JAMES MITCHELL VARNUM was born in Dracut, Massachusetts, -- long the residence of his family, -- in the year 1749, and was educated at the Rhode Island college, now Brown University, at which he graduated with a high reputation for scholarship in the twentieth year of his age, vindicating with much ability in a commencement discussion the right of the colonies to resist British taxation. He subsequently studied the law, with Attorney-General Arnold, and on being admitted to the bar settled at East Greenwich, where he rapidly acquired an extensive and lucrative practice. As the troubles thickened with England he turned his attention to a military life, joined the "Kentish Guards," and in 1774 was made commander of that company, which during the revolution gave to the army General Greene, Colonel Crary, Major Whitmarsh, and some thirty other commissioned officers. When intelligence of the battle of Lexington reached Rhode Island, Varnum started with his associates for the scene of action; but they returned upon hearing that the enemy had retired to Boston, and when the legislature assembled, the next week, Greene was appointed a brigadier-general, and Varnum and two others colonels, with which rank they were soon after admitted to the continental establishment.
On the 21st of February, 1777, Varnum was commissioned as a brigadier-general, and on the 3d of March Washington communicated to him his promotion in a very flattering letter. When Burgoyne approached Ticonderoga, the commander-in-chief, anticipating an attempt to unite to that general's forces the army in New York, ordered General Varnum with his brigade to Peekskill, on the Hudson; and on the 1st of November he was detached