Apr 15, 2021 - Sale 2564

Sale 2564 - Lot 300

Estimate: $ 1,000 - $ 1,500
(RHODE ISLAND.) Long-running barter account between Governor Greene and General Varnum. Autograph Document Signed by William Greene Jr., additionally signed by James Mitchell Varnum. One page, 12 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches, docketed on verso; folds, toning, separations at folds with tape repairs on verso. Np, 13 March 1788

Additional Details

This document shows almost eight years of barter accounts between two of Rhode Island's most prominent figures from the American Revolution. James Mitchell Varnum (1748-1789) graduated from what became Brown University, practiced law in East Greenwich, RI, and then served as a general in the Continental Army during the Revolution. He was noted for enlisting enslaved people into the First Rhode Island Regiment in exchange for their freedom, and for his service at the Battle of Rhode Island and Valley Forge. William Greene Jr. (1731-1809) of Warwick, RI served as governor of Rhode Island from 1778 to 1786, a period including the long British occupation of Newport, the American victory, and Rhode Island's act for the gradual emancipation of the enslaved.

On the left side of this document are debts incurred by Varnum to Greene, and on the right the services rendered by Varnum to repay the debts. The earliest entry was in June 1780, just after Varnum's election to the Continental Congress, when Governor Greene sent "six barrels racked sider delivered you in Providence." Perhaps Varnum shared some of this cider with the French General Rochambeau, whose troops came to Providence for an extended stay the following month.

From 1783 to 1788, Greene provided Varnum with a steady supply of farm goods and services from his substantial Warwick estate: keeping his horse and oxen, and sending butter, wood, corn, onions, and hay. Typically for the period, these men of means trusted that the debt would be settled at some point, either by cash, goods, or services. Varnum's opportunity to reciprocate came in November 1784. The governor's son Ray Greene had just graduated from Yale, and was interested in pursuing a law career. Varnum agreed to tutor the youth for two years for £30, a solid investment--Ray Greene later became a United States Senator. Varnum also rented Greene some office space for 12 weeks, returned some old cider barrels, and settled the nearly decade-long account with a mere 4 1/2 pence. Both men signed at the bottom on 13 March 1788, signifying that the account was officially balanced. General Varnum moved to the western frontier as an early Ohio settler soon afterward, where he died of tuberculosis within a year. This account documents the longstanding relationship between two figures of great significance to the state's history.