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, April 25, 2019

A Snapshot of the Sudbury Militia in Spring 1775

I’m cleverly using yesterday’s break for event announcements to segue away from Lexington on 19 Apr 1775 and on to Concord. Or, actually, to Sudbury.

Ezekiel How (1720-1796) was a veteran of the Seven Years’ War and a lieutenant colonel in the Middlesex County militia based in Sudbury. He was also the proprietor of a tavern that eventually grew into Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, shown here during a reenactment.

On 27 March, How made out a report about the readiness of the militia companies in his town. According to Alfred Sereno Hudson’s History of Sudbury, the innkeeper listed:
Capt. Moses Stone’s Company — 92 men of them, 18 no guns, at Least one third part ye. firelocks unfit for Sarvis others wais un a quipt.

Capt. Aaron Hayns Company — 60 men well provided With Arms the most of them Provided with Bayonets or hatchets a boute one quarter Part with Catrige Boxes.

Capt. Joseph Smith’s Company consisting of 75 able Bodied men forty well a quipt twenty Promis to find and a quip themselves Emedetly fifteen no guns and other wais un a quipt

The Troop [of horse] Capt. Isaac Locer — 21 Besides what are on the minit Role well a quipt
The “minit Role” covered two more companies under the command of Capt. John Nixon and Capt. Nathaniel Cudworth. Those men were well equipped and engaged in extra training. In addition, there was an “Alarm list” of older men under Jabez Puffer not required to train but expected to turn out in an emergency.

The militia companies were organized by region. Haynes and Nixon commanded men from the west side of Sudbury, Smith and Cudworth men from the east side (which split off in 1780 and eventually became Wayland), and Stone men from the “Lanham District” in the south.

According to Lt. Col. How, about half of the men in Stone’s and Smith’s companies weren’t equipped for fighting. Stone had the largest company at 92, but 20% of those men had “no guns” and “at Least one third” of the remainder had guns “unfit for Sarvis.” Of Smith’s men, a little more than half were “well a quipt” with another quarter promising to get right on that task.

Less than three weeks after How’s report, people in Sudbury heard that British soldiers were headed to the neighboring town of Concord. And it’s no surprise that Capt. Haynes’s well equipped company, along with Capt. Nixon’s minutemen, responded faster than their closer but more poorly armed neighbors to the east.

All the Sudbury militia and minute companies, and the troop of horse, eventually did go into action on 19 April. But only Haynes and Nixon’s men, along with Lt. Col. How, arrived in time for the fight at the North Bridge.

TOMORROW: The West Sudbury men arrive at the South Bridge.


AdamC1776 said...

Nice post. Any records of those men who weren't properly equipped being fined or penalized in any way? I’m curious about the enforcement of militia rules and regulations.

J. L. Bell said...

That’s a good question. The law allowed for militia officers to levy fines on men who didn't show up for training ready to drill and other infractions. The money from those fines (minus a bit for the company clerk for collecting them) was supposed to go toward buying weapons for men who couldn't afford them.

However, if a man was too poor to buy a weapon, the company commander knew that. And there was no use fining a man who didn't have money to pay the fine. So I think officers were judicious in how they levied fines.

Timothy Pickering kept records about the Essex County militia regiment he led in 1767. A single fine was 3s.9p, not enough to pay for a musket, and he imposed only a handful, probably on men he knew could pay.

AdamC1776 said...

Thanks! So this isn't the sort of thing that would come up in the county court records... which explains why my (very limited) searches are coming up dry

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, it looks like it was all handled within the companies, and records of militia companies in peacetime are very hard to find. They stayed with the captains or clerks, and only a very few of those men appear to have saved them.

AdamC1776 said...

Do you know where I can get a look at Pickering's records? I don't supose they are available on line.

J. L. Bell said...

The Pickering Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society have been microfilmed, but I don’t think they’ve been digitized.