Monday, February 6, 2017

"We do voluntarily Inlist ourselves" - The Independent Massachusetts Militia Companies of 1775

Over the past year, Historical Nerdery has been collecting data on the militia and minute companies of Massachusetts. As we progressed with our research, we unexpectedly uncovered references to several "independent" militia and minute companies in the colony. Admittedly, it was our belief that Massachusetts independent militia companies were more of a 19th century phenomenon. Traditionally, these units received no public assistance, were armed and equipped with private funds and usually composed of men from the higher social and economic echelons of Massachusetts society.

Although not as widespread as their 19th century counterparts, it appears that at least four independent units existed in Massachusetts on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Research suggests these units were very similar to their 19th century counterparts and operated as minute companies on April 19, 1775.

It should be noted we excluded the Boston Corps of Cadet's from our "independent" militia company grouping because the unit was not operational in late 1774 and early 1775.

The first independent company we encountered was the Ipswich Minute Company. Unlike other Massachusetts towns, the Ipswich minutemen were organized pursuant to a private covenant not a town resolution. Members of the unit were responsible for arming and equipping themselves and dues were charged to the membership. The January 14, 1775 covenant states “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice. And we hereby Promise & engage, that we will immediately, each of us, provide for & equip himself, with an effective arm, Bayonet, Pouch, Knapsack, & Thirty rounds of Cartridges ready made. And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military, at least twice every week.”

The West Brookfield Minute Company drafted a similar covenant. “We the subscribers, soldiers inlisted from the several Militia companies within this town, and organized into a company called the Minute Company, do solemnly covenant that we will as soon as possible be provided and equipt with an effective firearm, cartouch box (or bullet pouch), 30 rounds of powder and bullets, and knapsack. That we will exert our best abilities to acquire the art military. That we will yield a ready obedience to the commands of our officers, and hold ourselves in readiness to march upon the earliest notice from our Commanding officers, and hazard our lives in resisting any armed force that shall attempt by force to put in execution the late revenue Acts — should any attempt be made between this time and the first of July next.”

Another company was Captain James Brickett's Company of Haverhill. Brickett’s Company was originally formed as an artillery unit. When its members were unable to procure an artillery piece, it reorganized itself into an “independent corps”. On the eve of the American Revolution, Brickett’s Company was essentially operating as a minute company. The company passed several resolutions regarding preparations for war. “That we will meet together (on the first and third Mondays of September, October and November following, and on the first and third Mondays of the six Summer months annually till the Company shall agree - to dissolve the same) for the exercise of Arms and Evolutions, And that the role shall be called two hours before Sunset, and the Company shall be dismissed at Sunset N. B. If it be fowl weather tho Day appointed, the Company shall meet the next fair Day.” Shortly thereafter, the men voted to adopt “the exercise as ordered by His Majesty in the year 1764.” Two months later, Brickett’s “independent corps” voted “that we hire Mr George Marsdin for 4 days at 12s a day, & that he be paid out of the fines.” As discussed in a previous posting, Brickett's Company even passed a resolution to have uniforms made.

The last independent company we encountered (so far) was the Newburyport Independent Marine Company. Organized by the Newburyport Marine Society, the unit was composed of merchants, sea captains and ship builders. According to the Essex Journal the "independent military society " assembled for a drill on September 21, 1774. “Wednesday last the independent military society in this town met at the town-house compleat in arms and ammunition: After having been reviewed by their officers chosen by the society, they performed the manual exercise and filings, after which they marched to the Mason's arms tavern, and there performed the evolutions ; and from thence marched to Mr. William Tell's (a gentleman that has always not only talked, but acted upon the genuine principles of patriotism), who had prepared an elegant entertainment for the society ; after spending a few very agreeable hours with a number of gentlemen (whom Mr. 'Feel had invited) in conversation, repast, and drinking a number of loyal and patriotic toasts, the society again rally, march to the town-house, and after firing three vollies lodged their arms. All was conducted with the greatest order and good humour.”

Of course, we will explore this phenomenon further and would love to hear from our readers whether they are aware of other "independent" Massachusetts companies that operated in 1775.

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