Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister

Chapter X - Anthony Wayne

No work upon Erie County would be complete without a sketch of the career of Gen. Anthony Wayne, whose last sickness, death and burial are inseparably associated with its history. He was born in the township of Eastown, Chester County, Penn., on the 1st of January, 1745, being the son of Isaac Wayne, who served several terms as a member of the Provincial Legislature and took part in one or more Indian expeditions. After receiving a good education, Anthony embraced the profession of a surveyor, at which he was engaged for a brief period in his native county. In 1765-66, he visited Nova Scotia as the agent of a Philadelphia land association, and on returning home was elected to several county offices. He formed an early friendship with Dr.Franklin, and, like him, was one of the first to espouse the cause of American independence. A member of the Assembly in 1774, and of the Provincial Convention in the same year, to consider the troubles with Great Britain, he became one of the Committee of Safety in 1775. Believing war to be inevitable, he resigned his civil office in September, and, after some time spent in military study and practice, raised a regiment, of which he was commissioned Colonel. His first service was with Gen. Sullivan in the spring of 1776, and he bore a brilliant part in the battle of three Rivers, Canada. When the expedition returned, he was placed in charge of the posts of Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence. In February, 1777, he was commissioned a Brigadier General, and served with Washington in the New Jersey and Delaware Valley campaign. On the 20th of September, 1777, while stationed at Paoli, near his Chester County home, with a detachment of 1,500 men, his position was betrayed by some tories to the enemy, who fell upon him during the night and killed and wounded one-tenth of his command. By Wayne's coolness and bravery, his little army was rallied, and retreated to a place of safety. This was the affair generally known as the

"Massacre of Paoli"
"A court-martial convened by Gen. Washington, at Wayne's urgent request, decided, after minute investigation, that he did everything that could be expected from an active, brave and gallant officer under the orders which he then had." He led the attack of the American right wing at Germantown, and received the special applause of Washington for his conduct at Monmouth. His surprise and capture of Stony Point, one of the strongest British positions on the Hudson, was among the most gallant events of the war, and elicited resolutions of thanks from Congress and the Legislature of Pennsylvania. After other valuable services in the North, Wayne was transferred to the South, where he co-operated with marked skill in the operations which led to the surrender of Cornwallis. His last sphere of duty during the Revolution was in Georgia, from which he succeeded in driving the enemy. He was distinguished in all councils of war for supporting the most energetic measures, from which and from his wonderful dash and courage, he won the popular appellation of "Mad Anthony." At the close of the war, he retired to his farm in Chester County. He was called in 1789 to serve in the Pennsylvania convention, and in that body advocated the adoption of the United States Constitution with all of his old-time earnestness and patriotism.

His Western Campaign
In the year 1792, Wayne was commissioned a Major General, and assigned to the Northwestern frontier, for the purpose of forcing the Indians into subjection. After various minor engagements, he gained a signal victory over the savages on the Maumee, in August, 1794. His skill, promptness and bravery made a strong impression among the hostile tribes, and they hastened to sue for forgiveness. He was then appointed sole Commissioner to deal with them on the part of the United States, and effected a treaty of peace at Greenville, Ohio, in 1795, which paved the way for the settlement of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Northern Ohio.

Sickness and Death
Gen. Wayne's mission being fulfilled, in the fall of 1796 he embarked in a small vessel at Detroit for Presque Isle, now Erie, on his way homeward. During the passage down the lake, he was attacked with the gout, which had afflicted him for some years, and been much aggravated by his exposure in the Western wilds. The vessel being without suitable remedies, he could obtain no relief, and on landing at Presque Isle was in a dangerous condition. By his own request, he was taken to one of the block houses on the Garrison tract, the attic of which had been fitted up as a sleeping apartment. Dr. J. C. Wallace, who had served with him as a surgeon during his Indian campaign, and who was familiar with his disease, was then stationed at Fort Fayette, Pittsburgh. The General sent a messenger for the doctor, and the latter started instantly for Erie, but on reaching Franklin was astonished to learn the news of his death, which occurred on the 15th of December, 1796. During his illness every attention was paid to the distinguished invalid that circumstances would permit. Two days after his death the body was buried, as he had directed, in a plain coffin, with his uniform and boots on, at the foot of the flagstaff of the block-house. Among those who helped to lay out and inter the remains was Capt. Daniel Dobbins, long one of the best known citizens of Erie. The opt of the coffin was marked with the initials of his name, "A. W.," his age and the year of his decease in round-headed brass tacks, driven into the wood.

His Appearance and Bearing
An account of Gen. Wayne at the age of thirty two describes him as "about middle size, with a firm, manly countenance, commanding port and eagle eye. His looks corresponded well with his character, indicating a soul noble, ardent and daring. In his intercourse with his officers and men, he was affable and agreeable, and had the art of communicating to their bosoms the gallant and chivalrous spirit which glowed in his own. * * * His dress was scrupulously neat and elegant, his movements were quick, his manners easy and graceful."

Disinterment of the Remains

In the fall of 1808, Gen. Wayne's daughter, Mrs. Altee, was taken seriously ill. While upon her sick bed, she was seized with a strong desire to have her father's remains moved to the family burying ground. Realizing that it was her last sickness and anxious to console her dying moments, Col. Isaac Wayne, the General's son, consented to come on to Erie for the purpose of complying with her wishes. The journey was made in the spring of 1809, through what was then a wilderness for much of the distance, with a horse and sulky. On arriving in Erie, Col. Wayne put up at Buehler's Hotel, and sent for Dr. Wallace, the same one who had been called to minister to the General. The Doctor agreed to attend to the disinterment and preparation of the remains, and Col. Wayne gave him entire charge of the operation, declining to witness it on the ground that he preferred to remember his father as he knew him when living. Thirteen years having elapsed, it was supposed that the corpse would be decomposed, but, on opening the grave, all present were amazed to find the body petrified with the exception of one foot and leg, which were partially gone. The boot on the unsound leg had decayed and most of the clothing was missing. Dr. Wallace separated the body into convenient parts and placed them in a kettle of boiling water until the flesh could be removed from the bones. He then carefully scraped the bones, packed them in a small box and returned the flesh, with the implements used in the operation, to the coffin, which has been left undisturbed, and it was again covered over with earth. The box was secured to Col. Wayne's sulky and carried to Eastern Pennsylvania, where the contents were deposited in a second grave among those of the General's deceased relatives. In the labor of dissection, which took place on the garrison grounds, Dr. Wallace was assisted by Robert Murray, Robert Irwin, Richard Clement and perhaps others. Gen. Wayne's sound boot was given to James Duncan, who found that it fitted him, had a mate made for it and wore the pair until they could no longer be used.

Appearance of the Body
At the time of the disinterment, Capt. Dobbins and family were living on the Garrison grounds in a large building erected for the use of the commanding officer. Mrs. Dobbins was allowed to look at the body, with some of her lady acquaintances, and obtained a lock of the dead hero's hair. She had a vivid recollection of the incident when nearly in her one hundredth year. The body, she said, was not hard like stone, but was more of the consistency of soft chalk. The hairs of the head pulled out readily, and the general appearance of the corpse was much like that of a plaster of Paris cast.

In explanation of Dr. Wallace's course, it is argued that he acted in accordance with what the circumstances of the case seemed to require. It was necessary that the remains should be placed in as small a space as possible, to accommodate the means of conveyance. Col. Wayne is reported to have said, in regard to the affair: "I always regretted it; had I known the state the remains were in before separated I think I should certainly have had them again deposited there and let them rest, and had a monument erected to his memory."

William H. Holstein, a grandson of Gen. Wayne, in a letter printed in the Erie Observer of February 13, 1880, states that "Col. Wayne was not aware of the condition of his father's remains until all was completed or he would not have consented to the removal."

A Second Disinterment

Some years ago, Dr. Germer, of Erie, who has a profound veneration for Wayne's memory, read a sketch of the burial and removal, and was prompted to look up the place of the grave. He first ascertained the site of the blockhouse, which had long before disappeared with the other structures, and digging down at the probably foot of the flagstaff readily found the grave and coffin. The lid of the coffin, with the initials, etc., before described, upon it, was fairly preserved, but the balance had mostly rotted away. Largely through the efforts of Dr. Germer and Capt. Welsh, an appropriation was obtained from the Legislature, with which a substantial log block-house in imitation of the original was built to mark the site, and the grounds were surrounded by a railing with cannon at each of the four corners. The grave has been neatly and substantially built up with stone, and the coffin lid, with other relics of the early days, is carefully sheltered within the block-house -- the whole forming as appropriate a monument to the hero as could well be devised.

His Eastern Tomb
The Wayne family burial ground, where the bones of the gallant General repose, is in the cemetery attached to St. David's Episcopal Church, at Radnor, Delaware County, not far from the Chester County line, less than an hour's walk from Wayne Station, on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and fourteen miles west from Philadelphia. Not far distant is Paoli, the scene of the massacre which was so brilliantly avenged at Stony Point. The Pennsylvania State Society of the Cincinnati erected a monument over the grave on the 4th of July, 1809, which is still in position. In close proximity are the last resting places of Gen. Wayne's wife, son and daughter, and of numerous relations. The house where Wayne was born, near Paoli, is still standing, or was in 1876, and his descendants, who occupy it, have collected and preserved many articles of interest as having been associated with his long and illustrious career.

Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part II, Chapter X, pp. 209-212.



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