Today Fort Wayne will be offering a tribute to Anthony Wayne, a general who played an important role in the Revolutionary War and won a key victory against a coalition of Indian tribes that opened this part of America to white settlement.
Fort Wayne, of course, has a special connection to the general, who founded the fort from which the city drew its name. But Wayne and his times deserve a far more thoughtful and nuanced commemoration than provided for in the resolution passed by City Council last year to create the holiday. Facts in the resolution introduced by Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, have been challenged. The bigger problem is that the council, with minimal discussion or thought, passed up a chance for a broader, more inclusive look at a significant time in our history.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1745, Wayne worked as a surveyor and served in the Pennsylvania state legislature before eagerly raising a command of soldiers to join the fight for independence from Britain. Wayne proved to be a courageous and skilled military tactician and soon became one of Gen. George Washington's most trusted lieutenants. On July 16, 1779 – 240 years ago today – Wayne's stealthy, well-planned attack drove the British from Stony Point, a key fortification along the Hudson River.
In 1792, as president, Washington asked Wayne to return to military service to lead the newly reorganized American army against a confederation of Indian tribes who were fighting to keep control of much of the upper Midwest, then called the Northwest Territory. Twice, U.S. forces had been defeated by the confederation, led by Miami chieftain Little Turtle.
Wayne, who meticulously trained his troops and carefully planned his campaign, defeated the Indian confederation, now under the leadership of Chief Blue Jacket of the Shawnee, at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on Aug. 20, 1794. That was by no means the end of the long,often-brutal struggle between the expanding United States and the Indian nations. But Wayne's victory led him to establish Fort Wayne, the military base, that same year. And the Treaty of Greenville, which Wayne negotiated with the Indian leaders in 1795 at another fort he had established in southwest Ohio, led to a decade of peace that opened the way for U.S. westward expansion.
History, though, is often written by the winners, and Wayne's actions, judged in retrospect, were not always as heroic and just as they have traditionally been painted. After Fallen Timbers, Wayne's army razed Indian settlements and crops within 50 miles of the battlefield.
“Heading back down the Maumee, he torched every town, field, and orchard,” according to a 2018 biography, “Unlikely General: 'Mad' Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America,” by Mary Stockwell. Shannon Hughes, who oversees programming at the Fallen Timbers and Fort Miamis National Historic Site near Toledo, considers herself an expert only on Wayne's actions during that campaign, but said in an interview recently, “I don't see where the compassion comes from.”
Wayne, though, seemed to learn and grow as he fought fiercely for his emerging nation. By the end of his life, he had come to hate war and came to be embraced not only by the citizens of the new United States but by many of the Indians whose brethren his army had killed and whose lands he had ordered razed. That included Little Turtle, who was among the chiefs who signed the Treaty of Greenville, and who was for the rest of his life an advocate for peace and cooperation between Indians and whites.
In 1796, “as Wayne headed ... toward Fort Miamis,” Stockwell wrote, “Indians greeted him all along the way. The chiefs who signed the Treaty of Greenville, as well as many of the warriors who fought him at the Maumee Rapids, now admired him. They no longer called him the Wind, nor the Black Snake, but instead greeted him as 'Father.' Some even named their children after him.”
The story of Anthony Wayne's life and times is part of a larger story all Americans should know – especially those of us who live in places directly touched by that history.
There are two easy steps the city could take to make next year's Wayne celebration more meaningful. One is consulting authors and historians to present historically reliable information about the general's role in that seminal era of American history. The other is to broaden it to recognize Little Turtle and his significant and equally complicated role in that era.