Sunday, August 14, 2022

"The Number of Days Each Man Trained According to the Voat of the Town" - How Often Were Massachusetts Minute and MIlitia Companies Training in Preparation for War with England?

Recently, the Nerds once again encountered on social media several instances where individuals asserted the age-old yet understandably false claim that Massachusetts militia and minute men lacked sufficient military training on the eve of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Instead, some have argued, these men relied on upon their individualistic skills as huntsmen to stalk and harass the retiring British column as it returned to Boston.

Although countless historians have debunked this claim, it raises a question … How often were minute and militia companies drilling in preparation for war with England?

Following the October 1774 orders of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, provincial towns scrambled to put themselves onto a wartime footing. As part of the effort, many militia and minute companies passed resolutions or entered into covenants clearly outlining the expectations of military service. 

For example, in Lexington, the men of Captain John Parker’s Company resolved to fine those men who did not treat military preparation seriously, were disruptive or engaged in “indecent behavior … two shillings”. Militiamen from the Town of West Brookfield declared, “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.” Finally, residents of Ipswich voted “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice ... And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military."

By late 1774 and early 1775, many Massachusetts towns had placed a strong emphasis on military drilling and training. Following the recommendations of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Andover ordered: “[Soldiers] on the said first said day of December meet together and chuse such person only for leading or instructing as shall appear to them to be most skillful in Military Discipline and that they be well equipped with good guns, and other necessary warlike armour in order for their performing of all military maneuvers.” 

In fact, Andover, along with the Towns of Haverhill and Bradford even went as far as to hire a British deserter to train their men for war. 

Amesbury resolved that its minute men would engage in “exercising four hours in a fortnight.” Two weeks later, the town modified its order and instructed its minute men to “[exercise] four hours in a week.” The residents of Boxford voted on March 14, 1775, “that the minute-men shall train one-half day in a week, for four weeks after this week is ended.”

According to the diary of the Reverend Ebenezer Parkman of Westborough, as early as October 24, 1774, both of the town’s militia companies had assembled and were actively drilling as often as possible. Even Westborough’s alarm list, a reserve force composed of a community’s elderly male residents, was practicing war-like maneuvers. Parkman notes, “1774 October 31 (Monday) … P.M. Training of Alarm men at Lt. Bakers, their present Captain."

The Reverend Jonas Clarke also noted Lexington's militia was continuously drilling and "showing arms." Likewise, Lieutenant William Tidd asserted John Parker’s Company met often and drilled regularly” “[That] said company frequently met for exercise, the better to be prepared for defense; that, on the evening previous to the 19th a number of the militia met at my house for the above purpose.” Lexington’s John Munroe noted “the company was frequently called out for exercise, and desired to furnish ourselves with arms and ammunition, and to be in constant readiness for action.”

Some towns went as far as to coordinate multi-company or regimental level drills jointly. The men of Westborough routinely drilled with militia companies from neighboring communities, while minute companies in Plymouth County and the Merrimack Valley region of Essex County hosted battalion-level drills as early as the Spring of 1775.

Now with this said, were Massachusetts men drilling every waking hour of each day?

Of course not. Depending on the community, it appears military companies drilled as often as two to three times a week or as little as bi-weekly.

An April 1775 document prepared by Sergeant Michael Whittier of Haverhill probably best captures the frequency of drills and attendance amongst minute and militia companies. The record created by Sergeant Whittier lists the names of the minute men belonging to Captain Sawyer’s Minute Company, and the number of days each soldier attended military drills for March and April:

A Role of the Minuit Men in Capt James Sawyer's Company & the Number of days Each man Trained according to the Voat of the Town of Haverhill in March and Apirel 1775.

James Sawyer Capt 5 
Samuel Mitchel -
Timothy Johnson Lieut 5 
Joshua Emory 6
Nathaniel Eaton Lieut 5 
Jerimiah Stickney 5
Mitchel Whiticher Sargt 6 
Joseph Webster 5
Moses Heselton Sargt 5 
Isaiah Eaton 5
Wm Rolf Sargt 5 
Ebenezer Grifen 4
Charles Davis Sargt 5 
 Samuel Emerson 5 
Enook Eaton Coprel 4 
John Silver -
Chas Sarjant Coprel 3 
Seth Wymon 4
John Bery Coprel 6 
Daniel Lord 5
Ruben Sargent 3 
Nathan Peabody 5
Asa Currcr 5 
James Whiticker 4
Thomus Tiylor 5 
Samuel Sanders 3
Daniel Colby 3 
Henerey Springer 1
John Dow 6 
Ebenezer Webster -
John Eaton 4 
Johnathan Dusten 4
Joseph Emorson 5 
Daniel Grifen 3
Simon Picck 4 
Moses Emorson Juner 4
Lewis George 5 
John gipson 3
'Wm Davis 2 
Nathan Ayre 4
Mossc Emorson 5 
James Townsand 4
Job gage 4 
Stophen Runcls 4
Peter Emorson 3 
John Tiylor 3
Samuel George - 
James Wilson -
John Cheney 1 
Daniel Remock 3
Nathaniel Cahaney - 
Stephen Jackson 3
Samuel Ealy 2 
Joshua Moors 1
Wm Sawyer 4 
Philip Bagley 4
James Smiley 5 
Humpree Nicola 4
Joel Harrimcn 5 
Dudley Dusten 3
James Snow 5 
Johnthan Lowger 4
Mark Emorson - 
John Sanders 4

Mitchel Wittier Serjant

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