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, May 05, 2016

How to Join the Massachusetts Army

On 5 May 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress decided how militiamen would sign up for longer service in its army:
Resolved, that all officers & soldiers of the Massachusetts army now raising for the defence & security of the rights and liberties of this and our sister colonies in america, shall each & every of them excepting only the the General Officers repeat and take the folowing Oath: (viz)
I, A B, swear, I will truly & faithfully serve in the Massachusetts army, to which I belong, for the defence and security of the estates, lives and liberties of the good people of this & the sister colonies in america, in opposition to ministerial tyrany by which they are or may be oppressed, and to all other enemies & opposers whatsoever; that I will adhere to the rules & regulations of sd. army, observe & obey the generals & other officers set over me; and disclose and make known to said officers all traiterous conspiraces, attempts and designs whatsoever which I shall know to be made against said army or any of the english american colonies, so help me God
This text came from a document in the Massachusetts Archives and was published in a volume of the state’s Acts and Resolves in 1886. The text published in The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1838 has the same words but regularized spelling and punctuation.

The congress left generals out of that oath since they would have no superior officers to answer to. It took another twelve days, and a suggestion that Gen. Artemas Ward really ought to have a commission, for the body to come up with an oath for those commanders:
Resolved, That the general officers of the Massachusetts army, now raising for the defence and security of the rights and liberties of this and our sister colonies in America, shall each and every of them repeat, take, and subscribe the following oath, to be administered by viz.:
I, A. B., do solemnly swear, that, as a general officer in the Massachusetts army, I will well and faithfully execute the office of a general, to which I have been appointed, according to my best abilities, in defence and for the security of the estates, lives, and liberties of the good people of this and the sister colonies in America, in opposition to ministerial tyranny, by which they are or may be oppressed, and to all other enemies and opposers whatsoever; that I will adhere to the rules and regulations of said army, established by the Congress of the colony of the Massachusetts Bay, observe and obey the resolutions and orders which are or shall be passed by said Congress, or any future congress, or house of representatives, or legislative body of said colony, and such committees as shall be by them authorized for that purpose; and that I will disclose and make known to the authority aforesaid, all traitorous conspiracies, attempts and designs whatsoever, which I shall know to be made, or have reason to suspect are making, against the army, or any of the English American colonies.
That text comes from the printed Journals of Each Provincial Congress. It didn’t conclude with “so help me God,” the only one of the three oaths the congress dictated that didn’t contain that formula. Whether that was an oversight or a significant decision is unclear.

The congress took another two days to finish Ward’s commission. A biographer of James Sullivan stated that he drafted the document, and the other two members of the committee never had biographers to dispute that. On 20 May Samuel Dexter administered the oath to Gen. Ward, and Dr. Joseph Warren as president of the congress delivered the commission. It’s an impressive-looking document.

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