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Militia Officer Selection

Militia officers had to know their men, which was unlikely if they did not live amongst them.

Last Updated on January 4, 2022 by Constitutional Militia

Militia Officers: Appointment and Selection Process

As with the men in the ranks, most Militia officers were residents of the Localities in which their commands existed. This, for the obvious reasons that:

(i) Even more than the men, the officers needed to be intimately familiar with the environs of their commands as well as the resources available and the realism of the plans devised for defending them.

(ii) The officers had to know their men, which was unlikely if they did not live amongst them. And

(iii) the men would not have had the same degree of confidence in strangers as in Local residents who had attained sufficient social standing to be commissioned as Militia officers.

From the earliest days, Rhode Islanders were empowered to select their own Militia officers by and from amongst themselves, subject to the approval of public officials in the various Towns or in the General Assembly. For example—

[1639] “It is ordered and agreed upon, that the Body of the people, viz.: the Traine Band shall have free libertie to select and chuse such persons, one or more from among themselves, as they would have to be officers among them; to exercise and traine them; and then to present them to the Magistrates for their approbation”.[1]

[1642] “[T]he officers for militarie affairs, [namely] Captains, Leiftenants, Ensigns, Sarjeants and Clarks shall be dewlie chosen every yeare at ye Generall Courte of Election; and that also the officers of each Band shall be chosen within themselves or limitts (and not officers) to be chosen one band out of another Towne or Band; and further that their Powre shall be ordered from time to time by the Towne” .[2]

Sometimes this process was open to all the inhabitants of suitable age in each Town:

[1647] “It is ordered, that all ye Inhabitants in each Towne shall choose their Military Officers from among themselves”.[3]

[1665] “And as for choosing the Captaine and other millitary officers, every one that is eighteene yeares old or more, and hath taken the oath or engagement of alegiance, shall vote if they please therein, though not freemen, intending only the officers soe chosen are only for the military exercise of training”.[4]

[1677] “This Court * * * findinge that his Majesty * * * hath required that the inhabitants of his Collony are to be led, conducted and trained up in martiall affaires, doe * * * order * * * that the inhabitants of every respective towne within this Collony, shall * * * have their free choyce or election of their millitary commanders and officers; and that yearly * * * . And that [a public official] * * * shall give forth warrant * * * to warne the inhabitants to assemble in armes * * * to make choyce and elect their commanders and millitary officers. And that for the future * * * the Captaine * * * of the respective Traine Bands, shall give forth warrant * * * to warne and require the inhabitants yearely * * * to assemble in armes and elect their respective commanders and millitary officers for the exercisinge of the people in martiall affaires in each * * * towne.”[5]

[1699, 1701, and 1705] “[T]hose who shall list themselves under the command of the respective Train Bands, * * * are ordered to give in their names to [certain officers] * * * ; so that when they find there is a suitable number, not exceeding fifty persons for each troop, the said persons so listing themselves, may have liberty to make choice of their own commander”.[6]

Footnotes:

1.) EN-56 — By the Body Politicke in the Ile of Aqethnec, Inhabiting this present, 25 of 9: month. 1639, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 93. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 103.

2.) EN-57— At the Generall Court of Election held on the 16th & 17th of March, att Newport, 1642, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 120-121. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 103.

3.) EN-58 — Acts and Orders Made and agreed upon at the Generall Court of Election, held at Portsmouth, in Rhode Island, the 19, 20, 21 of May, 1647, for the Colonie and Province of Providence, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 153. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 104.

4.) EN-59 — Acts and Orders of the Generall Assembly, sitting at Newport, May the 3, 1665, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 2, at 116. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 103.

5.) EN-60 — Proceedings of the Generall Assembly held for the Collony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at Newport, the 1st of May, 1677, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 2, at 568. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 103.

6.) EN-61 — At the Generall Assembly and Election held for the Collony at Newport, the 7th of May, 1701, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 3, at 433-434. This statute is dated “1699” in LAWS AND ACTS OF RHODE ISLAND, AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS Made from the First Settlement in 1636 to 1705, at 92, reprinted in J.D. Cushing, Editor, The Earliest Acts and Laws of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1977), at 107. Reprinted from a compilation dated “1705”, it appears in Military Obligation, Rhode Island, at 37. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 103.

From the beginning, Virginia’s Governors, as Commanders in Chief of the Militia in loco regis, appointed officers:

 • [1699] “In Order to the Setling of the Militia in the Severall Counties * * * , His Excellency [the Governor] in Councill was pleased to Nominate and appointe the principall Officer’s thereof”, followed by a long list of the appointees.[1]

[1701] “His Excy * * * appoint[ed] Gawin Corbin * * * to be Coll: and Comandr in Cheife of all ye Militia horse and foot in ye County of Middlesex.

“Wm Tayloe * * * to be Coll: and Comandr in Cheife of ye County of Richmond[.]”[2]

[1702] “[F]or the better Government of the Militia of King William County, [the Governor] * * * appoint[ed] John West to be Collonel * * * of all the Militia within ye said County, William Clayborne to be Lieut Collonel, and John Waller Major, and they are * * * to transmitt to his Excellency a List * * * of such Persons * * * most fitt to be Captains and other Commissions officers of the several Troops and Companys under their command within ye said County.”[3]

[1707] “Collo Wm Bassett is appointed Commander in Chiefe of the Militia of King Wm County & Collo Jno Smith Commander in Chiefe of the Militia of King and Queen County[.]”[4]

[1715] “For the better moddling the militia of this Colony, & bringing them under a more regular Discipline, the Governor * * * appoint[ed] * * * [certain] persons to be Lieutenants of the severall Countys”, followed by a long list of those selected.[5]

Footnotes:

1.) EN-1318 — June. 3. 1699, in Executive Journals of Virginia, Volume 1, at 443-445. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 528.

2.) EN-1319 — Aprll 25th [1701], in Executive Journals of Virginia, Volume 2, at 138. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 528.

3.) EN-1320 — At a Council at his Majestys Royal College of William & Mary March ye 12th 1701/2, in Executive Journals of Virginia, Volume 2, at 225. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 528.

4.) EN-1321 — At a Council held at the Capitol the 10th day of June 1707, in Executive Journals of Virginia, Volume 3, at 151. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 528.

5.) EN-1322 — December the 8th 1715, in Executive Journals of Virginia, Volume 3, at 419-420. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 528.

In the prudent exercise of their executive discretion, though, the Governors did not act arbitrarily, but instead were open to consultation with the people their appointments affected:

[1684] “That the chief officers of the militia for the upper counties, on the * * * rivers, * * * may present to his excellency [the Governor] the fittest and most able person to command under the captain as lieutenant of each troop, who, in the absence of the captain * * * is to command, lead, train and exercise the troope.”[1]

[1705] “His Excellency in Council was pleased to recommend to Collo Wm Randolph to advise with the principal Inhabitants of the French Settlement at Manican Town, who are the most proper Persons to be appointed Military Officers among them, his Excelley intending to forme a foot Company of the Refugees there settled.”[2]

And aggrieved Militiamen enjoyed a right to petition the Governor and his Council to remove an abusive or incompetent commander.[3]

Footnotes:

1.) EN-1323 — ACT VII, An Act for the better defence of the Country, ATT A GENERALL ASSEMBLY, BEGUN AT JAMES CITTY THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF APRILL, ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY-FOUR, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 3, at 18. Repealed, Act IX, An act repealing the 7th act of assembly made at James Cittie the 16th day of Aprill, 1684, ATT A GENERALL ASSEMBLY, BEGUN AT JAMES CITTY THE FIRST DAY OF OCTOBER, 1685, AND THENCE PROROGUED BY SEVERALL PROROGATIONS TO THE 20TH DAY OF OCTOBER, 1686, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 3, at 38. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 528-529.

2.) EN-1324 — November the 28th 1705, in Executive Journals of Virginia, Volume 3, at 60. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 529.

3.) EN-1325 — See At a Council held at the Capitol April 18th 1743, in Executive Journals of Virginia, Volume 5, at 115-116 (petition dismissed). Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 529.

Virginia’s General Assembly repeatedly required that Militia officers came from amongst the men whom they were to command:

[1705] “That * * * the * * * chief officer of the militia of every county have full power and authority to list all male persons whatsoever, from sixteen to sixty years of age within his respective county, to serve in horse or foot, * * * and to order and place * * * them under the command of such captain in the respective countys of their abode, as he shall think fitt.”[1]

Presumably, not just the men, but also their captains, would hail from “the respective countys of their abode”, if only because of the impracticality of any other arrangement for command.

[1723, 1738, 1755, 1757, 1759, 1762, 1766, and 1771] “[A]ll and every such inhabitant [of the city of Williamsburg] * * * (except the maior, recorder, and alderman * * * ) shall be listed and trained [in the Militia], * * * under the command of one or more person or persons, of the principal inhabitants of the said city, as shall be thereunto commissionated by the governor[.]”[2]

[1723 and 1738] “That every commission-officer in the militia, shall, before he acts under, or executes any such commission, in the court of his county, take the oaths appointed by law[.]”[3]

An officer would hardly have taken the oath “in the court of his county” unless that County had been the locus of his command.

[1755, 1757, 1759, 1762, 1766, and 1771] “That * * * all county lieutenants, colonels, lieutenant colonels, and other inferior officers, bearing any commission in the militia of this colony, shall be an inhabitant of, and resident in the county of which he is, or shall be commissioned to be an officer of the militia.”[4]

[1775] “[I]n each county within this colony there shall be a county-lieutenant, colonel, lieutenant-colonel, and major, to be commissioned * * * upon the nomination of the committees [of safety] of the respective counties[.]

*  *  *  *  *

“ * * * [I]f any officer, when on duty, shall misbehave, * * * the committee [of safety] of the county, city, or borough, by whom such officer was nominated, * * * shall have full power to displace and remove such officer from his post, if they shall judge it expedient for the good of the publick[.]

*  *  *  *  *

“ * * * [N]othing * * * shall * * * oblige [the inhabitants of the city of Williamsburg or the borough of Norfolk] to muster or serve in the militia out of the said city or borough; but that such inhabitants shall be enlisted and trained within the limits of the said city and borough * * * under a colonel, a major, and the necessary number of captains and other officers, all of whom shall be nominated by the committees of safety of the said city and borough * * * and commissioned by the committee of safety.”[5]

Presumably, a Local Committee of Safety would have nominated Local residents whom the Committeemen knew and trusted.

[1777] “Each company shall be commanded by a captain, two lieutenants, and an ensign; each battalion by a lieutenant colonel, and major * * * , and the whole by a county lieutenant. These officers shall be resident within their county[.]”[6]

[1784 and 1785] “Each company shall be commanded by a captain, a lieutenant, and an ensign; each regiment by a lieutenant colonel commandant, and two majors; and the whole by a county lieutenant * * * . These officers shall be resident within their county[.]”[7]

Footnotes:

1.) EN-1326 — CHAP. XXIV, An act for settling the Militia, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY, BEGUN AT THE CAPITOL, IN THE CITY OF WILLIAMSBURG, THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF OCTOBER, 1705, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 3, at 335-336. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 529.

2.) EN-1327 — CHAP. X, An Act for enlarging the jurisdiction of the Court of Hustings, in the City of Williamsburg, within the limits thereof, § IV, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY, SUMMONED TO BE HELD AT Williamsburg, the fifth day of December, 1722, and by writ of prorogation, begun and holden on the ninth day of May, 1723, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 4, at 140. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 529.

     CHAP. II, An Act, for the better Regulation of the Militia, § XIX, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY, SUMMONED TO BE HELD AT The Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, on the first day of August, [1735]. And from thence continued, by several prorogations, to the first day of November, 1738, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 5, at 23- 24. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 529.

     CHAP. II, An Act for the better regulating and training the Militia, § XXIII, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the College in the City of Williamsburg, on Thursday the twenty seventh day of February, one thousand seven hundred and fifty two. And from thence continued by several prorogations, to Tuesday the fifth day of August, one thousand seven hundred and fifty five, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 6, at 541-542. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 529.

     CHAP. III, An Act for the better regulating and disciplining the Militia, § XXIV, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in Williamsburg, on Thursday the twenty-fifth day of March, 1756, and from thence continued by several prorogations to Thursday the fourteenth of April, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 7, at 103-104. Continued, CHAP. IV, An Act for continuing an Act, intitutled, An Act for the better regulating and disciplining the Militia, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in Williamsburg, on Thursday the fourteenth day of September, 1758; and from thence continued by several prorogations to Thursday the twenty-second of February, 1759, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 7, at 274; CHAP. III, An Act for amending and further continuing the act for the better regulating and disciplining the Militia, § IX, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, on Tuesday the 26th of May, 1761, and from thence continued by several prorogations to Tuesday the 2d of November[,] 1762, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 7, at 538; CHAP. XXXI, An act to continue and amend the act for the better regulating and disciplining the militia, § X, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol in Williamsburg, on Thursday the sixth day of November, 1766, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 8, at 245; CHAP. II, An act for further continuing the act, intituled An act for the better regulating and disciplining the militia, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, the seventh day of November, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-nine, and from thence continued by several prorogations, and convened by proclamation the eleventh day of July, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-one, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 8, at 503. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 529-30.

3.) EN-1328 — CHAP. II, An Act for the settling and better Regulation of the Militia, § XXV, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY, SUMMONED TO BE HELD AT Williamsburg, the fifth day of December, 1722, and by writ of prorogation, begun and holden on the ninth day of May, 1723, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 4, at 125; CHAP. II, An Act, for the better Regulation of the Militia, § XVI, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY, SUMMONED TO BE HELD AT The Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, on the first day of August, [1735]. And from thence continued, by several prorogations, to the first day of November, 1738, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 5, at 23. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 530.

4.) EN-1329 — CHAP. II, An Act for the better regulating and training the Militia, § II, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the College in the City of Williamsburg, on Thursday the twenty seventh day of February, one thousand seven hundred and fifty two. And from thence continued by several prorogations, to Tuesday the fifth day of August, one thousand seven hundred and fifty five, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 6, at 530-531. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 530.

     CHAP. III, An Act for the better regulating and disciplining the Militia, § I, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in Williamsburg, on Thursday the twenty-fifth day of March, 1756, and from thence continued by several prorogations to Thursday the fourteenth of April, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 7, at 93. Continued, CHAP. IV, An Act for continuing an Act, intitutled, An Act for the better regulating and disciplining the Militia, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in Williamsburg, on Thursday the fourteenth day of September, 1758; and from thence continued by several prorogations to Thursday the twenty-second of February, 1759, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 7, at 274; CHAP. III, An Act for amending and further continuing the act for the better regulating and disciplining the Militia, §IX, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, on Tuesday the 26th of May, 1761, and from thence continued by several prorogations to Tuesday the 2d of November[,] 1762, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 7, at 538; CHAP. XXXI, An act to continue and amend the act for the better regulating and disciplining the militia, § X, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol in Williamsburg, on Thursday the sixth day of November, 1766, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 8, at 245; CHAP. II, An act for further continuing the act, intituled An act for the better regulating and disciplining the militia, At a General Assembly, begun and held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, the seventh day of November, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-nine, and from thence continued by several prorogations, and convened by proclamation the eleventh day of July, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-one, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 8, at 503. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 530.

5.) EN-1330 — CHAP. I, An ordinance for raising and embodying a sufficient force, for the defence and protection of this colony, AT a Convention of Delegates for the Counties and Corporations in the Colony of Virginia, held at Richmond town, in the county of Henrico, on Monday the seventeenth day of July, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 9, at 27, 29, 33. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 530.

6.) EN-1331 — CHAP. I, An act for regulating and disciplining the Militia, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY, BEGUN AND HELD At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, on Monday the fifth day of May, one thousand seven hundred and seventy seven, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 9, at 268. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 530.

7.) EN-1332 — CHAP. XXVIII, An act for amending the several laws for regulating and disciplining the militia, and guarding against invasions and insurrections, § II, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY Begun and held at the Public Buildings in the City of Richmond, on Monday the eighteenth day of October[,] one thousand seven hundred eighty- four, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 11, at 477; CHAP. I, An act to amend and reduce into one act, the several laws for regulating and disciplining the militia, and guarding against invasions and insurrections, § III, AT A GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGUN AND HELD At the Public Buildings in the City of Richmond, on Monday the seventeenth day of October[,] one thousand seven hundred and eighty-five, in Laws of Virginia, Volume 12, at 10. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States” by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., Multimedia CD, (2012), page 530.

1.) U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 16.

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