J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reforming the Ancient and Honorables

When we last left the private military training organization called the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, it had gone dormant because of the Revolutionary War. The group’s records indicate a brief stirring of activity in 1782, but it wasn’t really active again until 1786.

That summer, some members visited the last elected captain, William Bell, and convinced him to start meetings again. They elected a new clerk, William Dawes, who went around Boston signing on a bumper crop of new members, including John Brooks, Benjamin Lincoln, Samuel Gore, John Winslow, Alexander Hodgdon, Jonathan Balch, John Johnson, Andrew Cunningham, and many other veterans of the Revolutionary movement and the war.

On 6 Sept 1786, the Federalist Massachusetts Centinel newspaper reported:

On Monday last for the first time, since the commencement of the late Revolution, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, commanded by Major Bell, paraded at the State house in this town, and, preceded by a band of musick, marched into the common, where they performed a number of military exercises—after which they marched to Faneuil Hall, discharged a volley of small arms and finished the day much to their honour, and the credit of the town.

It was gratifying to the real friends of this country, to see our aged citizens, some of whom were near seventy years of age, equipped in the accoutrements of soldiers and setting an example to the younger part of the community, that should their country require their aid in the field, they might be found ready disciplined and fit for immediate service.
What prompted that burst of military activity? I don’t think it was coincidence that the company’s rebirth followed a rumbling of unrest in western Massachusetts—the “Regulators” whose movement was eventually dubbed Shays’ Rebellion. Several other private military companies formed in and around Boston at the same time. Within four months, Gen. Lincoln would lead militia companies, paid for by wealthy citizens, west from Boston to put down that unrest.

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