Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Varnum, James Mitchel

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VARNUM, James Mitchel, soldier, b. in Dracut, Mass., 17 Dec., 1748; d. in Marietta, Ohio, 10 Jan., 1789. His great-grandfather came to Massachusetts about 1634. James was graduated at Brown in 1769, admitted to the bar in 1771, and settled in East Greenwich, R. I., where he practised his profession. In 1774 he became colonel of the Kentish guards, and at the beginning of the Revolutionary war he was commissioned as colonel of the 1st Rhode Island infantry, 8 May, 1775, and was present with his regiment at the shelling of Roxbury, Mass., the siege of Boston, the action at Harlem Heights, and the battle of White Plains. He was specially recommended for retention in the army on its rearrangement for the war, was appointed brigadier-general of Rhode Island troops, 12 Dec., 1776, and to the same rank in the Continental army, 13 Feb., 1777, and took part with his brigade in numerous engagements, including that at Red Bank, where he commanded all the American troops on the Jersey side of the Delaware. He rendered valuable services in the defence of the forts on the Delaware, was at Valley Forge in the winter of 1778, and afterward took an active part at the battle of Rhode Island. In 1778 he advocated the raising of a battalion of negroes in Rhode Island, and at his instance the legislature passed an act offering freedom to all slaves that should enlist in the army. He resigned his commission and was honorably discharged, 5 March, 1779, and resumed the practice of his profession at East Greenwich, where he speedily attained the first rank as a lawyer, took part in most of the chief cases in Rhode Island, and was recognized as a polished and eloquent orator. He was major-general of the Rhode Island militia from 1779 till 1788, and in that capacity was in the service of the United States in July and August, 1780, under the Comte de Rochambeau. He was a member of the Continental congress from Rhode Island in 1780-'2 and 1786-'7, and was there recognized by his colleagues as “a man of uncommon talents and most brilliant eloquence.” In October, 1787, he was appointed by congress one of the judges of the Northwest territory, and removed to Marietta, Ohio, in June, 1788. He was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati, and second president of the Rhode Island society of that order. — His brother, Joseph Bradley, senator, b. in Dracutt, Mass., 29 Jan., 1750; d. there, 21 Sept., 1821, at the age of eighteen was commissioned captain by the committee of the colony of Massachusetts bay, and in 1787 colonel by the commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was made brigadier-general in 1802, and in 1805 major-general of the state militia, holding the latter office at his death in 1821. From 1780 till 1795 he was a member of the house of representatives and senate of Massachusetts, and in 1787 and 1795 he served as a member of the governor's council. From 1795 till 1811 he was a member of the National house of representatives, during which time he was chosen speaker two terms, from 1807 till 1811, being the immediate predecessor of Henry Clay. From 1811 till 1817 he was U. S. senator from Massachusetts, being elected in opposition to Timothy Pickering, and he was president pro tempore of the senate and acting vice-president of the United States from 6 Dec., 1813, till 17 April, 1814. He was a member of the State convention to ratify the constitution of the United States in 1787, and that of 1820 to revise the constitution of Massachusetts, acting as the presiding officer in the absence of President John Adams and Chief-Justice Parker. In 1813 he was a candidate for governor of Massachusetts against Caleb Strong, the incumbent of that office, but was defeated. Gen. Varmun was among the earliest patriots of the Revolution, having raised and commanded as captain a company of minute-men from his native town, which participated in engagements in Rhode Island and New York. For his assistance in putting down Shays's rebellion in 1787 he received a personal letter of thanks from Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, commanding the state forces. Henry Wilson, in his “History of Slavery,” quotes him in the debate on the bill for the government of the Mississippi territory before the house in March, 1798, as having been very strong and outspoken in his opposition to negro servitude. In politics, unlike his brother, Gen. James M. Varnum. who was a Federalist, he was a Democrat, and a strong and consistent supporter of the administration of Thomas Jefferson. After his retirement in 1817 from congress he was again chosen to represent his district in the legislature, and when he died he was the senior member of the senate of Massachusetts. Among the portraits of the speakers of the National house of representatives at the capitol in Washington there is a fine oil-painting of Gen. Varnum by Charles L. Elliott, a gift from the state of Massachusetts. — A grandson of Joseph B., Joseph Bradley, lawyer, b. in Washington, D. C., 9 June, 1818; d. in Astoria, N. Y., 31 Dec., 1874, was graduated at Yale in 1838, studied law at Yale and with Roger B. Taney in Baltimore, Md., and after admission to the bar practised in that city for several years. He then removed to New York city and acquired a large practice. He was a member of the New York legislature from 1849 till 1851, being chosen speaker of the assembly for the latter year. In 1852 he was the Whig candidate for congress in his district. He was a member of the assembly again in 1857. In 1871 he took an active part in the agitation against corruption in the government of New York city. He was a contributor to magazines and newspapers, and published in book-form “The Seat of Government of the United States” (New York, 1848) and “The Washington Sketch-Book.”