Getting to Know 'Mad' Anthony Wayne
Updated: Feb 26
By: Chris Jenner - Intern at the Wayne Museum & Tessa Payer, Museum Specialist at the Wayne Museum and Staff Member of the Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs
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.
One of Wayne’s best-known victories would be in 1779, with a surprise night attack on British troops at Stony Point, New York. (Figure 3) Following the British occupation of the town, Washington wrote to Wayne, tasking him with analyzing the situation. Upon seeing the British defenses at Stony Point, which included mortars, canons, and many other artillery, Wayne told Washington he did not believe “a storm (would be) practical”, but would lay siege on Stony Point if Washington planned it. Washington agreed to a night assault.
On July 14th, 1779, Wayne officially received orders to attack Stony Point. He and his soldiers moved silently through the town to Fort Montgomery, persisting despite difficult conditions and British gunfire. Wayne was even grazed by a musket ball, but continued pushing forward, supposedly telling his soldiers, “March on, boys. Carry me into the fort! For should the wound be mortal, I will die at the head of the column.” (This was only one of many moments that earned him the epithet ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne) The Continental Army took the fort and captured over 400 British. Wayne wrote to George Washington only hours after the success, “the fort & Garrison with Colo. Johnston are ours- Our Officers & men behaved like men who are determined to be free.”
Wayne continued to be active throughout the remainder of the American Revolution. He advocated for his soldiers to the Confederation Congress, quelled mutiny amongst his troops and traveled down south to Virginia, where he fought in the Battle of Green Spring Farm and the Battle of Yorktown. From Virginia, Wayne went to Georgia, fighting against British Loyalists and Native Americans, particularly the Creek and Cherokee people. When the British left Charleston, South Carolina, Wayne and his troops were some of the first American troops to enter the city. His actions earned him an end-of-war promotion to the rank of Major General.
Figure 4- Major General Anthony Wayne, painted ca. 1783-1784 by Charles Willson Peale. From the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
After the war, Wayne returned to Pennsylvania, but looked back towards Georgia. Here, he developed a farm- this left him in debt- and was elected to Congress- but ended up resigning. However, he returned to military prominence when Washington, now President, named him Commander-in-Chief of the Legion of the United States in 1792. In this position, he fought against indigenous peoples who resisted United States expansion west. Joseph C. Scott writes for Mount Vernon that “Wayne’s instructions were to build the Legion while diplomats attempted to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the chieftains”, but by 1793, Wayne built a fort and prepared for conflict. In August 1794, he led US troops in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, defeating combined Miami, Shawnee, and Lenape forces. Wayne’s actions forced the Miami, Shawnee, and Lenape to sign the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, in which they ceded land rights to Ohio. Anthony Wayne would die on December 15th, 1796, from complications from gout.
Remembered as ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, Wayne was known for his temper and somewhat rash actions, yet also his organizational ability and advocacy for his soldiers. When considering his choice for Commander in Chief in March 1792, Washington would write of Wayne, “more active & enterprising than judicious & cautious. No oeconomist it is feared. Open to flattery- vain- easily imposed upon- and liable to be drawn into scrapes. Too indulgent (the effect perhaps of some of the causes just mentioned) to his Officers & men. Whether sober- or a little addicted to the bottle, I know not.”
Big thanks to Christopher Jenner, one of our interns, for his help on this blog post!
The Wayne Museum operates under a shared services agreement between the Township of Wayne and the County of Passaic. The County manages and operates the Wayne Museum on the Township’s behalf through the County’s Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs.
Scott, Joseph C. “Anthony Wayne.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Accessed December 12th, 2021. https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/anthony-wayne/#1.
“General Anthony Wayne.” Historic Valley Forge. USHistory.org. Accessed December 12th, 2021. https://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/wayne.html.
“Anthony Wayne.” Ohio History Central. Accessed December 12th, 2021. https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Anthony_Wayne.
“’Mad’ Anthony Wayne.” Historical Society of Pennsylvania. March 26th, 2014. Accessed April 3rd, 2022. https://hsp.org/blogs/archival-adventures-in-small-repositories/mad-anthony-wayne.
Maloy, Mark. “The Battle of Stony Point.” American Battlefield Trust. Accessed April 3rd, 2022. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/battle-stony-point.
“Paoli- Paoli Massacre.” American Battlefield Trust. Accessed December 12th, 2021. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/paoli.
“‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, Military Hero.” Historic Waynesborough. January 10th, 2016. Accessed December 12th, 2021. https://historicwaynesborough.org/2016/01/10/article-5/.
Anthony Wayne, “Anthony Wayne to George Washington, July 16th, 1779.” Letter. From Founders Online, National Archives. https://founders.archives.gov/?q=%20Author%3A%22Wayne%2C%20Anthony%22%20Period%3A%22Revolutionary%20War%22&s=1111311111&r=52.
“Battle of Fallen Timbers.” History.com. August 21st, 2018. Accessed December 12th, 2021. https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/battle-of-fallen-timbers.
George Washington, “Memorandum on General Officers, March 9th, 1792.” Letter. From Founders Online, National Archives. https://founders.archives.gov/?q=%20Author%3A%22Washington%2C%20George%22%20Period%3A%22Washington%20Presidency%22%20%229%20march%22&s=1111311111&r=5.