Massachusett’s Contribution to the War
Massachusetts colonists were the first to fight in the Revolutionary War and they also made up most of the soldiers in the war as militiamen, minutemen and soldiers in the Continental Army. A seventeen-volume compendium of their service is listed below from Massachusetts’ Secretary of State. The collection provides, when available, the name and age of the individual, town of residence, rank, the date and location of enlistment, areas and length of service, date of discharge, and a description of the individual’s physical features.
The first minutemen of the American Revolution were organized in Worcester County Massachusetts in September of 1774. Then, in a effort to weed out loyalists in the militia, officials at the County Convention required the resignation of all officers and the reconstitution of the militia into seven regiments with new officers. The officials then called for each regiment to put aside one-third of its regiment to form into new, special companies called minutemen. These men were always expected to keep their arms and equipment with them and be ready to march at a minute’s warning. A handful of other counties voluntarily adopted this policy and when the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met in Salem in October of 1774 it urged all counties to adopt the policy.
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When the Continental Army was first established in June of 1775, out of the 37,363 soldiers who enlisted in the first year, about 16,449 were from Massachusetts. In almost every year of the Revolutionary War, the majority of soldiers in the Continental Army were from Massachusetts, according to Ainsworth and Spofford,
“Thus, in 1777, long after the evacuation of Massachusetts by the enemy, we find that 12,591, out of 68,720 troops enlisted, were from Massachusetts; being a larger number than any other state contributed. The same lead was maintained throughout the war, except in 1779 and 1780, when Virginia’s soldiers and military actually in the field exceeded those of Massachusetts by a few hundred, while in 1782 (which witnessed the virtual close of the struggle), Massachusetts put 4,423 men in the field, out of a total of 18,006 in the Continental Army, Virginia having only 2,204 at the same period. Other regions witnessed more decisive battles, and continued for a much longer time, the immediate theatre of war; but Massachusetts soldiers marched or sailed to every colony, and bore their part in every important battle, from Bunker Hill down to Yorktown.”
To document Massachusetts’s role in the American Revolution, the Secretary of the Commonwealth was directed by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1891 to prepare and publish “An indexed compilation of the records of the Massachusetts soldiers and sailors who served in the army or navy during the Revolutionary War, as shown in the archives of in the office of the Secretary.” The compilation began with the creation of an index to all names found in the muster rolls, pay rolls, and other documents found in the Revolutionary War archives. Later, primary sources included military orders, regiment books, muster rolls, pay abstracts, commission records, account books, discharge papers, and many other service related documents that happen to be found within the collections of the archive.
The materials date from 1775 to 1782 and follow the military careers of Massachusetts soldiers and sailors and their commanding officers. Among the first 68,720 Massachusetts soldiers are about 1,700 were African American and Native American men. These soldiers fought in the some of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War, such as Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775 where 150 African-American soldiers served. Altogether, for all years of the war, approximately 410,000 Massachusetts servicemen are identified within the seventeen volumes of the study.
Prepared by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, this is an indexed compilation of the records of the Massachusetts soldiers and sailors who served in the army or navy during the Revolutionary War. This is a seventeen volume series, and contains an alphabetized list of all surnames. There are over 175,000 records in this database, which give, when available, the name and age of the individual, town of residence, the date and location of enlistment, areas and length of service, date of discharge, and description of their physical features.
The General Court of 1891, by Chapter 100 of its resolves, directed the Secretary of the Commonwealth to prepare and publish ” An indexed compilation of the records of the Massachusetts soldiers and sailors who served in the army or navy during the Revolutionary War, as shown in the archives in the office of the Secretary.” The work was begun in Sep- tember of 1891 by making a card record index to all names found upon the muster rolls, pay rolls and other documents which form the Revolutionary War archives. The Revolutionary collection at that time numbered sixty volumes of rolls, orders, receipts, etc., together with the continental regiment books, numbering twenty-one volumes of individual pay accounts.
The work on this collection had been nearly completed when a mass of rolls and miscellaneous papers was purchased under the authority of Chapter 33 of the Resolves of 1893. This addition is equivalent in amount of material to two volumes and is now known as the Drake collection. Subsequent to this extension of the Revolutionary series, in 1894, a large number of company and regimental returns, descriptive lists, orderly books, account books, etc., making fourteen new volumes, were found among a miscellaneous, unclassified collection of documents which had been hidden away for years in the various storage places connected with the Secretary’s office.
Although much more time was taken for printing than had been originally estimated, it was deemed proper to incorporate these newly found records in the regular work, rather than to add a supplement; and this was accordingly done. It will be seen that the original Revolutionary rolls collection has been augmented by sixteen volumes, and it is estimated that the number of references to individual records of service has been increased at least one-third. It is from the card record index, comprising over six hundred and twenty thousand cards, that this copy was prepared for the printer.
Publications of the Massachusetts Secretary of State
- Nell, William Cooper. The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution. Boston, Robert F. Wallcut, 1855.
- Grundset, Eric G. Forgotten Patriots: African-American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War. National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 2008.
- Hartgrove, W. B. “The Negro Soldier in the American Revolution.”, The Journal of Negro History, vol. 1, no. 2, 1916, pp. 110–131.
- Hirschman Elizabeth Caldwell and Yates, Donald N. Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America – A Genealogical History, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, and London, 2012.
- Bell, John L. “The Massachusetts Militia, and Its Exceptional Men.” Boston 1775, 4 Aug. 2017.
- “The Battle of Bunker Hill Has a Diverse History.” African American Registry, “African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts – Revolutionary Participation.“. Massachusetts Historical Society.
- Odle, Cliff. “Brothers in Arms: African American Soldiers in the American Revolution.” The Freedom Trail Foundation
- Collins, Elizabeth M. “Black Soldiers in the Revolutionary War.” U.S. Army, 27 Feb. 2013
- Grundset, Eric G. “African-Americans of Massachusetts in the Revolution.” Massachusetts Society Sons of the American Revolution, 20 June. 2013
- “African Americans During the Revolutionary War – Teacher Reference Sheet.” The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2006
- Leigh, Kathy. “Massachusetts Revolutionary War Soldiers 1775-1783.” Massachusetts Roots, Feb. 2002, “Minutemen”. Encyclopedia Britannica
- Spofford, Ainsworth R. Massachusetts In the American Revolution. Washington D.C.: District of Columbia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, 1895.