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First Chartered Military Company

First Captain Commanding

Detailed History of the AHAC

The First Military Company Chartered in the Western Hemisphere

As the settlements, which followed the landing at Plymouth increased and spread, there was no organized military force for protection against the Indians. So-called "Train Bands" were formed in different settlements but these were only local volunteer companies and there was no joint action or centralized authority. Thus the subject of adequate military protection soon became a matter of serious consideration.

Many of the settlers had been members in England, of the Honourable Artillery Company at London (organized and chartered in 1527) and it was natural that the military training they had received in that Company should lead them fo form a similar organization in the new country. In 1637 a Company was formed for instruction in discipline and tactics, and that year Governor Winthrop was petitioned for a Charter. He refused the request because he feared the establishment of a military force, which might overthrow the civil power. However, the Governor finally granted a Charter in March, 1638, and on the first Monday in June following, an election of Officers was held on Boston Common. The Common then being an open field leading down to the Charles River. The most convenient place to cast the ballots was on the head of the drum, which was placed in front of the Company. Since that time, the Company has maintained the tradition of holding their annual elections on the Boston Common on the first Monday in June by casting the votes on the Drum Head.

The first Captain commanding the Company was Robert Keayne , whose home was on the comer of State and Washington Street. Keayne had been a member of the Honourable Artillery Company of London. Upon his death he left, in his will to the Town of Boston, the land at the head of State Street for a Town House; together with money to build it, providing however, that " the Military Company of Massachusetts " should have a room in the Town House for an Armory. This is the land on which the old State House now stands, the gift of which was accepted by the Town of Boston. Since 1746, the Company Armory has been the upper floor of Faneuil Hall - an historic citadel known to all Americans.

In its Armory, the Company maintains a Military Museum and Library, which is without equal in the United States. There are relics of every war in which this Country has engaged in, since its settlement. Many of these are Museum pieces and have been on display at various time in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. On the risers of the thirteen steps which lead up to the Headquarters room of the Company, commemorated in bronze plates, are the names of the thirteen States in the order in which they accepted the Constitution and their respective state flag is placed on the respective step (Stairway of the Constitution). Around the walls of the Armory are the portraits of most of the Captains who have commanded the Company since 1638 to the present day. The Armory is open to the public daily, and many thousands of visitors from every part of the country and many from abroad, are registered every year in the Guest Book.

The position of the members of the Company in the social, civil and military life of the Colony indicates the respect which people entertained for the Company as well as the ability and prominence of its members. They were first in organizing churches and supporting them, they were prominent in framing and also in administering the laws of the Colony; they were foremost in the introduction of manufacturing and the extension of trade in Boston. They were the chief military minds of the Colony and among the first in its defense. Many of them were public benefactors contributing somewhat of their wealth to education, religion and charity. The members of the Company trod the fields of every battlefield of New England; they fought for freedom on foreign soil; they judged the courts; they pleaded at the bar; they instituted town government and levelled forests; they were active in settling the towns of the frontier.

Ninetenths of the Company were loyal to the Colonies in the Revolution, and by their experience in the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company they served on every battlefield where the banner of Massachusetts waved, from Bunker Hill and Bennington, through Valley Forge to Yorktown.This is the Company that Washington knew, that Franklin saw march through the streets of Boston, that John Adams and John Quincy Adams visited; that has had nine members who received our nation's highest military decoration - the Medal of Honor - and has had four of its members serve in the world's most important office, President of the United States, President James Monroe, Chester Alan Arthur, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy; the same Company which has always stood for, and always will stand for, the best in citizenship. [Top of Page]


The First Captain Commanding of the Ancient and Honorable Artilery Company

As Robert Keayne was born in Windsor, England, 1595. His father John Keayne, was a butcher, but Robert's interest moved him toward a career in merchant tailoring. He moved to London and served his apprenticeship until admitted to membership of the Merchant Tailor Corporation of 1615. He joined the Honourable Artillery Company of London in 1623.

He emigrated to Boston, via the ship "Defence", in 1635, at which time he was 40 years of age. He established his home and his workrooms at the southeast corner of today's State and Washington Streets and began to prosper far beyond the average of his fellow colonist, In consequence, he engendered the spiteful resentment of the ruling clergy in town, a thoroughly common experience at time. Such was the tyranny of the churches in Boston and in the environs that hundreds of spirited settlers fled to establish homesteads and farms in remote parts of New England. There might well be hostile Indians and dangerous animals as well, but these considerations were enormously outweighed by the fact that the harsh and dictatorial " Seven Ministers" were not out there in the wilderness.

As Robert Keayne's worldly estate grew, so did the Ministerial envy, finally culminating in an investigation by the General Court. First, it was felt that, inasmuch as "he was a professor of religion" he should not strive to make money. Secondly, inasmuch as "he was a man eminent ability" he should not strive to make money. Thirdly, inasmuch as "he was already wealthy and had but one childe" he should not strive to make money. Fourthly, inasmuch as "he came over for conscience' sake" he should not strive to make money. Fifthly, inasmuch as "he had already been warned by church-elders against money making and promised with tears no to do so" he should earnestly lock his till against the shillings.Wherefore, since he still grew richer, he should be fined 200 Pounds, an enormous penalty for the times. He actually paid fines of 80 Pounds. The church summoned the culprit and after lengthy debate finally decided to merely admonish Captain Keayne.

Keayne was a most popular man in Boston and had been lavishly generous with his wealth, giving money to young Harvard College, to Boston Public School, toward a public market and a "granere", toward a Towne House, toward waterworks, to the Church, to the ministers, to refresh the elderly, to aid his military Company, toward a library, to his servants and workmen, the list grows tedious.

His was undoubtedly Boston's greatest philanthropist in his time. Many tales are told of his shrewd business acumen. His lengthy (53 page, 51,000 words) will made further donations to many of his earlier beneficiaries and in addition, the land for the Towne House plus 300 Pounds towards this construction. His will also specified that a room should be set aside, in the Town House, to shelter the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, and, moreover, contained wise, far-seeing counsel to the Company and its posterity.

Captain died in 1655 and is buried in King's Chapel Burying Ground. [Top of Page]


Detailed History of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company

English settlers in Boston and other towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted the English militia system as their model for local defense. Every male colonist between the ages of 16 and 60 was required to possess arms and equipment and to drill with the town militia company. In 1636 town companies were assigned to three regional regiments. Several prominent men in Boston, all with military experience, agreed that another type of militia organization was needed to better prepare militiamen for the defense of the colony.

In 1637 these men petitioned the General Court for permission to organize a volunteer company that would enlist its own members, elect its officers and noncommissioned officers and prepare its own soldiers for commissions in the enrolled militia. Their model was the Honourable Artillery Company of London which many of the petitioners had served with prior to immigrating to Massachusetts. The original petition was not granted because the General Court perceived a threat to its authority from a military unit not under its direct control. With the threat of war with the Indians, the General Court changed its position and approved a charter on 13 March 1638 for the Military Company of the Massachusetts, as the Company was initially designated. This charter, still in effect, makes the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company the oldest chartered or volunteer military company in the United States and the Western Hemisphere.

The Charter allowed the Company to elect its officers and noncommissioned officers, allowed its privates to concurrently drill with their own town militia companies, gave the Ancients precedence over all other militia training and granted land for the Company's use. The Company immediately began organizing and equipping after receipt of the charter. The first Company election was held in June 1638 on Boston Common. Captain Robert Keayne was elected the first Captain Commanding. Since that first election, the Company has elected its officers and sergeants for one-year terms every first Monday of June (June Day) on the Boston Common.

The Company began training in earnest and became a school of military science and tactics for the militia. Drill was conducted several times a month to keep its members' military skills well-honed. While the threat of Indian attack was always in the background the first war that individual Ancients served in was totally unexpected. Several Ancients left Boston to return to England to serve in the Puritan Army during the English Civil War 1642-1651.

The Company continued to drill and to provide trained officers for the militia. This came to fruition during King Phillip's War 1675-1676 which was the most serious threat to the colony's existence when several Indian tribes attacked the English colonists. Company-trained officers played a vital role in the English victory.

In 1690 the Company was first called the Artillery Company meaning that it was a volunteer unit equipped with firearms. In time the Company was designated as the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, but was always organized as an infantry company. By the early 1700 the Company's mission evolved from a volunteer infantry unit to a ceremonial unit composed of active and retired militia officers. It had also been accorded status as the senior unit of the Massachusetts Militia with the privilege of marching ahead of all other units.

Boston was in turmoil in 1774 as its citizens and Crown officials were at loggerheads concerning the right of Parliament to tax the colonists. That autumn the British disarmed the Boston Regiment and the Ancients. The Company took no role in the outbreak of fighting on 19 April 1775 due to the British occupation of Boston which kept most members in the town. However, a few members managed to escape and join the Massachusetts Army and later the Continental Army. The Company suspended operations during the Revolutionary War since the militia was in constant active service.

The Company reorganized in 1786 along with other volunteer militia companies during Shay's Rebellion. The Company quickly purchased uniforms, equipment and arms and was prepared to take the field if called upon. During the 1787 Constitutional debates in Philadelphia concerning the future of the state militias, the Company was mentioned as a prestigious volunteer militia unit. In 1792, the Company's "ancient privileges" were guaranteed by the Federal Militia Act. These privileges continue today under Title 32, U.S. Code and Chapter 33, Massachusetts General Laws.

The Company's members took leadership positions in the Massachusetts Militia and many served on active duty in the fall of 1814 during the War of 1812 when Massachusetts was threatened with invasion by British forces. The Company had no direct role in the War with Mexico 1846-1848, however, individual members served on active duty with the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The Civil War was a momentous event for both the nation and the Company. Just as in the Revolutionary War, Ancients volunteered for active service in dozens of Massachusetts regiments that the state fielded. All the militia units that had then shared the armory with the Ancients volunteered for active service and left the armory to the Company.

After the Civil War the criteria for membership changed. Veterans, regardless of rank, could join as well as patriotic men with no prior military service. Since then the Company has been comprised of both veterans and non-veterans.

The Company renewed its ties with its "parent" organization The Honourable Artillery Company of London in 1886. Since then, the two organizations have maintained a very close relationship with both organizations sharing visits of a regular basis.

Individual Ancients were mobilized for active service in the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. Since 1945, individual Ancients have served on active duty in all of the nation's wars. During WW II, the Ancients organized a wartime militia unit, the Special Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Division, Massachusetts State Guard. The unit was responsible for support units within the 2nd Division

The Company is still a military organization and is well known for the many parades and ceremonies that the organization participates in every year. It is less recognized for the considerable charitable activities it has conducted including support for the United Services Organization (USO), Toys for Tots, the Old North Church Foundation and other worthy organizations over the years. Also, the Company has visited dozens of countries and battlefields all over the world where Americans have fought and are buried during the Fall Field Day Tours of Duty in the role of good will ambassadors for the United States, Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston. On several occasions the Company has purchased and installed monuments in various countries recognizing the service and sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company still plays a vital role in the ceremonial, patriotic and civic life of City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [Top of Page]

Notable Dates:

1637 Petition to General Court to establish a military company.
1638 Charter granted to form the Military Company of the Massachusetts.
1659 Company uses the new Town House as its Headquarters under the provisions of the will of Robert Keayne.
1686 Edmund Andros as Governor of New England disrupts
life and government in Boston. Also interrupts the
workings of the Company.
1690 First time the Company is called the "Artillery
1711 The Town House burns and is replaced with a brick
Town and Province house, now called The Old State
House. It is also the Headquarters of the Company.
1737 The Company referred to as this "ancient and
honorable artillery."
1738 The centennial of the Company.
1742 A new market building with a meeting room is built
on the dock area. Peter Faneuil gave the money to
have the building built and it was named Faneuil Hall
in his honor.
1746 Company transfers from Province House to
Faneuil Hall.
1763 End of French and Indian War will make unusual
Demands on the colonies leading to the War of
Independence. This will have an effect on the
1775 The War of Independence begins on the 19th of April.
Many of the Company are called to duty in their respective militia units; a number serve in the Continental Army.
1776 Declaration of Independence is read from the balcony
of the State House by a member of the Company.
1786 The Company meets for the first time since 1775.
1792 Federal Militia Act of 1792 grants ancient privileges.
1805 Faneuil Hall is too small for Town business and is
enlarged to four times its original size. A fourth floor
is added a drill hall for the militia of the Town
including the Ancients.
1814 War with Britain: Massachusetts Militia mobilized
to defend the state.
1838 Two hundredth anniversary of the Ancients.
1846 War with Mexico: BG Caleb Chase of the Ancients
has distinguished service.
1861 The beginning of the Civil War: Many members
Enter and serve with the Union Army.
1885 The Ancients serve as escort to President Chester A.
Arthur at the laying of the corner stone of the Washington Monument.
1886 The first anniversary of the Washington Monument
Ceremony which began an annual celebration on
Washington's Birthday, now Presidents Day.
1887 The first meeting with the Honourable Artillery
Company of London.
1896 The Ancients in a large group sail to London for a visit
to the Honourable Artillery Company.
1897 Faneuil Hall has a large restoration program. Ancients
move out for a year.
1903 The Honourable Artillery Company visits the Ancients
in Boston, a gala affair.
1912 The Ancients once again sail to England, visit London,
then to Windsor to place a plaque on the birthplace of
Robert Keayne.
1917 United States enters World War I begins Many Ancients
are called to duty.
1937 Many of the Ancients travel to London for the 400th
Anniversary of the Honourable Artillery Company.
1938 Many of the London Company travel to Boston for the
300th Anniversary of the Ancients. They plant a tree on
Boston Common to commemorate the event.
1941 World War II begins for the United States. Once again
many Ancients are called to duty. Those left at home do their duty to support the war. A 1943 War Bond drive results in the Ancients buying two bombers that saw service in Europe. The Ancients organize a Massachusetts State Guard unit.
1954 For the first time the Ancients travel by Airplane for
their Fall Field Day Tour of Duty.
1975 The Bicentennial of the United States is celebrated by
the Ancients. They escort Queen Elizabeth II on he visit to Boston.
1985 The 350th Anniversary of the Ancients. The Honourable
Artillery Company travels to Boston.
1990 Once again the Ancients move from their Headquarters
because of a restoration project for Faneuil Hall. They are stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard Station on Commercial Street.
1992 Back home again.
2012 First women members enrolled in the Company. [Top of Page]

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