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Jan/Feb '00
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Separating Fact from Fiction About Colonial Militias

Patriot's Day Special 225th  Anniversary By D. Michael Ryan, the the Concord Minute Men historian, an 18th Century volunteer history interpreter with the National Park Service and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.

Contrary to accepted folklore, the "minit men" of 1775 were not a revolutionary concept nor were they unorganized, untrained citizens. The truth was reflected in the two Concord companies which mustered and fought on 19 April.

Town militias dated back to the English Muster Law of 1572 and in early colonial Massachusetts included all able bodied men organized into training bands. In 1645, decrees ordered each town militia to have 30% of its men ready on 1/2 hour warning for any service requirement. The "snow shoe men" (1702-1743) held themselves ready to march on the shortest notice and from 1756-1763 emergency response units existed while plans were considered for "picket guards" to serve only within the Province. Thus it was not unusual in 1774, as Regulars sortied out of Boston and conflict with England increased, for the colonials to form special defense units.

Sources

  • "The Concord Minute Men" by George Tolman 1901

  • "Concord: American Town" by Townsend Scudder 1947 "History of Concord, Mass." by Lemuel Shattuck 1835

  • "Paul Revere's Ride" by David Hackett Fischer 1994

  • "The Minute Men" by Gen. John R. Galvin 1989

  • Concord Town Archives, Concord Free Public Library
  • On 26 October 1774, the Provincial Congress requested that militia companies elect officers who in turn would select field officers and organize regiments. A quarter of the militia were to form special companies (50 men each) which would be equipped and held ready "on the shortest notice" from the Committee of Safety to move to a prescribed rendezvous point. Each company would elect a captain and two lieutenants in addition to developing rules for order and discipline. Absence from drill and misconduct could cause fines with non-payment resulting in dismissal. Unlike their compulsary militia counterparts, only "inlisted voluntears" would serve in the minute companies to keep out loyalists or English sympathizers who might hesitate to fight the King's troops if required.

    So-called minute men had strictly construed duties, were excellent marksmen and never separated from their arms for a moment. Each was to have a weapon (fowling piece, musket), 30 rounds of ball and powder (rolled cartridges or pouch and horn), cartridge box, bayonet (if possible) or hatchet and knapsack. Food (bread, corn, meat) and water for a day were suggested provisions. While regiments were formed, generally the minute companies were expected to operate independently under their captains.

    At a December 1774 Concord town meeting, it was voted to organize and pay minute companies. The accepted committee report given at the 9 January 1775 meeting required an oath to be taken by all minute men obligating themselves to 1) defend King George III, his person, crown and dignity, 2) use utmost of power to defend all Charter rights, liberties and privileges, holding themselves ready at a minute's warning with arms and ammunition, and 3) obey chosen officers in orders and discipline. The town agreed to pay each man (amount less than a laborer's wages) for drill twice per week, three hours a day. The town also would provide a "cartouche box" for each man and enlistments would be for ten months.

    When notice of the new companies was given, some 50-60 Concord men volunteered and in less than two weeks the number swelled to about 100. Many of these men and their arms had seen service in the French and Indian war. Since 15 individuals had no weapons, the town supplied them muskets. The first company was organized on 17 January 1775, numbered 52 men (1 fifer and 1 drummer) and elected Charles Miles its captain. The second company listed 42 members (1 fifer) and voted David Brown its captain. Training began and soon the two Concord units were assigned to a local minute regiment commanded by Col. Abijah Pierce of Lincoln and Maj. John Buttrick of Concord.

    The minute regiment had a corresponding local militia regiment commanded by Col. James Barrett of Concord and included two Concord companies under Captains Nathan Barrett and George Minott. The two regiments would train together only once on 13 March 1775 at Punkatassett Hill. A month later, Col. Barrett would muster a mix of companies from these regiments on the same hill for the fateful march on North Bridge. By 19 April, the Province had some 14,000 men in 47 regiments, warned by an elaborate alarm system, prepared to respond to any aggressive acts by the British.

    Meant as a temporary means of defense, the minute man companies would be reorganized into new units and a new army in Cambridge soon after the fights at Lexington-Concord and Breed's/ Bunker's Hill. Their original purpose and destiny had been met. After the October 1777 British surrender at Saratoga, the war would move South and the minute men would gradually disappear.

    Some 99 Concord men were paid for duty as minute men according to town records. While their existence was brief, their standard set for determination, patriotism, preparedness and bravery would lead to America's freedom. Separating myth from fact is difficult but when one thinks of the Revolution and Concord, one thinks of the true "minit men".


    Text: © D. Michael Ryan.
    Artwork: We have lost the credit for this work. If you know who made it, please let us know!


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