Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

The Prelude to Great Deeds

In the spring of 1774 Anthony Wayne had already been a farmer and surveyor for eight years. At Waynesboro, in the County of Chester, he owned and cultivated an extensive and well-ordered farm, as well as a large tannery. These were callings at which a man could become wealthy in those days, and undoubtedly young Wayne enjoyed his full share of such prosperity—as his contemporaries called wealth. He was, moreover, considered the most capable surveyor in his region—the fame gained during his brief experience in Nova Scotia still endured, and had gained him a wide acquaintance; his decisions in boundary disputes among his neighbors were accepted as finalities. In addition to all these favorable conditions, Wayne was also better educated and possessed of a wider knowledge and experience of life than his immediate associates. He was endowed, moreover, with a peculiarly attractive personality that endeared him to all and valuably assisted his leadership in all public and community activities. Hence, it is not remarkable that we learn that he was widely regarded as the proper man to head any general movement among the people: he was evidently born to be a general—a fact early recognized by his schoolmaster uncle.

With all these advantages, it is to be expected, perhaps, that he might display some of the weaknesses common to humanity. We learn, accordingly, that he was somewhat vain in his manner, rather extravagant in his dress, and often given to boasting and to large assumptions. When we meet a man addicted to habits such as these we suppose, usually, that he is more capable in talking than in doing. With Wayne, however, as with some of the other famous men of history, it would seem that the high talk he indulged in indicated merely a creative imagination and that opportunities for action were wanting. So it was that among his neighbors his boastful speech was taken quite seriously. In fact, people seemed always to have taken him "at his own estimate of himself." Nor, as subsequent events amply proved, were they at all in error.

The coveted opportunity for action that the boy leader had so often dreamed of came at last in the exciting times just before the outbreak of the American Revolution. It was then that his ability to do came to be fully demonstrated. He was literally the leader among his fellows in every movement for the defense of the colonies against the hasty and ill-advised usurpations of the British Ministry, and, it is gratifying to record, he was a wise leader also. We have learned to call him "mad" Anthony Wayne, but his "madness" was not the obsession of the wanton agitator, even against aggravated abuses. Although determined in his opposition to the measures of Government to take away the autonomy of the colonies, he was to a very late date inspired with the hop@ that the matters in dispute might yet be settled, and the Americans reconciled with the Mother Country. Thus, in September, 1775, as Chairman of the Chester County Committee of Safety, he wrote:

"Whereas, some persons evidently inimical to the liberty of America have industriously propagated a report that the military associators of this County, in conjunction with the military associators in general, intend to overturn the Constitution by declaring an independency . . . . and as such report could not originate but among the worst of men for the worst of purposes, this Committee have thought proper to declare, and they do hereby declare, their abhorrence even of an idea so pernicious in its nature, as they ardently wish for nothing more than a happy and speedy reconciliation on constitutional principles with that State from whom they derive their origin."

Nevertheless, about a year before the date of this declaration, above quoted, Anthony Wayne had signed another which emphatically asserted the "right of every English subject to the enjoyment and disposal of his property," of which no power on earth could legally divest him, and that "the attempted invasion of that right was a grievance which should be redressed by constitutional means." From these expressions we may understand that Wayne was in hearty agreement with most of the wisest leaders of the colonists. Independence, the founding of a new nation, separate from England, was an afterthought with nearly all of them, an "evolution," as we would say today. The real grounds of contention were the attempts to abrogate the rights of self-government—placing all the colonies under the direct administration of the Crown and its ministers—and the making of laws for the colonists in which they had had no representation, in fact in regard to which they had not even been consulted. The succession of governmental blunders looking toward these ends was what made the taxation of tea, paper, etc., so odious to all Americans, especially to the people of Boston and vicinity, and was the occasion of the familiar slogan of the times, "Taxation without representation is tyranny." This latter sentence was originated, probably, in the expressions used by John Adams, when defending John Hancock on the charge of smuggling wine in 1770, but, even with Adams and Hancock, no greater consequences were expected to their protest than the granting of the right of representation in making the laws for their own government if not for their separate government.

Such, however, was the attitude of the King and his ministers at this period that the representations of the colonists were treated with contempt. The unwise zeal of such men as Governor Edmund Andros, and others, had confirmed the opinion in England that the Americans were essentially rebellions and turbulent; and, consequently, that they were to be curbed by severe measures only. As the logical culmination to the strained relations so long existing between the Mother Country and her colonies, the incensed Bostonians plotted together and committed the depredation known as the "Boston tea party," in which a whole ship's cargo of tea was thrown overboard, because of the odious import tax. At once their city was placed under martial law. Violence now was requited with more violence, and in every case it begat its own hind; the dispute grew daily more aggravated. Even in such colonies as Pennsylvania and Virginia, where, as yet, the valued institutions of the people had not been interfered with, the conviction gained ground steadily that only an armed opposition could convince the Crown that the Americans were determined to maintain their liberties under their charters. The raising and equipping of military companies in all the colonies seemed at the time merely a measure of "preparedness"—a word that every American should know by this time and take to heart.

Among the most prominent leaders in Pennsylvania against the prevailing acts of the British Ministry was Anthony Wayne himself. In July, 1774, he was Chairman of the County Committee that adopted resolutions condemning all these acts of oppression. In January, 1775, he was a delegate to the Provincial Convention of Pennsylvania, which took measures to encourage home industries and manufactures, in opposition to the taxed imports from other countries. In the following May he originated a proposition that the "freemen" of Chester organize for military defense; later in the same year he served on the County Committees of Safety and Correspondence, and in December he was nominated for the Provincial Assembly from his County. In the meantime, also, he was busily engaged in recruiting a regiment—it was known as the Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion—and in January, 1776, attired in a resplendent uniform, he was commissioned its colonel.

With his elevation to the colonelcy of this "battalion," Wayne attained at last to the kind of position for which his instincts, abilities, and much of his previous study had amply qualified him. Even in the midst of his engrossing engagements at farming, tanning and assisting in the government and public' affairs of his county and province, be had followed out his boyhood bent and had always been an eager student of military science and strategy. This is shown by his frequent references in after-life to such books as Marshal Saxe's Campaigns, and Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War. And the idea of military essentials which he seems to have derived from his studies may be judged by the fact that he early showed marked tendencies to become a "martinet," or stickler for form and discipline. He required that each company of his command should have its own barber, and that the men should be carefully shaved, and have their hair plaited and powdered. He announced, moreover, that he would severely punish "every man who comes on parade with a long beard, slovenly dressed or dirty." In a letter to Washington, justly famous for its frankness, he says:

"I have an insuperable bias in favor of an elegant uniform and soldierly appearance, so much so that I would risk my life and reputation at the head of the same men in an attack, clothed and appointed as I could wish, merely with bayonets and a single charge of ammunition, than to take them as they appear in common with sixty rounds of cartridges. It may be a false idea, but I cannot help cherishing it."

It might seem to some readers that all such matters are too trivial to occupy the attention of a commander of troops, whose business is, first place, to do and to die," if, indeed, dying comes in the line of duty. But one must not forget that, just as in any mechanical device produced by human ingenuity, derangement in a small part may finally grow into a large derangement in the whole machine; so, in an organization of people, in an army or even in a deliberative assembly, all rules and regulations that promote uniformity of action and cooperation are valuable and necessary. Experience teaches us also that nothing so promotes the efficiency of a corps of soldiers as strict discipline in such small matters, as we might regard them, as those of personal appearance and behavior. We see, therefore, that Wayne showed the instincts of a real commander in his insistence on such matters, rather than the mere desire to make a fine showing on parade. The performance of his men in action throughout the war amply demonstrated the wisdom of his scheme of discipline.