About General James Mitchell Varnum

General James Mitchell Varnum
The Man and his Times

James Mitchell Varnum was born December 17, 1748 at Dracut, Massachusetts. After a period at Harvard, he graduated with honors from Rhode Island College(Brown University) with its first class, 1769. He married Martha (Patty) Child of Warren; was admitted to the bar of Rhode Island in 1771 and settled in East Greenwich.

Varnum showed an early interest in military affairs, becoming the first commander of the Kentish Guards, October 16, 1774, with the rank of Colonel. In 1775, he was commissioned by the General Assembly, Colonel of the First Regiment of Infantry, Army Observation. In 1775-76 he commanded the 12th and later the 9th Continental Regiments. From 1777 to 1779 he was one of Washington's Continental Army Brigadier Generals.

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Genealogy - Varnums of Dracut, MA
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The Varnums of Dracut (In Massachusetts): A History of George Varnum, His Son Samuel Who Came to Ipswich about 1635, and Grandsons Thomas, John and Joseph, Who Settled in Dracutt, and Their Descendants; Compiled from Family Papers and Official Records. Varnum, John M.. Boston, MA. (1907)

In 1779 he was Major General of Rhode Island Militia. General Varnum served with distinction at the siege of Boston, the battles at Long Island, White Plains, Red Bank, at Valley Forge and the battle of Rhode Island. His headquarters still stands at Valley Forge. After the war he became an active member of Society of the Cincinnati.

In the courts, Varnum won his place in legal history with the case of Trevett v. Weeden, the first well-authenticated American case in which an act of a legislative body, the General Assembly, was declared unconstitutional.

Twice elected to the Continental Congress (1780-82 and 1786-87) Varnum had a distinguished and varied career in which he seems to have excelled in whatever he attempted…until he made a fateful move West at age 40.

At this time, he became one of the original founders of the Ohio Company of the Northwest Territory (a favorite project of George Washington's) where he was appointed Federal Judge. In the Spring of 1788, he journeyed on horseback 800 miles to the new Ohio town variously named, "Queen Marie Antoinette" and "Adelphia." The new boomtown, rough and rude as it was, had a Campus Maritius, a via Sacra, and a Captiolenum -- all from the Roman classics. It also had a large delegation of Indians who watched the strange rites of the new settlers.

The first act of the New Directors was to change the town's first name from Adelphia to Marietta, Ohio. Judge Varnum gave an eloquent oration (copies of which still exist). Later, he opened the first court.

By December of 1788, Varnum became ill and within a short while died of consumption. He was buried at the Campus Martius at Marietta.

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