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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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ancient & Honorable, Old and New

Yesterday’s Boston Globe brought news that the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company of Boston is inducting its first female members: Lt. Col. Catherine M. Corkery and Lt. Col. Christine Hoffmann of the National Guard.

The organization was founded in 1638 as part of the young colony’s defense. By the mid-1700s it was no longer an official militia company reporting to the governor but a private organization. Men—and only men—joined because they wanted to improve and demonstrate their skills as military officers.

In the early 1760s, for example, William Heath was a lieutenant in the Roxbury militia company. According to American National Biography, he put himself in as a candidate for a higher rank; the men didn’t choose him, so he resigned in disappointment. According to Heath’s memoir, his home-town company was “inactive.”

In any event, in the spring of 1765 Heath

went over to Boston, and entered a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. This immediately recommended him to the notice of the Colonel of the first regiment of militia in the county of Suffolk, who sent for him, and importuned him to take the command of his own company; to which Mr. Heath was reluctant; apprehensive that his youth, and stepping over those who had a better claim, by former office in the company, to the command of it, might produce an uneasiness. He was, however, commissioned by Gov. [Francis] Barnard; and his apprehensions of uneasiness proved to be groundless.
That’s from the introduction to Heath’s memoir, which you might not be able to tell was also written by Heath.

That’s how the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company worked in the pre-Revolutionary period: it was a training organization and social network for men with militia ambitions. It went dormant during the war and then reformed with a big crop of veterans in 1786.

Despite its name, the company had nothing to do with artillery for over a century before the early 1800s. And then its gunnery practice produced the hole in the “Adams” cannon on display at the top of the Bunker Hill Monument.

The Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company now has, as the Globe says, ”a more ceremonial role, appearing in city parades, fund-raising for veterans’ associations, and delivering a reading of the Declaration of Independence from the State House balcony each Independence Day.” The group maintains a museum on the top floor of Faneuil Hall. Adding women to its ranks, the institution continues to evolve and reflect the values of Massachusetts society.


Unknown said...

I remember seeing the AHAC at the Prospect Hill Grand Union flag raising on New Year's Day in 2011. They had a great showing alongside another group in Revolutionary War dress, flintlocks, drums and fife -- and a cheery hip, hip, huzzah!

Bob said...

> Despite its name, the company had nothing to do with artillery for over a century before the early 1800s

I believe the AHAC's name was a reference to the Honourable Artillery Company in London, founded in 1537, and known to some 17th-century Bostonians:


Genealogically inclined folks may already know that anyone who is a descendant of one of the early AHAC members, can, I believe, become a member "by right of descent" in the AHAC today. It's a nice way to maintain a connection (and I'm sure it raises a bit of money for the organization).

DAG said...

Nice story. Congratulations to the Newest members of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company.

jerry dever said...

The Ancients are a great group of military and non military members from all parts of the Commonwealth. The Museum at Faneuil Hall is fantastic, wonderful books, documents and artifacts dating back to 1638. Well worth the visit.