Colonel Marinus Willett
by AJ Berry
Did you ever notice Willett Street in Fort Plain and wonder where the name originated?
Colonel Marinus Willet was an able and well liked leader in the Revolutionary War. When commanding his troops, he made skilful decisions and his loyal troops followed him willingly. He was offered a promotion but declined because he liked to serve in close proximity with his men. Following is a short biographical sketch of Colonel Willett.
Marinus Willet, 1740––1830, American Revolutionary soldier, was born in Jamaica, N.Y.
In the French and Indian War he was (1758) a member of the expeditions against Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Frontenac. He was a leader of the Sons of Liberty in New York and after the outbreak of the American Revolution, served under Richard Montgomery in the invasion of Canada. He won (1777) a victory over the British under Barry St. Leger while second in command at Fort Stanwix (Fort Schuyler), joined George Washington's army in New Jersey in 1778, and participated (1779) in the Sullivan/Clinton expedition against the Iroquois. From 1780 until the end of the war he commanded New York troops in the Mohawk Valley, and there his scouts managed to kill Walter Butler after a skirmish with Loyalists. After the war he negotiated (1790) a treaty with the Creeks of Georgia. Later Willett held several local offices in New York City, where he served (1807–8) as Mayor.
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, in the 91st year of his age.
There is a very human story under the part "From 1780 until the end of the war he commanded New York troops in the Mohawk Valley", and it happened in Fort Plain. Here is the story from The Frontiersmen of New York by Jeptha R. Simms, written in 1883.
Henry Seeber, a son of the pioneer tradesman, William Seebe, by his second marriage, is believed to have married Elizabeth, a daughter of John Lough, by whom he had two children, Jacob and Polly, who both grew up to be respected citizens; the latter a fine looking girl, became the wife of Abram Lipe. Henry Seeber, who seems to have been an exception to the name of Seeber in this respect, became dissipated (alcoholic) early in life, and like most of that class of men forfeited the respect of all good citizens; and although he had an education fitting him for a school teacher, he was troubled with a fever sore, was dissolute and improvident in his habits, all of which united led to an estrangement of the respect and affection of his wife, who was a proud and beautiful woman.
At this stage in the affairs of this family, Col. Willett took command of Fort Plain, with an oversight of its adjacent military posts. The hero of Fort Stanwix was not long in discovering the charms of this woman, whose children were then small, and he not only made her acquaintance, but before long was on most intimate terms with her, despite the busy tongues of scandal; and in process of time, she presented her admiring hero with a young son who was named Marinus Willett Seeber. Whether or not this Henry Seeber house was "divided against itself" before the coming of the commandant of this frontier post I cannot say, but they were estranged ever after this event; and her son Jacob was taken by his Uncle Conrad and reared to an honorable manhood. He also cared tenderly for Henry, an only son of his brother Audolph, who, then a widower was slain in the Oriskany Battle.
This military waif was tenderly looked after by Col. Willett, who showed his manhood by placing him at school and defraying the expenses of his care and education until he arrived at manhood. When grown he returned to Minden, and is remembered as a remarkably fine looking young man, and possessed of more than an ordinary intelligence. After his return to the Mohawk Valley, he for a time taught a dancing school in Freysbush, and was known as Willett Seeber; but as his half brother and sister and other relatives did not recognize his kinship as he thought they should, he left the neighborhood.