Varnum, james mitchel - History

Varnum, james mitchel - History

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Varnum, James Mitchel (1748-1789) General: Varnum studied at Brown, and was admitted to the bar in 1771, establishing a legal practice in Rhode Island. He was commissioned as colonel of the 1st Rhode Island infantry, and saw action at the shelling of Roxbury, Massachusetts, the siege of Boston, the struggle at Harlem Heights, and the Battle of White Plains. He was appointed brigadier-general of Rhode Island troops and, in 1776, he was given the same rank in the Continental Army. Varnum defended the forts on the Delaware River, was present at Valley Forge in the infamous winter of 1778, and took part in the Battle of Rhode Island. In 1778, he advocated the raising of a battalion of African-Americans in Rhode Island, and, largely due to his influence, the legislature passed an act offering freedom to all slaves that would enlist in the army. In 1779, Varnum resigned his commission, was honorably discharged, and returned to his legal practice in Rhode Island. Varnum was acknowledged as a polished and gracious orator, "a man of uncommon talents and most brilliant eloquence." From 1779 to 1788, he was major-general of the Rhode Island militia, and served in the Continental Congress twice, 1780-82 and 1786-87. Congress appointed him one of the judges of the Northwest territory in 1787. Varnum was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati, and second president of the Rhode Island branch of that organization.

James Mitchell Varnum Wins the Right to a Jury Trial for Rhode Island

James Mitchell Varnum fought against English rule in the American Revolution as one of George Washington’s generals. Then shortly after the war he fought for the rule of English law in a Rhode Island courtroom.

The case, one of the most famous in U.S. history, involved the right to refuse paper money and the right to a trial by jury. It set the precedent that the courts have a right to review and strike down laws deemed unconstitutional.

Charles Wilson Peale painting of James Mitchell Varnum

James Mitchell Varnum

James Mitchell Varnum (December 17, 1748 – January 9, 1789) was an American legislator, lawyer, general [1] in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and a pioneer to the Ohio Country. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] "The career of Gen. Varnum was active, but brief. He graduated at twenty was admitted to the bar at twenty-two entered the army at twenty-seven resigned his commission at thirty-one was member of Congress the same year resumed practice at thirty-three, and continued four years, was elected to Congress again at thirty-seven emigrated to the west at thirty-nine, and died at the early age of forty." [7] James Mitchell Varnum was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati of the State of Rhode Island. [8]

James Mitchell Varnum was "a man of boundless zeal, of warm feelings, of great honesty, of singular disinterestedness and, as to talents, of prodigal imagination, a dextrous reasoner, and a splendid orator. He was a man made on a gigantic scale his very defects were masculine and powerful, 'and, we shall not soon look upon his like again.'" [9]

Legal career and later life

Varnum was also well known as a jurist. He successfully represented the defendant in Trevett v. Weeden one of the earliest cases of judicial review. In 1787, Varnum was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territory, and moved to Marietta, Ohio, to take up his duties he was one of the early pioneers to the Northwest Territory. He died less than two years later of consumption, and his marker is located in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta. His college classmate the distinguished physician Solomon Drowne eulogized him during an oration at the one-year anniversary celebration of the founding of Marietta:

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC06320 Author/Creator: Greene, Nathanael (1742-1786) Place Written: Camp at the Crossroads Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 14 August 1777 Pagination: 3 p. : address : docket : free frank 32 x 19.5 cm.

Written by Major General Greene to Brigadier General Varnum.
Greene was with Washington's's army and Varnum was in Peekskill to defend against a link-up between Burgoyne's offensive and any possible expedition from New York City. References Varnum's letter of 8 July 1777. Mentions that he is confused by the strategic moves of the British toward Philadelphia saying "this Manoeuvre of General Howes is so strange and unaccountable that it exceeds all conjecture. General Burgoyne's rapid marches into the country is a strong proof to me that he expects to be supported from some other quarter." Is glad to hear the Highlands are so well defended, but fears the obstructions in the River - probably the chain in the Hudson River - will not be sufficient. Says Varnum's report on General Philip Schuyler is just and that his talents will be useless if he has lost the confidence of his army. Says Gates has been put in command and "I hope he will succeed better." Claims that "Philadelphia is the American Diana she must be preserved at all events." Says the American strategic plan was to cover the Hudson River to Philadelphia, but that there has been such a cry for the defense of Philadelphia that General Washington has been forced to do things contrary to his judgment. The letter appears to have been trimmed at the edges. Free frank is signature under address.

Camp at the Crossroads August 14- 1777

Yours of the 8th of this instant I have receivd - you are much mistakeen respecting the destination of Sir William being known, before yours reach't me- I am totally ignorant yes this Manocuure of General Howes is so strange and unaccountable that it exceeds all conjecture
General Burgonye's rapid marches into the country is a strong proof to me that he expects to be supported from some other quarter. This leads me to conclude that General Howes designs are ultimately against New England. notwithstanding his excentricly movements. I am glad to hear you are so well prepard to defend the [struck: highlands] Hylands. Hear the obstructions in the River will scarcely sufficient to check the Enemies progress with their ships [strikeout] [2]
O Your observations are very just respecting General Schuyler if he has lost the confidence of the people his talents will be useless. The Congress were made sensible of that and have appointed Major General Gates to the command. I hope he will succeed better- I think it an object of the first importance to give a check to Burgoyne and the very plan which you mention has often been proposd both with respect to Burgoyne & New York. Philadelphia is the American Diana he must be preserved at all events. There is great attention paid to this City- it is true it is one of the first upon the continent but in my opinion is an object of far less importance than the North river- Our position in the Jerseys was calculated to cover the North River & Philadelphia and afford protection to the State of New Jers[inserted: y] but the cry was to great for the salvation of Philadelphia- that the General was prevailed into leave Coryells ferry [3] contrary to his Judgement and march down to the City and I expect to have out labour for our pains- We are now within about twenty miles of the City waiting to get better information. there has been several expresses from [Scnepax] in an inlet about halfway between the Capes of Delaware and Chesapeake Bay, who confidently assert the fleet have been seen off there for several days- but I cannot credit it.
I shall mention to the General the Rhode Island troops are without commissions and als the detachment that is detaind at Rhode Island. contrary to your Orders. -
I am Sir your most
obedient & very
humble Servt
N Greene

Gen.l Greens Letter
Dated Augst 1777
Genl Washington for
ced into the Write-
ment to cure Phi
lade [espionage] inst
his Judgment
Philadia the Ame
Rican Diana & ca
Burgoynes Movements
Schuyler superceded

James Mitchell VARNUM, Congress, RI (1748-1789)

VARNUM, James Mitchell , (brother of Joseph Bradley Varnum), a Delegate from Rhode Island born in Dracut, Middlesex County, Mass., December 17, 1748 was graduated from the College of Rhode Island, Warren, R.I. (later Brown University, Providence, R.I.), in 1769 studied law was admitted to the bar in 1771 and commenced practice in East Greenwich, R.I. served in the Revolutionary Army, and was colonel of the ?Kentish Guards? in 1774 and of Varnum's Rhode Island Regiment in 1775 commissioned colonel of the Ninth Continental Infantry in 1776 brigadier general of State troops December 12, 1776 brigadier general in the Continental Army February 21, 1777, and was honorably discharged March 5, 1779 appointed major general of State militia in May 1779 resumed the practice of law in East Greenwich, R.I. Member of the Continental Congress 1780-1781, and 1787 appointed a judge of the United States Court in the Northwest Territory in 1787 moved to Marietta, Ohio, in 1788, and died there January 10, 1789 interment in Mound Cemetery.

See also

  1. ^ Heitman, Officers of the Continental Army, 559.
  2. ^ Wilkins, Memoirs of the Rhode Island Bar, 145-239.
  3. ^ Hildreth, Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, 165-85.
  4. ^ Conley, Rhode Island's Founders, 134-37.
  5. ^ Dodge, Directory of the United States Congress 1774-2005, 2089.
  6. ^ Leiter, Generals of the Continental Army, 102-03.
  7. ^ Hildreth, Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, 184-85.
  8. ^ Hildreth, Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, 185.
  9. ^ Hildreth, Pioneer History, 520.

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.03351 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 26 November 1786 Pagination: 3 p. : docket 21 x 15.9 cm.

Reports that Captain James Lees, who served under Varnum in "the gallant defence of [Mud] Island on the delaware," asked Knox to request from Varnum a certificate of Lees' eye injury. Knox asks Varnum to draft and sign a statement related to Lees' injury, and to obtain Major Thayer's signature (possibly Simeon Thayer).

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Varnum was born in Dracut, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1748. He attended Harvard and then Rhode Island College (now Brown University). An honors student, he graduated in 1769 after successfully debating the thesis that America should remain a colonial dependent of England. He taught school for a brief period, studied law with Rhode Island's attorney general, and then opened his own legal office in East Greenwich. In 1774, he helped to organize Rhode Island's Kentish Guards, of which he was commissioned colonel.

After the British marched on Lexington and Concord, Varnum joined the Rhode Island militia. He served during the siege of Boston and the Battle of Long Island. He later commanded Continental Army troops at Forts Mercer and Mifflin, for which he received a commendation. After the winter at Valley Forge, and the Monmouth and the Newport campaigns, he became commander of the Department of Rhode Island. He remained in this position to revive his law practice. He was a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati and its Rhode Island chapter's first vice president.

At the end of the war, Varnum represented Rhode Island in Congress from 1780 to 1782 and again in 1787, when he supported the new federal Constitution. That year, his work as a director of the Ohio Company of Associates earned him an appointment as a federal judge for the Northwest Territory. There, he helped to write the territory's legal code. Varnum died in Marietta, Ohio, on January 10, 1789.

General James Varnum

James Mitchel Varnum was born on December 17, 1748 in Dracutt, Massachusetts. He was one of twelve children of Samuel Varnum, a longstanding farmer and town clerk of Dracutt. At the age of sixteen, Varnum entered Harvard University, but for unknown reasons withdrew two years before graduation. After teaching school in Dracutt for a year, he enrolled at Rhode Island College (now Brown University) on May 23, 1768. In 1769, at the age of twenty, Varnum graduated from college with honors. While in college he had fallen in love with Martha Child, from Warren, Rhode Island. They were married on February 2, 1770.

In 1771, at the age of twenty-two, he was admitted to the bar and moved to East Greenwich, Rhode Island with his wife. He then proceeded to build an extensive legal practice throughout the colony.

A good deal of information concerning Varnum can be found in Wilkins Updyke’s memoirs of the Rhode Island Bar. Updyke describes Varnum as “an intense student, [who] would be secluded for weeks at a time. His habits were those of intense study and boisterous relaxation. He was master of his cases, and all the facts were well arranged and digested for trial.” At the time James Varnum practiced law it was the fashion to dress for the most impressive appearance possible. The following court scene was described by Updyke:

General Varnum appeared with his brich-colored coat trimmed with gold lace, buck skin and small clothes, with gold lace knee bands, silk stockings and boots with a high delicate and white forehead, with a cowlick on the right side eyes prominent and of a dark hue. His complexion was rather florid – somewhat corpulent, well proportioned and finely formed for strength and agility, large eyebrows, nose straight and rather broad, teeth perfectly white, and a profuse head of hair, short on the forehead, turned up some and deeply powdered and clubbed. When he took off his cocked hat he would lightly brush up his hair forward while with a fascinating smile lighting up his countenance he took his seat in court opposite his opponent. No one thought himself in a trial without him.

Varnum also took an active interest in military affairs, since he felt a conflict with Great Britain was inevitable. He studied the art and science of war with the same enthusiasm and grim determination of his law practice. In October 1774, at the age of twenty-six, he became a charter member and commander of the Kentish Guards, and infantry militia company residing in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. While serving in this unit he became good friends with Nathaniel Greene, who later became a Major General in the Continental Army.

Varnum assembled the Kentish Guards when news of the battles of Lexington and Concord reached East Greenwich, and within a matter of hours the armed men started their march to Boston. A rider intercepted the company at Pawtuchet, Rhode Island with news that the British had returned to Boston, so the Guards returned home. In May 1775, the General Assembly commissioned Varnum Colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rhode Island. In 1776 the regiment was incorporated into the Continental Army as the 9th Continental Foot under the command of Brigadier General Nathanael Greene. From June 1775 to March 1779, Varnum and his Rhode Islanders participated in six major engagements including the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Battle of Rhode Island.

In the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, Varnum, corresponding with his home state and Congress, attempted to procure provisions for his troops. His administrative skills caused Washington to refer to Varnum as “the light of the camp”. In June, Varnum left his troops to return home to Rhode Island for special duties. Varnum suggested to Washington that Rhode Island raise a battalion of negro troops. After General Washington sent the proposal to the governor of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island General Assembly promptly passed legislation authorizing the enlistment of negroes and Indians. In March 1779, at the age of thirty-one, Varnum resigned his commission to take a commission as Major General of the Rhode Island militia which fought in the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1779.

Upon returning home to East Greenwich after the war, Varnum was elected to the Continental Congress in 1780, 1782, and 1786. His name appears frequently in the Congressional Journals, indicating his great influence. Varnum’s skills as a brilliant attorney were not neglected and continued to grow as he resumed his practice. At the age of thirty nine, Varnum was appointed Judge in the newly opened Ohio Territory. He died of tuberculosis in Ohio on January 10, 1789 at the age of forty.

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