Detailed History of the Ancient and Honorable
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
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
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
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.
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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
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
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
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
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
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