In celebration of National Bird Day on Jan. 5, we remember Arthur Trezevant Wayne, probably one of the greatest Charlestonians you’ve never heard of.

Hailed as South Carolina’s “premier son of science” Wayne was born on New Year’s Day 1863 in Blackville, about 80 miles northwest of Charleston, as his mother sought refuge during the Civil War. Returning to Charleston with his family after the war, Arthur attended local schools where he was a good student, though he tended to allow his attention to wander to whatever might catch his fancy outside the classroom window.

Arthur Trezevant Wayne. Image Source:
Arthur spent much of his free time at The Charleston Museum with its director, Dr. Gabriel Manigault, who encouraged the boy’s interest in natural history. Arthur was enthralled by the museum’s collections.

Upon graduation, his parents found Arthur a position with a local mercantile company. “A short experience with that firm was not of benefit to either of the parties concerned,” wrote his future colleague, Alexander Sprunt, years later. Arthur lost the job.

His parents then secured him a second office job, which held as much interest for the young man as his first had. After Dr. Manigault introduced Arthur to visiting ornithologist William Brewster in 1883, he abandoned all pretense of having a business career and dedicated the rest of his life to studying birds. Arthur’s parents made one last effort to secure Arthur’s future by finding him a nice wife from a good family of some means.

Arthur married Maria Louisa Porcher of Porcher’s Bluff plantation, seven miles north of Mt. Pleasant, in June 1889. He secured a job at The Charleston Museum as its curator, but unfortunately it was unsalaried. Living in a small house on his in-laws’ property, Arthur eked out a living collecting and selling bird specimens.

With the help of his incredibly supportive wife, Arthur Wayne spent the rest of his life pursuing his passion for ornithology. Maria Louisa spent the rest of her life looking out for the health and safety of her husband, who would get so wrapped up in his work he would disappear until late into the evening. Maria Louisa often had to round up a posse of friends and relatives to look for him in the woodlands surrounding Porcher’s Bluff. The two were a perfect match and shared a happy life together.

“Never did a man chose so wisely and so well; never was there a helpmate whose courage and devotion transcended that of the woman who became his wife,” Sprunt wrote of the couple. “Silently, and without thought of self, she made it possible for him to do what he did, shouldering everything which would detract from his concentration on his work and standing like a bulwark between him and the detailed routine of life.”

Wayne discovered two avian subspecies that were named in his honor: Wayne’s clapper rail (Rallus longirostis waynei) and Wayne’s warbler (Dendroica virens waynei). He was a frequent contributor to scientific publications around the world and wrote Birds of South Carolina, published by The Charleston Museum in 1910.

Wayne’s clapper rail
Wayne’s warbler
Colleagues claimed Wayne’s empathy and intuition for birds was such that he could determine their gender without even seeing the scientific evidence necessary to determine it. A skilled taxidermist, Wayne’s mounted birds are displayed in museums around the world even today, the largest collection of which is in Charleston.

Except for several rare trips for research and health, Wayne never traveled more than 20 miles from Porcher’s Bluff, even though he was often invited to speak at global conferences. Because of that, the American Ornithologists Union decided to hold their 1928 conference in Charleston so that Wayne could serve as the keynote speaker. Unfortunately, he came down with a cold and could not attend. Maria Louisa read his speech to the assembly on his behalf.

Despite his aversion to travel, Arthur Wayne maintained deep, long-lasting friendships with international scientists through letters. Many would visit Wayne when they were in the U.S. Southeast. The silver tray Maria Louisa kept by the door for calling cards read like a virtual Who’s Who of early 20th-century scientists, according to Sprunt.

Arthur Wayne died of a stroke at Porcher’s Bluff on May 5, 1930, with Maria Louisa by his side. When he was buried at Christ Church Mt. Pleasant, those at his funeral reported the “birds were chirping in great profusion, a most fitting tribute to a man whose lifetime passion was their study and welfare.”
Headstone with bird details at Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant, Highway 17 N. Image Source: