It is often a tradition among soldiers and sailors to give monikers to their commanders. American military history resounds with names like Gen.Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Gen.Lewis “Chesty” Puller, Gen. Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson, and so on. One such sobriquet, “Mad Anthony” for Gen. Anthony Wayne, has stuck on and off in the American consciousness for near two centuries. Its origin is not precisely known nor is it totally clear through which veins it most enduringly entered the public mindset, though there are clues. There is, however, one unifying theme to nearly each documentable time Wayne is referred to as “mad” prior to the era of the Mexican-American War: it is not endearing, and it generally carries harsh criticism.
There is a brewery in Fort Wayne, Indiana called Mad Anthony. Erie Brewing in Pennsylvania has a Mad Anthony Pale Ale, and there is an artist in New York City who goes by the name Mad Anthony. In Ohio there is a band called Mad Anthony, and at Waynesboro, Virginia there is a Mad Anthony Mud Run. There are even two books on Wayne which include the name in their title: Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Republic by Glenn Tucker and Unlikely General: ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America by Mary Stockwell. So what do we know about the supposed origin of this name?
A number of Wayne’s biographers attribute the start of the “mad” nickname to a mysterious soldier under Wayne’s command called Jemmy the Drover/Rover, or sometimes the “Commodore.” Ultimately traced back through printed records to the earliest documentable version of this tale, we find that it appears in 1829 in a Philadelphia magazine called The Casket. Essentially, the story goes that in 1781 Jemmy, upon being sent to the guardhouse and threatened with flogging for disorderly conduct, was upset to find that these orders and threats were handed down from Wayne himself. An angry Jemmy exclaimed “Anthony is mad—farewell to you—clear the coast for the commodore, mad Anthony’s friend!” The story is difficult to take seriously for a number of reasons. Firstly, the publisher failed to mention where they themselves had heard the tale. Secondly, the publisher says “Jem[m]y, the rover[’s] . . . real name is not recollected,” so it is nearly impossible to identify who this soldier may have been through muster or pension records. He may have been a real soldier, but it is also questionable as to why the story only comes to light nearly fifty years after the supposed incident took place, and thirty years after Wayne’s death.
The publication of the “mad” moniker in The Casket was not the first historical reference to it. It shows up during Wayne’s lifetime, in a 1781 London pamphlet one year after originally being written. On July 20, 1780, Wayne led a disastrous attack on a blockhouse in New Jersey at Bull’s Ferry. After some time and the loss of too many men, the British and Loyalists stood their ground in the blockhouse, and Wayne opted to retreat with some captured cattle and a defeat on his hands. To make fun of Wayne and the whole affair, British adjutant general Maj. John Andre wrote a long, mocking poem entitled “The Cow Chace.” One passage that fictionally portrays a nymph or young woman fleeing the battle goes:
A nymph, the Refugees had drove, Far from her native tree
Just happen’d to be on the move, when up came Wayne and Lee
She in mad Anthony’s fierce eye, the hero saw pourtray’d
And all in tears, she took him by the bridle of his Jade
Wayne, it is implied, then went on to seduce her, so in this case, the term “mad” is associated with Wayne’s shortcomings as a gentleman and as an officer, his failing to take the blockhouse.
The following year, Wayne was in Virginia with General Lafayette. On July 6, 1781, he fought in the Battle of Green Springs, a fight in which the Americans were seriously outnumbered, yet Wayne did not order a retreat. One of the physicians with his troops, Dr. Robert Wharry, wrote to a colleague, Dr. Reading Beatty, sending him an account of the action. In his letter, he wrote that the battle was “another Blockhouse affair—Madness—Mad A[nthon]y, by G[od] I never such a piece of work heard of—about eight hundred troops opposed to five or six thousand Veterans upon their own ground.” Clearly Wharry, in using the term “mad,” was not saying anything kind about Wayne but was in fact sharply criticizing him of being impetuous, as evident by his continuing that “one hundred Rank & file” were killed and wounded in the action.
Such critical references to Wayne do not readily appear again until 1793, a full twelve years later. At this point, the American Revolution had concluded favorably for the Americans, and as the 1780s rolled in to the 1790s, hungry eyes looked west to the lands of the Ohio River Valley and the Northwest Territory. After two military expeditions into the territory were crushed by the Miami Confederacy and their leader Little Turtle, the army was reorganized into the Legion of the United States. President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox selected Wayne to lead this new force. While Wayne headed west and began constructing a series of small posts that ensured a proper line of communication with Philadelphia (at the time the capital), the newspapers kept a watchful eye. In March 1793, someone wrote a song called the “Parnassian Chronicle” for the Vermont Gazette. Supposed to be to the tune of the then-popular song “Derry Down,” one verse reads:
In the system of war we are rising apace, Mad Anthony’s keeping the Indians in place
With the pomp and parade of a nabob . . . a Knox, While he stall feeds his men he’s avoiding hard knocks
The following year proved to be more discriminating towards Wayne in the papers. The Gazette of the United States published a scathing editorial against Wayne, the author of which was only identified as a “gentleman from Gen. Wayne’s camp, who may be depended upon.” In the piece, a number of anecdotes and accusations are delivered, one of them being about a group of native people who met with the Americans to request peace, where “Wayne expressed his sorrow at the arrival of the peace applicants . . . being as mad and sanguinary as ever; and very much bloated with the ideas of his military prowess, wants to be dealing in blood.” A little while later, the gentleman claimed, “mad Anthony began to be alarmed at the prospect of peace,” and so ordered the construction of a new road, ostensibly to coax the Miami into a fight. After the pioneering of the road, which was very much impassable due to the wetness of the season, “mad Anthony discovered . . . [the road] was improper . . . [as] the country was under water.” The Legion itself was a mess, he went on, due to the “discontent, the drinking, gambling, quarrelling, fighting, and licentiousness of almost all ranks.” He continued on that
These melancholy truths have been produced in a great measure by the conduct and example of the general, whose manners are despotic, whose judgement is feeble, infirm, and full of prejudice, whose temper is irascible and violent, whose language is indecent and abusive, and whose conduct to his officers is capricious and irregular, being at one time childishly familiar and at another tyrannical and overbearing.
As if that wasn’t excoriating enough, Wayne is further accused of favoring his “tools, spies, and toad-eaters,” assigning work on the Sabbath, “substituting domination for law, and resentment for justice,” and protecting his “pimps and parasites.” Every interpretation of this piece will conclude that the use of “mad” is not an endearing title, but a burning criticism. As there was a bit of an open rivalry between Wayne and his second in command, Gen. James Wilkinson, with some officers supporting each general, it would seem likely that is where these accusations originated, but alas, the “gentleman’s” name who wrote the editorial is lost to history, while Wilkinson’s less than clean service to the United States is a matter of historical fact.
General Wayne died at Presque Isle (present Erie), Pennsylvania on December 15, 1796, and so passed from the realm of current events. The “mad” nickname, however, continued to appear. During the War of 1812, the British captured the USS Chesapeake. In a London paper, it was pointed out that all the guns on the Chesapeake had little copper plates on them bearing names; one of them was “Mad Anthony,” among a mix of others like “Putnam,” Washington,” and “Bunker Hill.” There are a few other mentions, like in the Long-Island Star in 1821: “Gen. Wayne, often called mad Anthony from the impetuosity of his attacks,” and in The Democrat in 1832, where a tale of “the dare devil Wayne—‘old mad Anthony’ as they called him,” is told. There are other references, each telling a military tale of his, and some that aren’t stories at all, like the challenge issued by Joseph Jarvis in 1822 to enter his rooster “Mad Anthony” into a fight against any challenger, and in 1838, a horse being entered into a race near New Orleans was named Mad Anthony. In 1845, Horatio N. Moore published the first official biography of Wayne with the help of the general’s son Isaac, at the time in his seventies. The book includes the Jemmy the Drover tale (much of the book is taken from the pieces on Wayne in The Casket), and so perhaps for the first time the “mad” moniker reached a national audience, as opposed to local newspapers, though it is evident that the name was already associated with Wayne. 
What conclusion can we draw from the available information? Should we continue to call General Wayne “Mad”? The closer the document is to his lifetime, the answer would be no, because in each case printed or written during his lifetime the name was accusative or mocking. Yet, we can see that as time went on, likely because nineteenth century people did not have extensive access to information, the meaning of “mad” began to change towards “bold and daring,” but always with the shadow of impetuosity. Still, because of Wayne’s attacks at Monmouth, Stony Point, Green Spring, and Fallen Timbers the name certainly may feel appropriate. Permit the author to pose a question. With all the evidence against the use of the name, and the absolute dearth of evidence that anyone ever addressed him as “Mad Anthony,” would you still call him that?
Mad Anthony Brewing Company, www.madbrew.com; Erie Brewing Company, www.eriebrewingco.com/pages/our-brews; Mad Anthony, www.madanthonynyc.com; Mad Anthony Band, www.madanthonyband.com; Mad Anthony Mud Run, adventuresignup.com/race/VA/Waynesboro/MAMR; Glenn Tucker, Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Nation: The Story of Washington’s Front-Line General (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1973); Mary Stockwell, Unlikely General: “Mad” Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018).
“Biography of General Wayne,” The Casket, or Flowers of Literature, Wit & Sentiment,Volume 4 (1829):498-9, Hathi Trust, babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3007583&view=1up&seq=557.
John Andre, The Cow Chace (London: John Fielding, 1781), 25, google.com/books/edition/The_Cow_Chace/oRIvAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=l&printsec=frontcover; Robert Wharry to Reading Beatty, July 27, 1781, in John U. Rees, A Smart firing commenc’d from both parties: Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s Pennsylvania Battalions in Virginia, June to November 1781, www.scribd.com/document/125429123/Appendix-!-A-Smart-firing-commenc-d-from-from-both-parties-Brig-Gen-Anthony-Wayne-s-Pennsylvania-Battalions-in-Virginia-June-to-November-1781.
“Parnassian Chronicle,” The Vermont Gazette,Vol X, No 41 (March 8, 1793), www.nespapers.com/images/519613197.
“Stubborn Facts!,” The Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser. June 25, 1794, Vol. VI, No. 12, 2-3. www.newspapers.com/image/466184409. Wilkinson was found to be working as an agent for the Spanish government.
“Yankee Wit,” The Morning Chronicle.August 16, 1813, No. 19,824, www.newspapers.com/image/393100192; The Long-Island Star, May 24, 1821, Vol. XII, No. 620, www.nespapers.com/image/118243108; The Democrat, August 30, 1832, Vol IX, No 464, www.newspapers.com/image/348716937; “Elegant Amusement,” The Charleston Courier, June 14, 1822, Vol XX, No. 6973, www.newspapers.com/image/604364433; “Races,” The Daily Picayune,March 22, 1838, Vol II, No. 49. www.newspapers.com/image/29011576; H. N. Moore, Life and Services of Gen. Anthony Wayne: Founded on Documentary and Other Evidence, Furnished by his son Col. Isaac Wayne (Philadelphia: Leary & Getz, 1845), 133.