“Mad Anthony”: The Reality Behind the Nickname


February 6, 2020
by Michael J. F. Sheehan Also by this Author


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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?[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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

While not particularly critical, it does poke some fun at Wayne’s love of pomp and ceremony, which at times during his career wasn’t far off the mark.[4]

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.[5]

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. [6]

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?


[1]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).

[2]“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.

[3]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.

[4]“Parnassian Chronicle,” The Vermont Gazette,Vol X, No 41 (March 8, 1793), www.nespapers.com/images/519613197.

[5]“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.

[6]“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.


  • Great article! I’m working on the Legion currently. As far as calling him “Mad”, Washington evaluated him in 1792:
    “Major General (by Brevet) Wayne”
    More active and enterprising than Judicious and cautious. No economist it is feared. Open to flattery; vain; easily imposed upon; and liable to be drawn into scrapes. Too indulgent (the effect perhaps of some the causes just mentioned) to his Officers and men. Whether sober, or a little addicted to the bottle, I know not.”
    “The Writings of Washington, Vol 31, pg. 510.”

  • This incident appears on pages 139 and 140 of author Charles H Kessler’s book “Lancaster in the Revolution (Published by Sutter House, Litiz, PA.) It occurred while the PA Brigade (then a mere three battalions) was marching to Yorktown in May of 1781, on the property of John Hershey in Menges Mills, York County. (John Hershey himself had been a York County Associator during the Phila.Camp a few years before but thereafter paid the non-Associating fee and remained out of the army for the rest of the war.)

    Preface: At this time the continental dollar was trading against a silver dollar at 1,000 to 1. In other words, it literally was not worth the paper it was printed on. The merchants of York would not accept it as legal tender, so the men refused to continue the march until they had been “paid some real money.”

    Three different accounts are given. Wayne’s report to HQ; Lt Col., William Livingston Smith’s (of Webb’s Additional Continental Regt.); and one by Samuel Dewees , (a Capt. in Butler’s Regt. AKA the 2nd PA. Battalion). Dewees’ account was written thirty years after the fact and basically just gives the gist of Smith’s report so I’ll skip it.

    Wayne’s report was dated May 20 (1781). He basically sums up the incident to Gen. Washington as “an unfortunate affair.”

    This is Smith’s report:

    “12 of the soldiers stepped out of ranks and persuaded the line to refuse to march (Wayne says these men were on the right of each regiment). Wayne accused them of disgracing the army and themselves and called on the troops to shoot either him or the mutineers. He then called to such a platoon. They presented at the word, fired and killed six of the villains. (Wayne states that “while tears rolled down their cheeks in showers, these were their friends and messmates, they silently obeyed their orders without hesitation.) One of the others, badly wounded, he ordered to be bayonetted. The soldier whom he called on to do this, recovered his piece, and said he could not for he was a comrade. Wayne drew his pistol and said that he would kill him. The fellow then advanced and bayonetted him. Wayne then marched the Line by divisions around the dead and the fellows are ordered to be hanged. The Line marched the next day southward, mute as fish.”

    So, six were shot to death, one shot and bayonetted, and five were hanged. As Wayne’s command had around 1,000 men at this time, he had just personally relieved the commissary the burden of feeding a man or two over 1%.

    Presumably the dead were left for John Hershey to bury.

    From that moment on his men called him mad.

  • “Excellent sleuthing and research. Now does anyone know IF any of his bones made it to a proper burial. Much of him was supposedly lost in transit.”

    Wayne has the distinction of being buried in three places. 1: After the exhumed body was eviscerated the soft tissue was reburied beneath the flag pole at fort Presque Isle. 2. The bones were then boiled, placed in a box and affixed to a pack horse. Issac (Anthony’s son), led this pack horse from as far north-east, to as far south-east in PA as you could go, following an Indian trail for the most part as no road existed (today route 322). Along the way the box came lose, the horse stumbled, and its contents spilled into a ravine. Issac gathered what he could but he could not recover the skull (it being somewhat round it rolled off and remained undiscovered). 3. The remainder of the bones were then interred in the family plot at St. David’s churchyard, Malvern, PA. This occurred in 1809. The legend of the headless horseman of Paoli is the result of all this, with folks mistakenly attributing the sightings to Wayne’s searching for the men he lost during the “massacre.” When in fact, the horseman is probably Wayne searching for his long lost skull.

  • Pardon me, I meant to say Issac led the pack horse from as far north-west to as far south-east in PA. as he could go.

  • Thanks for the comments, all! Editors, in the one quote from the Vermont Gazette, the second portion beginning “While not particularly…” until the footnote should be adjoined to the following paragraph as those are my words. Thanks!

  • Mr. Sheehan,

    Thanks for the interesting read. I too had an opportunity to research Anthony Wayne. While doing so, it occurred to me that Anthony Wayne had something in common with George Washington, which was – he too was a surveyor.

    So for the benefit of other researchers…

    Before the War, Anthony Wayne was involved in surveying some real estate in Nova Scotia for Benjamin Franklin. I happen to put this background information into a nomination of an historic property (Lower Dublin Academy), in order to show the association of clock maker Edward Duffield with a broad cast of characters, including Anthony Wayne:

    Deed by Montague Wilmot, Esqr., October 31, 1765, for 100,000 Acres in Nova Scotia.

    Eaton, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton,. “Alexander McNutt, The Colonizer.” Americana: Formerly American Historical Magazine, Vol. 12, December 1913: 1065-1106. .

    ‘In the “Draft Scheme” of his autobiography Mr. Franklin has the item, “Grant of Land in Nova Scotia,” but the autobiography is not carried far enough to give any mention of the obtaining of the grant. The Grant Books at Halifax, however, inform us that on the 31st of October, 1765, a grant of 100,000 acres was given at Peticodiac, to Alexander McNutt, Matthew Clarkson, Edward Duffield, Gerardus Clarkson, John Nagle, Benjamin Franklin, Anthony Wayne, John Hughes, John Cox, Jr., Isaac Caton, John Relfe, James Caton, William Smith, Hugh Neal, Thomas Barton, William Moore, Joseph Richardson, John Hall, William Craig, Jobina Jacobs, John Bayley, and Benjamin Jacobs. On the same date another grant of 100,000 acres on the River St. John, was given to almost the same group of men, Benjamin Franklin among them.

    Accompanied by several prominent Philadelphians, no doubt from the group whose names we have just given, in March, 1765, as both McNutt himself and the Committee of Council relate, McNutt arrived in Hailfax.”

    A Little More:

    Collection: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Date: January 28, 1768
    Title: WHEREAS a certain TRACT of LAND hath been lately obtained in
    WHEREAS a certain TRACT of LAND hath been lately obtained in the Province of Nova Scotia, lying on the North Side of the Bason of Minos, called PHILADELPHIA TOWNSHIP, whereon some good Families are now settled, and many more engaged to go; This is to give Notice, that any Persons, inclining to become Settlers on said Land, will meet with very good Encouragement, the Particulars of which will be made known by applying to James James, at Pilesgrove; Daniel Lithgow, at Salem Bridge; James Thomson, at HancockBridge; Benjamin Davids, at Crosswicks; John Jones, in Germantown; or to Nathan Shepherd, William Ball, John Lukens, James Haldane, and Benjamin Armitage, in Philadelphia. And as a proper Vessel will be provided, to carry Families and Goods to the aforesaid Land, early next Spring, those who purpose to become Adventurers, are desired to be speedy in their Application, and enter into Articles with some of the above named Persons.

    Collection: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Publication: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Date: March 17, 1768
    Title: To industrious FAMILIES, who want land. WHEREAS the undernamed
    To industrious FAMILIES, who want land. WHEREAS the undernamed persons, and sundry others in company, have obtained grants of two townships, in the province of Nova Scotia, one of them called Monckton, on the river Peticoodiac, and the other called Franckfort, on St. JohnRiver, containing one hundred thousand acres each, universally allowed to be some of the best lands in that province, having good navigation to each of said townships, and large quantities of meadow ground, already made and imbanked in the first mentioned township, where a considerable number of families from this province, have been settled for two years past, and who have expressed the highest approbation of the lands, in letters to their friends; and whereas the proprietors of said townships, intend to provide a vessel, and send out a number of families this spring, with a surveyor to lay out the lands for the said settlers, and those who are already settled, any industrious persons, who may want lands for themselves and families, are desired to apply to Michael Hillegas, Edward Duffield, William Craig, and John Bailey, of the city of Philadelphia; the Rev. Mr. Thomas Barton, of Lancaster; William Moore, Esq; and Anthony Wayne, in Chester county; John Hughes, of Upper Merion; and Benjamin Jacobs, of New Providence, in Philadelphia county, who will make known the terms of settlement, enter into articles, and give all reasonable encouragement.

    I thought that readers would like to know what Anthony Wayne was doing before he went “Mad.”


  • Addendum to my last post:

    This deed tightens the Franklin Collection at the American Philosophical Society.

    Deed by Montague Wilmot, Esqr., October 31, 1765, for 100,000 Acres in Nova Scotia. I put this into the Internet Archive:



    (University of New Brunswick Libraries Electronic Text Centre)

    “NA [n.d.], Deed – 1765 October 31 Registered at Halifax on 1765 November 1. Property deeded to: McNutt, Alexander Clarkson, Matthew Duffield, Edward Clarkson, Geraldus Naglee, John Franklin, Benjamin Wayne, Anthony Hughes, John Cox, Jr., John Caton, Issac Rolfe, John Caton, James Smith, William Neil, Hugh Barton, Thomas Moore, William Richardson, Joseph Hall, John Craig, William Jacobs, Joseph Bailey, John Jacobs, Israil Jacobs, Benjamin by: Montague Wilmot, Esq., Capt. Gen. and Governor in Chief in an(d)over his Majesty’s Province of Nova Scotia or Acadia an(d) its Dependacies, Vice Admiral of the same.”

    By they way –
    the Canadians are pretty poor at reading cursive writing & transcribing it into text.


  • The 1929 copy of Mad Anthony Wayne by Boyd is the next book on my pile of ‘To Read’. Now I really can’t wait to get into it.

    1. I’m glad you are excited for Wayne! I might recommend a more recent Wayne bio by Paul David Nelson- Anthony Wayne: Soldier of the Early Republic. Very readable, and coupled with a perusal of Wayne’s letters to Washington (or even better Wayne’s papers, though not digitized) on Founders Online, you’ll get a great well rounded sense of the man!

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