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Anthony Wayne's Grave

By Patrick Riley

Milestones Vol 34 No. 4

On November 13, 1796, after accepting the surrender of the British fort at Detroit, General Anthony Wayne boarded the sloop Detroit and sailed to Erie, Pennsylvania. He arrived there on the 18th suffering from an attack of Gout, a disease prevalent in one branch of his family. After suffering in agony for two weeks, Dr. John Wallace was summoned from Fort Fayette in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately General Wayne, Commander-in-Chief of the Legion of the United States, died before the doctor arrived on the morning of December 15, 1796. His last request as he lay dying in the lonely windswept blockhouse at Erie was to be buried beneath the flagpole.

There he rested with no marker to delineate the final resting place of one of Pennsylvania's finest generals. Over time the blockhouse fell into disrepair and then burned down. Eventually the flagpole, which had stood like a silent sentinel guarding the general's grave, succumbed to the ravages of time and it too fell. An unknown citizen of the United States, outraged at his nation's disrespect for General Wayne, wrote the following article, which appeared in the Columbian Centinel on Saturday, July 23, 1809.

The Revolutionary Hero.

(In a late CENTINEL, we gave the proceedings of the Pennsylvania State Society of Cincinnati, on the subject of a monument to the memory of Gen. ANTHONY WAYNE ­ In the New York American Citizen, we find the following extract of a letter, on the same subject, from a gentleman on his travels through the United States- "The period we hope" says the Newport Mercury, is coming when American heroes will have other monuments as well as those "in the grateful hearts of their countrymen."- The use which has been made of the latter expression has been liable to a suspicion of being an excuse for a disgraceful parsimony.)

"Fort Le Boeuf, August 25, 1807.

"There was formerly a considerable garrison kept at Presque Isle, and if I mistake not, used to be the headquarters of Gen Wayne. The fort and other works are now rapidly going to decay, nor are they much to be regretted, as the post will scarcely ever be occupied again in case of an Indian war. Recollecting that the remains of that worthy veteran Gen. Anthony Wayne were interred at his particular request under the Flag Staff belonging to this fort, I was induced one morning to pay it a visit, expecting at least to find a decent if not sumptuous monument erected to his deserved memory- but alas! How fleeting and short lived is the remembrance of those who have served us well?- Where is the American who has not heard of the deeds and services of Wayne in quelling an Indian war, and restoring peace with its ten thousand blessings to the bleeding families of our frontiers? And where, let me ask, is my countrymen whose eye refused a tear to his virtues on hearing of his decease? There is none I believe- And yet he lies neglected and forgotten!- The hero was interred beneath the Flag Staff, which, as if conscious of the honor committed to her charge, impatiently waited for the sepulchral honors due from this country- but alas! Finding him at length neglected and forgotten, the enclosure prostrate, and his grave polluted by unhallowed swine she fell- and in her fall embraced the hero, tomb and all!!

The General's grave had once been paled in, but time had rotted and thrown down the principal part; I replaced the whole- and should it stand a year, or even a day. I feel well pleased with having done my duty. At the head of the grave stands a small misshapen flat stone, picked out of the rubbish of the fort, with A.W. the initials of the General's name scratched with a nail! No epitaph. The wretched space below was yet unoccupied- Could I depart and leave it still a blank?- No, my friend, I could not; but with my pen knife engraved in rude but legible characters, "SHAME ON MY COUNTRY."

Anthony Wayne's son, Isaac traveled to Erie in July of 1809 to retrieve the bones of his father. The author believes that the above news article was one of the main reasons for Isaac Wayne's trip. That tale we shall tell in the future.

On October 23, 2009, the Legion Ville Historical Society of Beaver County was invited to commemorate the 200th anniversary of this event at Wayne's home at Historic Waynesborough, near Philadelphia, where the General's "bones" will lay in state under a military honor guard. Thomas Fleming author of, Washington's Secret War; the Perils of Peace and Intimate lives of the Founding Fathers spoke at the event. On October 24, the "bones" arrived at St. David's Church in Radnor, Pennsylvania where there was a ceremony at Wayne's final resting place.

Perhaps some day we can locate the seventeen unmarked graves at Legion Ville and erect a monument to their sacrifice to this country. Until then perhaps I will also etch on a stone at Legion Ville, "SHAME ON MY COUNTRY."