Waynesboro Heritage Museum | 420 W. Main St., Waynesboro, Virginia 22980 | Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. | Phone: (540) 943-3943

Where is Anthony Wayne buried?

By Judy Walden

anthony wayneExcept for one recorded incident in Ohio in 1794 when a tree fell on his tent rendering Wayne temporarily unconscious, the General seemed to have endured the many battles unscathed. There were many battles for him: the Revolutionary War and the Indian Wars in the Midwest. Wayne died while serving in the military at an outpost on the Great Lakes called Presqu’Isle. Today, it is part of Erie, PA. It was in 1796 and he was only 51. However, it was not from a battle or anything to do with a military event.

Born on January 1, 1754 in Chester County, PA, an area west of Philadelphia, he loved nothing more as a boy than playing soldiers and Indians instead of farm work, much to his father’s dismay. Father Isaac owned many acres and had a successful farm and the largest tannery in Pennsylvania. School was not Anthony’s thing until his father threatened him with unending and odious chores on his estate called Waynesborough. The threat worked and Anthony, under his uncle Gilbert’s guidance found he had a talent for mathematics. After Uncle Gilbert taught him as much as he could, Anthony was enrolled at the Philadelphia Academy where he studied mathematics and business and soon was a surveyor. So successful was he that Benjamin Franklin hired him to survey many parts of Nova Scotia. He spent 10 months finding mineral deposits, navigable rivers sites for mills and ferries, springs and meadowland for cultivation. When he returned to Philadelphia, Franklin found that his investors had no intention of moving to the Canadian territory. Wayne continued his career as a surveyor and had a good life.

With his father’s death in 1774, Anthony at age 29 inherited Waynesborogh. He lived the life of a country gentleman and had pledged to care for his widowed mother. Soon it was obvious that he was a neglectful son and later a neglectful husband and father. It wasn’t until later in his life that he recognized that he could have done a better job.

A call for arms for the Revolutionary War was ordered and Wayne was ready. He was commissioned the title of Colonel at age 31. He fought and lost battles and fought and won battles. Always at the front attacking the enemy rather than avoiding them, he was considered a great tactician. His victory at Stony Point is widely recognized as the most brilliant action of the War. The low point was the loss of many men during a nighttime raid by Grey at Paoli. A favorite of George Washington, he rose quickly and retired as Brevet-major General. His retirement didn’t last long as Washington asked him to help with the Northwest Indian wars. Again he had wins and losses, but his battle at Fallen Timbers brought a treaty that gained all the lands from the Ohio River to the Mississippi for the U.S.

So, what about his death and burial? Wayne suffered a serious gout attack. It was a fairly common disease at the time and the general consensus was that the culprit was rich food and wine. Today we know it as kidney failure. When he became ill in Presqu’ Isle there were no doctors at the fort and a call for physicians went out to Pittsburgh and to Army hospitals. Unfortunately, the doctors arrived on the day of his death. He was buried on a plain coffin with his initials and date of death driven in to the wood using round-headed brass tacks. He was laid to rest at the foot of the blockhouse’s flagpole. Twelve years later, the urging of his dying sister’s request to have their father buried at St. David’s church in Radnor, PA, son Isaac set out in a two-wheeled sulky carriage. Isaac had been advised that his father’s remains would be nothing but bones. Dr. John Wallace, who had been called to attend the General prior to his death, met Isaac at the fort. When the doctor opened Wayne’s coffin, he was shocked that the corpse was almost perfectly preserved.

anthony wayneAnthony Wayne was a tall and large man and the sulky carriage was way too small for the coffin. So, Dr. Wallace used an American Indian custom to dismember the body, boil it in a large kettle down to just bones. The bones were then packed in bones and loaded on to Isaac’s carriage. The task was so distasteful to the doctor that he threw the remains of the flesh and his instruments back in the coffin and re-closed the grave.

Isaac Wayne set out with his father’s bones for the 380 miles of unpaved roads. Isaac was unaware that some of the bones were shaken out of the boxes and he didn’t discover the loss until he reached Radnor. Isaac was very upset that his father’s remains had been disturbed and wished he had never complied with his sister’s wishes. On July 4, 1809, the General was once again interred, this time at St. David’s church following funeral rites. So, General Anthony Wayne is buried in two different places nearly 400 miles apart. And possibly other places…

It seems as though a ghostly story has found its way into lore. The saying is that along the way from the fort near Erie to Radnor, PA, over the rough terrain, bones fell from the boxes. On each New Year’s Day, Anthony’s birthday, the tale is that his ghost rises up from the grave and rides through the countryside looking for his parts.

In 1858, the blockhouse in Presqu’Isle burned and the land was leveled unknowingly covering up General Wayne’s first gravesite. Twenty-five years later it was located, the coffin lid with the brass tacks, remnants of Wayne’s clothing and Dr. Wallace’s instruments were uncovered and they are on display at the Erie County Historical Society. The rest was reburied at the Wayne Blockhouse Monument on the property of the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home.

In addition to Waynesboro, VA, Fort Wayne, IN, and Wayne State University in Detroit are also named after him. 9 cities, 15 counties, 5 parks, 10 towns, 27 schools and colleges and many streets and roads have been named in his honor.

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