Marinus Willett, a Sons of Liberty ruffian with a small group, stopped the British soldiers from taking five wagon loads of arms when they were evacuating New York on June 6, 1775. He and the Sons of Liberty later helped to take the British storehouse at Turtle Bay. Then he joined the Army!
Willett was good at that, as he was presented a sword from Congress for his daring action during the Battle of Oriskany where he got 21 wagons of British baggage and supplies. Following is the story and his biography.
Herkimer had informed Gansevoort, by the messenger, that he intended, on hearing the signals, to cut his way to the fort through the circumvallating camp of the enemy, and requested him to make a sortie at the same time. This was done as soon as the arrangement could be made, and a detachment of two hundred men, consisting of portions of Gansevoort's and Wesson's regiments, was detailed for the purpose, who took with them an iron three pounder. Fifty men were also added, to protect the cannon, and to act otherwise as circumstances might require. The enterprise was intrusted to Colonel Marinus Willett, who, by quick and judicious movements and daring courage, with his small force, accomplished wonders in a few hours. Rain was falling copiously while preparations for the sortie were in progress, but the moment it ceased Willett sallied out and fell furiously upon that portion of the camp occupied by Sir John Johnson and his Royal Greens, a detachment of whom, as we have seen, had been sent to oppose the approach of Herkimer. The advanced guard, unable to withstand the impetuosity of the attack, were driven in; and so suddenly was Sir John's camp assailed, that he was not allowed time to put on his coat. He endeavored to bring his troops into order, but they fled in dismay. The Indian encampment was then assaulted, and in a few moments the savages, too, were scattered. Sir John and his troops fled across the river, to the temporary camp of St. Leger, and the Indians buried themselves in the deep forest near. No less than twenty-one wagon-loads of spoil, consisting of clothing, blankets, stores, camp equipage, five British standards, the baggage of Sir John, with all his papers, and those of other officers, containing every kind of information necessary to the garrison, were captured. Having secured their prize, Willett and his party returned to the fort without the loss of a man. The five British colors were raised in full view of the enemy, upon the flag-staff, beneath the uncouth American standard, and the whole garrison, mounting the parapets, made the forest ring with three loud cheers. This chivalrous exploit was duly noticed by Congress, and an elegant sword was presented to Colonel Willett in the name of the United States.
Marinus Willett 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. He was early imbued with a military spirit, and joined the army, under Abercrombie, as a lieutenant in Colonel Delancy's regiment, in 1758. He was in the disastrous battle at Ticonderoga, and accompanied Bradstreet in his expedition against Fort Frontenac. Exposure in the wilderness injured his health, and he was confined by sickness in the newly-erected Fort Stanwix until the end of the campaign. Willett early espoused the republican cause when British aggression aroused resistance here. When the British troops in the New York garrison were ordered to Boston, after the skirmish at Lexington, they attempted, in addition to their own, to carry off a large quantify of spare arms. Willett resolved to prevent it, and, though opposed by the mayor and other Whigs, he captured the baggage-wagons containing them, and took them back to the city. These arms were afterward used by the first regiment raised by the state of New York. He was appointed second captain of a company in Colonel M'Dougal's regiment, and accompanied Montgomery in his northern expedition. He was placed in command of St. John's, and held that post until January, 1776. He was that year appointed lieutenant colonel, and, at the opening of the campaign of 1777, placed in command of Fort Constitution, on the Hudson. In May he was ordered to Fort Stanwix, or Schuyler, where he performed signal services, as noticed in the text. He was left in command of the fort, and remained there until the summer of 1778, when he joined the army under Washington, and was at the battle of Monmonth. He accompanied Sullivan in his campaign against the Indians in 1779, and was actively engaged in the Mohawk Valley in 1780, 1781, and 1782. 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 Indians. He declined the appointment, for he was opposed to the expedition. He was for some time sheriff of New York, and was elected mayor of the city in 1807. He was chosen elector of President and Vice-president in 1824, and was made president of the Electoral College. He died in New York, August 23d, 1830, in the 91st year of his age.
Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Vol. 1, by B. J. Lossing, 1851.
Photo: Marinus Willett by Ralph Earl, c. 1791.
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