The Journal Gazette
Sunday, March 10, 2019 1:00 am

Council resolution misinterprets our past

John Gardner

The City Council resolution declaring July 16 as Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne Day in Fort Wayne was a poke in the eye for those who care about good government and a well-informed understanding of our past.

The resolution as approved is frivolous, unnecessarily provocative, sloppy in composition, replete with dubious conjecture and full of historical inaccuracy. If Council was intending to offer residents a valuable and needed history lesson, it failed. The resolution ought to be rescinded, if only to cast Council in something other than ill-informed light.

The resolution fails to properly note that Maj. Gen. Wayne was commander of the Legion of the United States (1792-96),  a congressionally approved reorganization of the U.S. Army after the disastrous leadership of Arthur St. Clair.

The resolution repeats the disproved story that Gen. Wayne gained his “Mad” reputation at the Battle of Stoney Point (1779). While Wayne's leadership at Stoney Point was daring and courageous, “Mad” was a much-whispered character description Wayne earned through intemperate and rash behavior off the battlefield.

The resolution engages in conjecture, asserting the victory at Stoney Point saved George Washington from “capture” while “encamped” at West Point in the summer and fall of 1779. Washington was not encamped at West Point; he was headquartered there. While Washington faced many perilous moments during the course of the Revolutionary War, his security at West Point was never seriously threatened.

The resolution misleadingly asserts that Wayne's defeat of British and native forces at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794) resulted in the “establishment of Fort Recovery and our beloved Fort Wayne.” In fact, Fort Recovery was up and running prior to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. And as most residents are aware, Fort Wayne's history, richly textured with Native American, French and British influences, long predates Wayne's assertion of U.S. sovereignty in 1794.

Fort Wayne's namesake was a colorful, flawed, complex man. His brilliance was confined largely to the military endeavors for which he is rightly remembered.

Otherwise, his life was riddled with scandal. He narrowly avoided financial ruin with misadventure in managing a Southern plantation, a humiliation so troubling to Wayne's mother that he was disinherited; he was expelled from political office for election fraud; his love of vaunted fashion, wine bibbing and women (excluding his wife, whom he largely abandoned) was common knowledge during his lifetime.

We remember Anthony Wayne with a bronze statue, streets, buildings and schools, along with numerous organizations that bear his name. He suffers no lack of homage. What he doesn't merit is remembrance based upon wishful thinking as evident in the shoddy, ill-conceived resolution passed by City Council.

For a full and sympathetic portrayal of Wayne, Mary Stockwell's “Unlikely General – 'Mad' Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America” (2018) is available at the Allen County Public Library.

A final note: The naming of our city has nothing whatsoever to do with the July 16 defeat of British forces at Stoney Point, New York. Our name dates from late October 1794, when Col. Jean Francis Hamtramck commissioned the fort that was hastily constructed to pierce the heart of Kekionga. Hamtramck was following orders dictated by Commander of the Legion of the United States, Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne. To the victor goes the naming rights.

John Gardner is the retired senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church.

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