History From America's Most Famous Valleys
The Orderly Book of Sir John Johnson
During the Oriskany Campaign
Annotated by Wm. L. Stone
With an Historical Introduction illustrating the Life of Johnson by J. Watts De Peyster, and Some Tracings from the Foot-Prints of the Tories, or Loyalists in America by T. R. Myers.
Joel Munsell, 1882
GEN. MARINUS WILLETT.
MARINUS WILLETT, the author of Wllett's Narrative, was born at Jamaica, Long Island, July 31st, (O. S.), 1740, He was the youngest of six sons of Edward Willett, a Queen's county farmer, and of excellent family-a younger branch, indeed, of that of Judge Thomas Jones, so well known as the author of the History of New York during the Revolutionary War, recently edited by Edward F. de Lancey, and published under the auspices of the N. Y. His. Soc. Owing to his family becoming much reduced in its circumstances, young Willett came to New York city and served for a time as a constable, which, in those days, was a position fully as dignified as that of sheriff is now. He early became imbued with a military spirit, and joined the army under Abercrombie as a lieutenant in Col. de Lancey's regiment in 1758. He was in the disastrous battle at Ticonderoga, and accompanied Bradstreet against Fort Frontenac. Exposure in the wilderness injured his health, and he was laid up by sickness at Fort Stanwix until the end of the campaign. Willett espoused the cause of the colonies when the troubles with the mother country first began. When the British troops in the New York garrison were ordered to Boston after the fight at Lexington, they attempted, in addition to their own, to carry off a large quantity of spare arms. Willett, learning of this, resolved to prevent it; and, though opposed by the mayor and other Tories, he captured the baggage-wagons containing them and brought them back to the city. These arms were afterward used by the first regiment raised by the state of New York. For this successful attempt to baffle the British, he drew down on him the bitter hatred of all who were opposed to colonial independence; and hence it is a matter of no surprise when, in speaking of him in his Tory History of New York, Judge Jones says "he became a principal leader in all mobs in New York prior to the actual commencement of the rebellion." He was appointed second captain of a company in Col. Mc Dougall's regiment and accompanied Montgomery in his Northern expedition against Quebec. He was placed in command of St. John's, and held that post until January, 1776. In the same year, he was appointed lieutenant colonel; and, at the opening of the campaign of 1777, was placed in command of Fort Constitution on the Hudson. In May of this year, he was ordered to Fort Stanwix, where he performed signal service, as mentioned in the Introduction , and for which he was voted a sword by congress. This vote of congress, unlike the playful amusement in which that body has, until lately, seemed inclined to indulge, viz : of voting monuments to Herkimer, Steuben, Pulaski, and others, and allowing its action to end in a vote merely, was, we are glad to state, carried out , and the sword was sent direct to Col. Willett by John Hancock. This sword, which is owned by the widow of the late Rev. Mr. Willett, has for several months past been in the careful keeping of a jeweller on William street near the New York Custom House. After the retreat of St. Leger and Johnson, Willett was left in command of Fort Stanwix, and remained there until the summer of 1778, when he joined the army under Washington, arriving in time to participate in the battle of Monmouth. He accompanied Sullivan in his campaign against the Senecas in 1779, and was actively engaged in the Mohawk valley in 1780, 1781 and 1782. In 1783, he was for a little time in command of the northern portion of New York state, having his headquarters at Albany. A MS. letter, now before me, from Willett to Washington, dated "Albany, 30th Jan., 1783," and signed " M. Willett, Col. Commanding," bears on its back the following endorsement also in his handwriting.
"Permit the bearer Thomas Clump (express rider) to pass
to headquarters at New Burgh. Should any accident happen to his horse or himself,
all magistrates and other friends are humbly requested to afford him such
assistance as he may stand in need of, in order that his dispatches may not
be delayed. And any necessary expenses which may accrue on this account, I
promise to settle.
In 1792, he was sent by Washington to treat with the Creek Indians at the south , and the same year he was appointed a brigadier general in the army intended to act against the northwestern tribes. This appointment, however, he declined, as he was conscientiously opposed to the expedition. He was for some time sheriff of New York city, and was elected its mayor in 1807. He was also chosen one of the electors of president arid vice-president in 1824, and was made president of the Electoral College. He died in New York city at "Cedar Grove " (as his residence in Broome street was called), full of years and honors, Sunday evening, Aug. 23d, 1830, the anniversary of his battle with Major Ross and Walter Butler, in the 91st year of his age. The funeral of Col. Willett took place on Tuesday, the 24th of August. The coffin was conveyed into the garden in the rear of his dwelling, under an arbor, which in life had been his favorite resort; a gate was thrown open in the rear, so that the number of visitors who were anxious to view his remains might pass through without confusion. It was estimated that not less than ten thousand persons availed themselves of the opportunity. The procession formed at his residence, the pallbearers being Col. Troup, Col. Fish, Col. Trumbull, Col. A. Ogden, Major General Morton, Major Fairlie, J. Pintard, Esq., and Mr. Dominick. The bier was attended by the members of the Cincinnati society, the members of the court of errors, the members of the common council, the judges of the different courts, together with an immense concourse of citizens in carriages and on foot, accompanied by a troop of horse and a corps of New York state artillery. The procession moved to Trinity church , and the remains, after services conducted by Rev. Dr. De Witt, were deposited in Trinity churchyard. During the afternoon ninety minute-guns were fired on the battery, and volleys of musquetery over the grave. I am informed by an old and highly esteemed resident of New York, who at that time lived near Col. Willett in Broome street, that the funeral procession, carriages included, extended nearly the entire distance from Broome street to Trinity church. Indeed, in view of these public and private manifestations of grief which, on his decease, so spontaneously gushed forth, it is a little surprising that the accomplished and genial editor of Jones's History of New York, in alluding to Willett's death, could find nothing more to say about him than that in his latter life, after the war was a very respectable one." The following notice appeared in the New York Commercial Advertiser, at that time edited by my father. Col. William L. Stone, who was Col. Willett's warm friend. "The coffin of Col. Willett was made of pieces of wood, collected by himself, many of them from different revolutionary battle fields. The corpse, in compliance with the written request of the deceased, was habited in a complete suit of citizen's apparel, including an old fashioned three-cornered hat, which had been presented for that purpose." In the personal character of Col. Willett, as has been justly remarked, " there were traits of chivalry and daring, so fearless and ardent, that in another age, he would have commanded the deepest and greatest admiration." Virtue, philanthropy and patriotism guided every step, and adorned every act of his eventful and public life ; while in his private life he was distinguished for integrity, frankness and decision of character. Perhaps, however, the highest compliment that can be paid Col. Willett is, that in Judge Jones's History of New York, in which that gentleman assails with violence nearly all the actors in the events he describes, the worst he can say of him, after admitting that he was possessed of courage, is the remark quoted above regarding his being a principal leader of revolutionary mobs!
A son of Col. Willett is yet (1882) living near me on Jersey City Heights, N. J. He is still remarkably hale and hearty and in the full enjoyment of his physical and mental powers. He, it was, who, as a labor of filial piety, edited and published his father's Narrative. In a recent conversation with him he said that the engraving which forms the frontispiece of that work is a most miserable likeness of his father, in proof of which he showed me an exquisite sketch (in crayon) of the colonel, which certainly differs greatly from the engraving in the Narrative. Mr. Willett also informed me that until lately (when they were stolen from him) he had in his possession some six original autograph letters from Washington to his father, two of which were couched in terms of warm commendation to Col. Willett for his successful sortie from Fort Stanwix. Mr. Willett has long been favorably known as the author of works of a religious cast, he having written, among other books, The Life of Summerfield, The Life of the Messiah, The Restitution of all Things, etc. To see and converse, in the year of our Lord, 1882, with the son of an Indian fighter of the old French war, and a distinguished soldier of the Revolution, not only is a very great privilege, but brings the early colonial days vividly before the mind, making them indeed seem as of yesterday.(1)
(1) In this connection one cannot but recall another similar instance of a man who died but recently (1880), His name was Ransom Cook, of Saratoga Springs, whose father-in-law was Robert Ayers, the person who conveyed to Jane McCrea the message of her lover David Jones. Mr. Cook, who had become greatly distinguished by his many mechanical and scientific inventions, was, in many respects, a remarkable man, fully alive not only to the present, but to the past; and when in the year of our Lord, 1880, we talked with him whose wife was the daughter of one who knew Jane McCrea intimately, past events no longer seemed dim and shadowy but actual realities!
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