A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip's War

A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip's War

A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip's War

A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip's War

Synopsis

While it lasted only sixteen months, King Philip's War (1675-1676) was arguably one of the most significant of the colonial wars that wracked early America. As the first major military crisis to directly strike one of the Empire's most important possessions: the Massachusetts Bay Colony, King Philip's War marked the first time that Massachusetts had to mobilize mass numbers of ordinary, local men to fight. In this exhaustive social history and community study of Essex County, Massachusetts's militia, Kyle F. Zelner boldly challenges traditional interpretations of who was called to serve during this period.

Drawing on muster and pay lists as well as countless historical records, Zelner demonstrates that Essex County's more upstanding citizens were often spared from impressments, while the "rabble" -- criminals, drunkards, the poor-- were forced to join active fighting units, with town militia committees selecting soldiers who would be least missed should they die in action. Enhanced by illustrations and maps, A Rabble in Arms shows that, despite heroic illusions of a universal military obligation, town fathers, to damaging effects, often placed local and personal interests above colonial military concerns.

Excerpt

On a late August day in 1675, a lone rider arrived in the coastal town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, bearing dispatches for the local committee of militia. The message came from Major General Daniel Denison in nearby Salem, the commander of the Essex County Regiment. King Philip’s War had been raging since June and Massachusetts Bay was mobilizing its militia as quickly as possible. The rider found Samuel Ward, lieutenant of the town’s militia, and handed over a single sheet of paper. As Ward took the dispatch, he knew that the day he dreaded had finally arrived; in his hand was an impressment notice. The document ordered the militia committee to select five men to serve in a newly formed expeditionary company under the command of Captain Thomas Lathrop of Beverly. Lathrop’s company was urgently needed in western Massachusetts to defend the towns of the Connecticut River Valley against attacking Wampanoags, Nipmucks, and other Native Americans. Lieutenant Ward quickly called a meeting of the town’s militia committee. Richard Norman (the town militia’s ensign), Major William Hathorne from Salem, and Lieutenant Ward quickly assembled, most likely in the town’s meetinghouse. The three men had some hard choices to make. Who from the town would they send to war?

The impressment order called for able soldiers to be sent—the colony needed good men to stop the Indian onslaught and strike back at the enemy. But the three men on the committee knew that they would have to answer to their town if the soldiers were lost in battle; they might even have to tell the men’s families the grim news of defeat and death if the worst occurred. Probably after much discussion and debate, the men drew up a list of five names. Then they summoned Marblehead’s constables, Richard Hanniford and Nicholas Andrews, and gave them the signed impressment warrants. The constables had the unenviable task of finding William Dew, Samuel Hudson, John Merrett, Mark Pittman, and Thomas Rose and informing them that they had been pressed “for the county . . .

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