Willett, Marinus

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Willett, Marinus

WILLETT, MARINUS. (1740–1830). Continental officer. New York. Born near Jamaica, New York, on 31 July 1740, Willett was a cabinetmaker in New York City who joined the militia during the Seven Years' War. In 1758 he was named a lieutenant in Oliver De Lancey's New York Regiment in 1758 and served on the unfortunate expedition of James Abercromby to Ticonderoga as well as in Bradstreet's capture of Frontenac. During the years leading up to the Revolution he was a fiery and effective Son of Liberty, taking part in numerous crowd actions, including the attack on the New York City arsenal on 23 April 1775, and preventing the British from evacuating five wagon-loads of weapons and ammunition when they left the city on 6 June. On the 28th he became captain in Alexander McDougall's First New York Regiment; joined Montgomery's wing of the Canada invasion; and on 3 November 1775 was left in command of St. Johns, returning with his men to New York City when their enlistments ended in May 1776. He led militia units at the Battle of Long Island on 27 August 1776 and was active in the ensuing encounters around New York City. On 21 November he became lieutenant colonel of the Third New York and was put in command of Fort Constitution opposite West Point, driving the British away in the Peekskill raid of 23 March 1777.

On 18 May 1777 he was transferred to Fort Stanwix, where he had served briefly in 1758. Here, as second in command to Peter Gansevoort, he distinguished himself in stopping St. Leger's expedition of June-September 1777. For his gallant sortie on 6 August he was voted "an elegant sword" by Congress. He served under Charles Scott at Monmouth in June 1778 and then took part in the raid against the Onondagas before joining Sullivan's expedition of May-November 1779. On 1 July 1780 he was appointed lieutenant commanding the Fifth New York and in November was promoted to colonel. When the five New York regiments were consolidated into two on 1 January 1781, Willett retired, but he soon accepted Governor Clinton's request to command New York levies and militia in the border warfare of 1781. In that fighting he did a remarkable job in driving Loyalist and Indian raiders out of the Mohawk Valley. In February 1783 he led an abortive attempt to attack Oswego by a midwinter advance on snowshoes.

Elected to the state assembly in 1783, he vacated his seat to become sheriff of New York City and County, serving seven years in this post in 1784–1788 and 1792–1796. In 1790 he was highly successful as Washington's personal representative in making a peace treaty with the Creeks. Willett became wealthy on confiscated Loyalist estates, served briefly as mayor of New York City in 1807–1808, and remained active in local politics. He died on 22 August 1830.

SEE ALSO Border Warfare in New York; Peekskill Raid, New York; St. Leger's Expedition.


Thomas, Howard. Marinus Willett, Soldier-Patriot, 1740–1830. Prospect, N.Y.: Prospect Books, 1954.

                              revised by Michael Bellsiles

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