Minutemen were the American Revolution militiaman who agreed to be ready for military duty “at a minute’s warning”. The first minutemen were organized in Worcester County, Massachusetts, in September 1774, when revolutionary leaders sought to eliminate Tories from the old militia by requiring the resignation of all officers and reconstituting the men into seven regiments with new officers. One-third of the members of each regiment was to be ready to assemble under arms at instant call and was specifically designated “minutemen.” Other counties began adopting the same system, and, when Massachusetts’ Provincial Congress met in Salem in October, it directed that the reorganization be completed. The first great test of the minutemen was at the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. On July 18, 1775, the Continental Congress recommended that other colonies organize units of minutemen; Maryland, New Hampshire, and Connecticut are known to have complied.
According to Massachusetts colonial law, all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 were required to keep a serviceable firearm and serve in a part-time citizen army called the militia. Their duty was to defend the colony against her enemies; chiefly the Indians and the French. The colonial militia sometimes fought side by side with British soldiers, particularly during the last French and Indian War in the 1750's and early 60's. However, as a result of the mounting tensions between Great Britain and her American colonies, that would soon change.
In October of 1774, following the lead of the Worcester County Convention, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress called upon all militia officers to resign their commissions under the old Royal Government and for new elections to be held. This effectively purged the officer corps of loyalists. They also called upon the towns (most of which supported one or more companies of militia) to set aside a portion of its militia and form them into new, special companies called minute men.
Battles of Lexington and Concord, (April 19, 1775), initial skirmishes between British regulars and American provincials, marking the beginning of the American Revolution. Acting on orders from London to suppress the rebellious colonists, General Thomas Gage, appointed royal governor of Massachusetts, ordered his troops to seize the colonists’ military stores at Concord. In route from Boston, the British force of 700 men was met on Lexington Green by 77 local minutemen and others who had been forewarned of the raid by the colonists’ efficient lines of communication, including the ride of Paul Revere.
Minute Men were different from the militia in the following ways: While service in the militia was required by law, minute men were volunteers. The minute men trained far more frequently than the militia. Two or three times per week were common. Because of this serious commitment of time, they were paid. One shilling per drill was average. Militia only trained once every few months (on average) and was paid only if they were called out beyond their town, or formed part of an expedition. Minute Men were expected to keep their arms and equipment with them at all times, and in the event of an alarm were to be ready to march at a minute's warning - hence they were called "minute men".
Among the Anglo-Saxon peoples of early medieval Europe, the militia was institutionalized in the fyrd, in which every able-bodied free male was required to give military service. Similar arrangements evolved in other countries. During the American Revolution, the militia provided the bulk of the American forces as well as a pool for recruiting or drafting of regulars. The militia played a similar role in the War of 1812 and the American Civil War. After that conflict, however, the militia fell into disuse. State-controlled volunteer units, referred to as the National Guard, were formed in most states and came to serve a quasi-social function. Many of these volunteers were veterans of the Civil War, and many were from the middle classes.
Although the terms militia and minutemen are sometimes used interchangeably today, in the 18th century there was a decided difference between the two. Militia were men in arms formed to protect their towns from foreign invasion and ravages of war. Minutemen were a small hand-picked elite force which were required to be highly mobile and able to assemble quickly. Minutemen were selected from militia muster rolls by their commanding officers. Typically 25 years of age or younger, they were chosen for their enthusiasm, reliability, and physical strength. Usually about one quarter of the militia served as Minutemen, performing additional duties as such. The Minutemen were the first armed militia to arrive or await a battle.
As early as 1645, men were selected from the militia ranks to be dressed with matchlocks or pikes and accoutrements within half an hour of being warned. In 1689 another type of Minuteman company came into existence. Called Snowshoe men, each was to "provide himself with a good pair of snowshoes, one pair of moccasins, and one hatchet" and to be ready to march on a moment's warning. Minutemen also played a role in the French and Indian War in the 1750's. A journal entry from Samuel Thompson, a Massachusetts militia officer, states, "...but when our men were gone, they sent eleven more at one minute's warning, with 3 days provision..." By the time of the Revolution, Minutemen had been a well-trained force for six generations in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Every town had maintained its 'training band'. The adversity that this region faced — Native-American uprisings, war with France, and potential for local insurrections, social unrest, and rioting — provided ample reason to adhere to a sound militia organization. In his recent book, perhaps David Hackett Fischer puts it best, "The muster of the Minutemen in 1775 was the product of many years of institutional development...it was also the result of careful planning and collective effort." By the time of the Revolution, Massachusetts had been training, drilling, and improving their militia for well over a hundred years.
In February of 1775 Concord was one of the first towns to comply with the order to create Minutemen companies out of the militia. Of approximately 400 militia from Concord's muster rolls, one hundred would also serve as Minutemen. When a battle took place Minutemen companies from several towns combined their units. An officer from the 43rd Regiment of Foot was sent to the North Bridge in Concord with a number of light infantry. Minutemen from Concord, Acton, Littleton, and other towns combined forces. After a few volleys were fired, the British light infantry retreated back to the Concord Common area. Lacking central command, with each company of Minutemen loyal to their own town, they did not pursue the redcoats. In the running battle that ensued fifteen miles back to Boston the Massachusetts militia would see their last action as Minutemen in history. The militia would go on to form an army, surrounding Boston and inflicting heavy casualties on the British army at Bunker and Breed's Hill.
Although lacking central command, the Minutemen were still better organized and battle-tested than any other part-time military. They were a vital and necessary force, playing a crucial role in not only the Revolutionary War, but in earlier conflicts. Without these "ready in a minute" men, our history may have been written in a very different way.
Today, we need to follow our forefathers lead and do the same by organizing the “reserve militia” in every county comprising of every able-bodied man of at least 17 and under 45 years of age, not a member of the National Guard or Naval Militia being a third militia is a state defense force that is authorized by state and federal laws, being necessary to the security of a free State.