"PURCHASE ALL THE GOOD RIFLES YOU CAN MEET WITH": RARE AUTOGRAPH FEBRUARY 1776 REVOLUTIONARY WAR LETTER WRITTEN AND SIGNED BY "MAD" ANTHONY WAYNE TO CAPTAIN JOHN LACEY DIRECTING HIM TO MUSTER HIS MEN IN BUCKS COUNTY AND PURCHASE RIFLES IN PREPARATION FOR MARCHING TO NEW YORK
WAYNE, Anthony. Autograph letter signed. Philadelphia, February 24, 1776. Single sheet of unlined paper, measuring 7 by 9 inches, mounted on a bordered page. $15,500.
Exceptional February 1776 autograph signed letter from "Mad" Anthony Wayne to Captain John Lacey, ordering that Lacey—his longtime adversary—recruit men and round up enlistees in Bucks County; arrange for a commissioned officer to train those men at Darby; and purchase good rifles in preparation for marching toward New York in the build up for the Battle of Trois-Rivières.
The autograph letter, written entirely in Anthony Wayne's hand and dated, "Phila. Feby 24th. 1776," reads in full: "Capt. Lacey. Sir, you are to proceed to Bucks County in Order to Recruit, and bring in what men you left behind that were before Inlisted. You are to Return to Chester by Friday—Evening next with your People—if you should meet with any Opposition apply to the committee or Officers of the Battalion in the Place where such Opposition happens for their advice and assistance. I wish you success and am Sir Your —— Anthony Wayne. [drawing of a pointing hand] leave one Commissioned Officer with your People at Darby who is to be Industrious in training the men—we are to march to New York as soon as Possible—Purchase all the good Rifles you can meet with."
This letter is a rare example of cordiality between two patriots who detested each other, but fought for a common cause. Captain—later General—Lacey had enlisted early in the war and had served in the Pennsylvania Line under Anthony Wayne repeatedly. Familiarity lead to loathing and, by the end of 1776, Lacey finally retired back to his Bucks County farm. This letter was written just before the event that would lead to his retirement: the Battle of Trois- Rivières. The friction between Wayne and Lacey was largely due to a clash of military leadership styles. While Lacey had immediately fallen into the familiar routines of military life and his time in the regular army of the Continental Line had given him definite opinions about what a soldier should be, Wayne lacked military experience before enlisting and it showed. His baseless bravado and lack of strategic aptitude lead to impulsive battlefield actions that earned him the nickname "Mad" Wayne.
Yet for all of Lacey's experience, he was a poor commander and his inability to work with an inexperienced militia resulted in widespread insubordination. At White Marsh, for example, his men retreated: "Many of the men threw away their guns, that they might be less cumbered in running." Then, upon retreat, when Lacey's horse met a fence that his horse could not jump, his militiamen refused to remove the top rail for him, some firing behind them blindly and nearly hitting Lacey. In the end, his horse was forced to ram through the fence. This letter alludes to Lacey's problems with recruitment, with opposition, and with the need to re-muster forces that he should have been able to keep under control. Wayne's orders suggest turning to other authorities for advice and support, reflecting a certain lack of confidence in Lacey's abilities.
Wayne's letter includes instructions for Lacey to leave an officer in Darby (then Chester County) to train the men he has mustered and for him to purchase as many good rifles as possible. This military build-up was in preparation for the invasion of Canada, one of the major early fronts of the Revolutionary War. Wayne is best known for leading troops at the Battle of Trois-Rivières (or "Three Rivers").
While the Battle of Trois-Rivières resulted in a terrible defeat for the Continental Army, it was an action undertaken with what the colonists believed to be the best of intentions: a free Canada. Beginning in 1775, the colonists had invaded Quebec, attempting to remove the province from British rule. At Trois-Rivières, American troops were spotted crossing the Saint Lawrence. A local farmer directed Americans into a swamp, which enabled the British to establish positions behind the American army. The Americans attempted retreat after a brief engagement, but they were so penned in that the British were able to take a substantial number of prisoners. In the end, Trois-Rivières proved so damaging that the Americans ceased fighting at Quebec and retreated entirely to Fort Ticonderoga in New York. Wayne was promoted to brigadier general a short time later. Wayne and Lacey did not meet again as battlefield compatriots until Lacey reemerged from retirement at Germantown. Accompanied by an engraved portrait of General Anthony Wayne. This item was bound into an extra-illustrated copy of the "History of the City of New York" circa 1872, in the possession of Emery E. Childs, and while the book—expanded to 21 volumes—has passed through several hands, this particular autograph letter has not been on the market since it was bound in, a happy circumstance that has also maintained this rare letter in excellent condition.
Original folds, slightest rubbing to edges before mounting affecting one word. Near-fine condition.