On December 15, 1796, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne died at the small army fort in Erie, Pennsylvania located overlooking the entrance to Presque Isle Bay. The cause of death is listed as complications from gout. Wayne was buried beneath the floor of one of the fort’s blockhouses. There his remains would rest for 13 years.
A native of Chester County, Pennsylvania, Wayne had worked as a tanner and surveyor, attended the College of Philadelphia and served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly before joining the Continental Army in the American Revolution. He had been a successful General in the Continental Army, serving under George Washington. The nickname “Mad Anthony” references his impetuosity and fearlessness in battle, not a true mental malady.
After the Revolution, Wayne, a Major-General, retired to lands in Georgia, lands given for his service to his country. After a short time there, he returned to the army, commanding the Legion of the United States, an American army planning to rid the Northwest Territory or “Old Northwest” of hostile native tribes. Victor at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in Western Ohio in 1795, he masterminded the Treaty of Greenville the following year with the native tribes which cleared the way for Ohio’s admission to the Union in 1803.
During his return trip to his home in Chester County, Wayne fell ill with gout. He stopped in Erie at the small army post. He died in a chair there and was buried on December 15, 1796. There the story may have ended, but it did not.
In 1809, thirteen years after his death, Wayne’s son Isaac traveled to Erie at the request of his sister Margaretta, herself seriously ill. She asked her brother travel to Erie and bring their father’s remains home to Chester County. Dutifully, Isaac traveled to Erie where he had the casket exhumed. When the grave was opened, it is said the General was in decent condition for being in the ground for 13 years. Isaac Wayne quickly determined he could not take his father’s remains all the way across Pennsylvania in the small cart he came in so he ordered the body rendered meaning boiled vigorously to remove the flesh not an uncommon event in these times. The bones boxed or placed in saddlebags-the details are unclear. Isaac set off for Chester County across rough dirt roads, basically on the path of today’s US 322.
The legend and ghost story begins here. It seems not all the bones made it back to the family plot. The legend is that on January 1st, Wayne’s birthday, his ghost can be seen riding his horse Nancy between Erie and Chester County, looking for his missing bones. Believe it or not.
The pot Wayne was rendered in can be seen today along with the chair the General died in and fragments of his coffin at the Hagen History Center Happy Halloween.