, and jackets during the cold December of 1776. Though Wayne sent letters to multiple people, including Benjamin Franklin, to explain the dire situation, the army received no relief. As soldiers’ one-year terms of service expired, Wayne’s battalion grew smaller and smaller. Even with the introduction of new troops in February 1777, the forces at Fort Ticonderoga threatened a full-scale mutiny. However, Wayne used his commanding presence and tone to force his men to stay and maintain control; his actions led the Continental Congress to promote him to the position of Brigadier General.

In the coming years, Wayne continued to see military action. In the fall of 1777, he led troops at the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of Germantown; both battles ended in Continental defeat, despite Wayne’s actions to keep Hessian forces at bay. Wayne continued to lead in the face of failure. Following the battle of Brandywine, his efforts to capture British supplies ended in a British surprise attack near the General Paoli Tavern. He lost about 270 men, either killed or taken prisoner, in what is referred to as the Battle of Paoli, or the Paoli Massacre. (Figure 2) Though Wayne was found not guilty of misconduct, he demanded a full court-martial to exonerate himself; the court of inquiry determined that he “did every duty that could be expected from an active, brave and vigilant officer, under the orders which he then had.” After a difficult winter at Valley Forge, Wayne next found himself in dire straits at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. He and his troops were put on the defensive yet again when Major General Charles Lee refused to send Wayne reinforcements. Wayne once again held off the British, though he now had 700 men and two pieces of artillery. Washington praised his actions, stating, “I cannot forbear mentioning Brigadier-General Wayne, whose good conduct and bravery through the whole action deserves particular commendation.”

Figure 2- The Battle of Paoli, or Paoli Massacre, painted in 1782 by Italian artist Xavier della Gatta. From the Valley Forge Historical Society.

Figure 3- A print of the Battle of Stony Point, made ca. 1857 by Joseph H. Brightly. From the Library of Congress.