Va., Dec. 12, 2011 – The origin of the nation's state National Guard
organizations sprang from the forming of militia in the
Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century.
Massachusetts colony was founded in 1630. At that time, more than
5,000 men, women, and children had made the two-month voyage to the
New World, leaving the relative comfort and safety of England behind
in an effort to break free of religious intolerance, and to manage
their communities the way they saw fit.
In doing so, their
actions tread new ground in the country that would become the United
States of America.
The military organization we know today as
the National Guard came into existence with a direct declaration on
Dec. 13, 1636 when the Massachusetts General Court in Salem
established that all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60
were required to join the militia.
The North, South, and East Regiments were established with this
order. The decree, which excluded ministers and judges, stated that
citizen-soldiers who mustered for military training could be and
would be called upon to defend the colony when needed.
This illustration depicts the first muster of Massachusetts Bay Colony militia in the spring of 1637. This event took place after the Massachusetts General Court on Dec. 13, 1636 established three regiments within the colony to defend against enemy attack and preserve settlements. National Guard Bureau Illustration
Owing to many failures in the time that English settlers
had attempted colonization in the Massachusetts frontier and
elsewhere in North America, leaders decided that a proactive
and ready state of mind must be kept by all citizens,
particularly those training in military tactics. Being part
of citizenry in small villages meant that a price must be
paid for the freedoms that could potentially be enjoyed,
were the colony to ultimately succeed. That price meant
taking responsibility for defending the settlements of the
The outposts were austere, and
the colony relied upon male pioneers to provide food,
shelter, and defensive protection. Even with all available
hands working, this was difficult. Worse, the nearby Pequot
Indian tribe proved a restless and unpredictable neighbor,
leaving the Massachusetts colonists vulnerable to
guerilla-style attacks that could decimate the fledgling
settlements. In an environment rife with disease, poor
sanitation, and harsh weather conditions, all able-bodied
members of the Massachusetts colony pulled together out of
Self-sufficiency proved instrumental. In
the New World, hiring mercenary fighters in the European
tradition to ward off Indian attacks would be impossible.
For one thing, the colonists had no money. Other foreign
interests in the New World such as the French and Spanish,
even if they were available for defensive purposes, did not
share English views on religion and political matters. They
would have seriously undermined the stability of the
Massachusetts colony. Governing and policing the settlement
would have to be left to the colonists themselves.
The militia system of self defense proved successful. Soon
after the militia was established in Massachusetts, the
entire New England region defended itself against the
aggression of the Pequot nation. Other colonies such as
Connecticut and Rhode Island mustered militia units, and
succeeded in forcing the Pequots to capitulate in 1638.
Ultimately, the militia enlisted from the many small
villages proved a strong component in building confidence
for the settlement as a whole.
settlements in North America such as those in Florida,
Virginia, and New Mexico utilized military protection to
allow settlers safe passage and defend against aggressors,
but Massachusetts proved to be the first to have its
government establish and raise a militia of continuous
service. That legal precedent and record of service has
remained continuous and unbroken, no matter the change in
each unit's function as a part of the militia or National
This distinction qualifies it as the
birthplace of the militia in the United States. With the
North, South, and East Regiments established, its exemplary
military tradition continues through this day with four
Massachusetts National Guard units -- the 101st Engineer
Battalion, the 101st Field Artillery, the 181st Infantry
Regiment, and the 182nd Infantry Regiment.
Massachusetts' population numbers 6.5 million people, and
the commonwealth figures prominently as a center of
manufacturing, electronics/technology, and finance. Much has
changed since 1636, but one thing has not: the National
Guard still consists of citizen-soldiers and airmen
providing assistance during natural disasters, training
regularly to uphold high standards of readiness, and
deploying to far-away countries to protect the United
States' national interests.
Although America's growth
and expansion has made it a large military force around the
world, the National Guard remains a community cornerstone --
just as it did when it was born on Dec. 13, 1636.
By Bill Boehm, National Guard Bureau
American Forces Press Service
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