America’s First Citizen Soldiers

The U.S. Army’s National Guard recognizes its official birthday as December 13.  Because on that date in 1636, the first militia regiments in North America were organized and mustered for the first time in Massachusetts. 

Created by an order of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s General Court, the colony’s militia was organized into three permanent regiments to better defend the colony. According to the Department of Defense’s practice of adopting the dates of initial authorizing legislation for organized units as the birthdates of the active and reserve components of the armed services, the National Guard’s first units were born on this date. 

The oldest units in the U.S. military are all from the Massachusetts Army National Guard and consist of the 181st Infantry, the 182nd Infantry, the 101st Field Artillery, and the 101st Engineer Battalion. 

The Birth of the First Regiments: 

In the late 1620s and early 1630s, the population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was rapidly growing due to the influx of settlers from England, and the expansion of people and towns caused already tension between the colony and the Pequot indigenous people to increase. 

With hostilities looming the General Court ordered in March 1636, that although only freemen (a political term meaning full citizenship individuals) could be elected as officers, all members of the militia which was comprised of males who were required to own weapons and to attend the regimental musters could vote in the company elections provided that they had taken the oath of loyalty to the General Court known as the “residents’ oath.”

The National Guard’s 116th Military History Detachment Virginia Army National Guard conducted some extensive research in July 1986 into the Massachusetts Bay Colony records and was able to piece together much of the history of the first units. 

Illustration of the Pequot War by Charles Stanley Reinhart by Wikipedia

In December 1636, the British regimental organization was adopted for the colony’s approximately 1,500 men. Like today’s National Guard, the overall command of the militia was placed in the hands of the Governor as “chiefe general”[sic]  and was organized along geographical lines where three permanent regiments were set up. 

Each regiment was commanded by a colonel and a lieutenant colonel, and each with a paid training officer (muster master). All regiments and companies were directed by the General Court to hold elections of officers prior to the next Court session and to report the results. The three regiments were organized as such and the designation in parenthesis are the units that are active in the Massachusetts Army National Guard today.