Varnum, james mitchel

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.