About James Mitchell Varnum
James Mitchell Varnum (December 17, 1748 – January 9, 1789) was an American legislator, lawyer and a general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
James Mitchell Varnum was born in Dracut, Massachusetts. As a young man he matriculated at Harvard College only to transfer to the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (later named Brown University), where he graduated with honors in 1769. In Rhode Island he met his future wife.
Leadership in the American Revolution
Along with Nathanael Greene he served in the Kentish Guards. He served as a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, serving from 1777 until 1779. Varnum advocated allowing African Americans to enlist in the Continental Army, which resulted in the reformation of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment as an all-black unit. Varnum was a disciple of General Charles Lee and a serious critic of the position of Inspector General held in 1778 by Baron Von Steuben. After Varnum resigned his Continental Army commission because of personal business matters, he was appointed major general of Rhode Island militia. He led troops in the service of the United States in July and August, 1780, under the Comte de Rochambeau who commanded allied troops sent by King Louis XVI of France. General Varnum served at the siege of Boston, the battles at Long Island, White Plains, Red Bank, at Valley Forge and the battle of Rhode Island.
He later represented Rhode Island in the Continental Congress (1780–1781 and 1787). After the Revolutionary War, along with General George Washington, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, Thomas Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and several others, he became a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati.
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 at his funeral.
General Varnum's home, the Gen. James Mitchell Varnum House in East Greenwich, Rhode Island is a tourist attraction today. Varnum's brother was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Joseph Bradley Varnum.
-------------------- Brigadier General, Continental Army, James Varnum is descended from Mayflower Pilgrim Francis Cooke.