The Varnum Continentals are named in honor of Major General James Mitchell Varnum, commander of one of George Washington’s Continental Army Brigades in the Revolutionary War. Varnum was later named Major General of the entire Rhode Island Militia, a predecessor of today’s State Adjutant General.
He was a member of the Continental Congress for two terms. In 1787, Varnum was the defense attorney in the landmark case of Trevett vs. Weeden, where his statement on the doctrine of judicial review was to influence the framers of the United States Constitution. In 1788, he was appointed the Federal Judge for the Northwest Territory. He died there in 1789 at the age of 41.
Gen. Varnum was one of the founders of the Kentish Guards. When they were chartered as a militia by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1774, he was elected their first commanding officer.
In 1907, 133 years later, a group of local men, many of whom had formerly been members of the Kentish Guards, chartered the Varnum Continentals “to perpetuate the customs, uniform and traditions of the period [of the American Revolution], and thereby, and in other ways, to encourage patriotism in the people.”
In 1913, the Varnum Continentals built the Varnum Memorial Armory at the corner of Main and Division Streets in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The medieval-style Armory today serves as our headquarters, and houses a large drill hall, meeting rooms, and one of southern New England’s finest collections of militaria and historic weaponry in our military museum, which includes the official museum of the U.S. Army’s 76th Infantry Division. From July 1918 to January 1996, the Armory was also the home of units of the Rhode Island State and National Guard.
In 1939, the Varnum Continentals purchased the Peirce Street mansion built in 1773 by General Varnum as his personal residence, and where he entertained such historic figures as General Lafayette. The house has been restored as a national shrine and museum, so that future generations may benefit from the example of this great citizen, scholar, soldier, jurist, and statesman who gave outstanding service to the country in the early days of the American Revolution.
On December 31, 1992, acting on a request from the Varnum Continentals, Bruce Sundlun (Governor and Captain General of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) formally reactivated Varnum’s Regiment of May 4, 1775, as a unit of the Rhode Island Militia.
The Varnum Continentals, as a non-profit historic and patriotic organization, owns the Varnum House Museum and the Varnum Memorial Armory & Military Museum, each of which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The reactivated Varnum’s Regiment of 1775 gives official historic and military recognition to those generations of our members who have (since 1907) participated in parades, and as honor and color guards, continued the rich heritage of the American Revolution and its outstanding leaders exemplified by James Mitchell Varnum.
We welcome those who share in the Varnums’ mission “to encourage patriotism” to join us as members of our organization.