“Mad” Anthony Wayne’s Contribution to Waynesboro
What’s in a name?
Well, quite a bit if you’re talking about Waynesboro, Virginia. Just take a drive through this prosperous city nestled against the Blue Ridge Mountains. The General Wayne Hotel, the Wayne Theater, Wayne Avenue—these and other references to “Wayne” crop up regularly.
Waynesboro, founded in about 1764, was originally known as Teesville, after innkeepers William and Mary Tees. But in the late 1700s, a military victory in the Northwest Indian War prompted the town to rename itself in honor of the man responsible for that victory—General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.
However, Waynesboro wasn’t unique in its fascination with this colorful and impetuous military man. Wayne was the equivalent of a rock star from the time of the American Revolution, and over time inspired several dozen communities in the United States to name themselves after him. Fully 15 states, for instance, have Wayne counties.
The Original “Mad” Man
Wayne, who was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1745, wasn’t “mad” in a mental health sort of way. Rather, this rugged frontiersman possessed a legendary temper and was famous for unleashing his wrath upon those who challenged his honor or his competency as a leader. Subordinates who didn’t perform up to snuff also fell prey to Wayne’s explosive anger.
It has also been suggested that the “mad” nickname described his performance in battle; Wayne was fearless and more often than not rode right into the thickest of the fighting. Unlike many commanders, he led from the front, not the rear. But in battle Wayne was cold, calculating and utterly disdainful of his own personal danger. The “mad” part of his legacy springs from that temper of his.
By trade, the young Anthony Wayne was a surveyor and tanner. He also pursued a political career, serving in the Pennsylvania legislature. It was the colonies’ struggle with Great Britain, however, that lifted him to heights of fame. He raised a militia unit and, in 1776, became colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1777.
The war that gave Wayne undying fame wasn’t a cakewalk for him. He suffered a number of serious defeats. At the Battle of Brandywine, Wayne was forced to retreat after three hours of hard fighting against hardened British troopers. Shortly after that, at the Battle of Paoli, his unit was mauled by British soldiers who had orders to fix bayonets and use them mercilessly. The Battle of Germantown found Wayne advancing too quickly; he became trapped and had to execute a fighting retreat.
Wayne’s reputation as a skilled fighter began to grow when he led the attack in the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. When his forces were abandoned by the incompetent General Charles Lee, Wayne tenaciously held his position until he was reinforced by General George Washington. He then reformed his unit and continued to fight.
“Steady! Steady, boys!” Wayne shouted to his men as the British launched an attack against the Pennsylvanians. “Wait for the word and pick off the king’s birds.”
Pick them off they did. When the battle was over, the British had retreated and left behind one of the king’s best birds—Lt. Colonel Henry Monckton.
Wayne’s greatest feat in the Revolution was at the 1779 Battle of Stony Point. Leading a nighttime bayonet charge that lasted for 30 minutes, he broke the British defense of their cliff-side fortification and captured 550 prisoners. The victory was an enormous morale booster for the Continental Army.
Wayne continued to fight with a mixture of success and failure. In 1781, for example, while leading a small scouting force in Virginia to determine the whereabouts of Lord Cornwallis’ army, Wayne and his men were surprised and trapped by a numerically superior English force. With typical tenacity, Wayne held his position until he was reinforced. When Lord Cornwallis then attacked, Wayne fearlessly led a bayonet charge before retreating in good order as night fell.
After the war, Wayne retired to a plantation in Georgia given to him for his service in the Revolution. In 1791, however, he was recalled to active service by President George Washington. Wayne decisively defeated a confederation of Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and then negotiated a treaty between the tribal confederacy and the United States.
Wayne died in 1796 at the age of 51 of complications from gout.
The Friendly City
Just a year after Wayne’s death, Teesville became Waynesborough in Wayne’s honor. The town was incorporated in 1834 and its name was officially shortened to Waynesboro on April 14, 1893.
The 19th century was a time of rampant prosperity in the United States, and Waynesboro, with its converging railroad lines, made the city an ideal base for shipping and receiving goods from all over the country. New industries sprang up and other, more established ones, moved to Waynesboro. Housing flourished and the city grew commercially with the ever-expanding need for goods and services.
It was also the site of the last Civil War battle in the Shenandoah Valley.
Over time, Waynesboro’s industrial base would diminish; a vibrant commercial presence would succeed it. In 1939 it became known as “The Friendly City.” Today, the city that bears the name of a “mad” Revolutionary War hero is a mecca for shoppers, diners, wayfarers and lovers of history.
The Waynesboro Heritage Museum at 430 W. Main St. is the city’s premier historical interpreter, featuring nine galleries that give a comprehensive look at how an unprepossessing tavern and stopover grew to a robust commercial and residential destination.
If you’re a history lover, the Shenandoah Valley is the place to be! The Iris Inn is centrally located between Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Charlottesville, all of which contain museums on American history and the Valley’s vital role in it.
Book your stay with us and immerse yourself in America’s past!