MINUTEMEN. The term minutemen denotes members of the militia who volunteered to be ready to turn out for active service at literally a moment's notice. While the need to spring instantly into arms existed from the earliest days of settlement, in Massachusetts at least, the term minnit men seems to have been used first in 1756, during the French and Indian War. In the months before the outbreak of hostilities with Britain, volunteer military organizations with this mandate sprang up in all the colonies, although not all of these units were institutionally distinct from the militia.
The term minuteman is most closely associated with the units that appeared in Massachusetts in the wake of the Powder Alarm of 1 September 1774. As a means of eliminating supporters of royal government from the existing militia organizations, the Worcester County Convention called on 6 September for the resignations of all officers in the three county regiments and for the town militia companies to elect new officers. The town companies were rearranged to form seven new regiments, and new field officers were elected and instructed to organize one-third of the men in each new regiment to be ready to assemble under arms on a minute's notice. On 21 September 1774, this rapid-response portion of the militia was specifically referred to as "minutemen." The Massachusetts Provincial Congress, meeting in October, found that the militia in other counties were adopting the same system, and on 26 October it directed that this reorganization be completed across the colony.
Over the next six months, the process of purging royal supporters and creating new minuteman companies was undertaken with a mixture of urgency and deliberateness. The transition had not been completed by mid-April 1775, but enough had been accomplished so that the opponents of royal government were in firm command of the dual system of militia and minutemen when the regulars marched out of Boston on the night of 18 April. The men who stood in Captain John Parker's company on Lexington green on the morning of 19 April 1775 were true minutemen, and minuteman companies from surrounding towns led the attack at Concord Bridge later in the day. While the minutemen fulfilled the function for which they had been created, the bulk of the Massachusetts citizen-soldiers who turned out on 19 April were enrolled in ordinary or "common" militia companies. Once in the field, there was little to distinguish minuteman from militiaman, although the parallel command structure did have to be sorted out during active combat. When the Provincial Congress a few days later authorized the creation of volunteer companies enlisted for eight months of service (to the end of December 1775), the separate structure of minuteman companies and regiments was allowed to lapse. Men who had served in the minuteman and militia companies on 19 April formed the backbone of the "eight-months' army," demonstrating once again their willingness to undertake the defense of their rights by force of arms.
On 18 July 1775, Congress recommended that other colonies organize units of minutemen for short terms of service, and Maryland, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Connecticut are known to have complied. The creation of separate minuteman companies was generally replaced by designating a rotating portion of the existing militia companies as the first responders.
SEE ALSO Lexington and Concord.
Castle, Norman, ed. The Minutemen, 1775–1975. Southborough, Mass.: Yankee Colour Corporation, 1975.
French, Allen. The First Year of the American Revolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1934.
――――――. "Minutemen." In Dictionary of American History. Edited by James Truslow Adams. 2d revised. edition. 5 vols. New York: Scribners, 1942.
Massachusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War: A Compilation from the Archives. 17 vols. Boston: Wright and Potter Printing, State Printers, 1896–1908.
Wroth, L. Kinvin, et al., eds. Province in Rebellion: A Documentary History of the Founding of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1774–1775. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.
revised by Harold E. Selesky
MINUTEMEN were citizen soldiers in the American colonies who volunteered to fight the British at a "minute's" notice during the years before the American Revolution. The most famous minutemen were those who figured in the battles at Lexington and Concord, though minutemen militias were organized in other New England colonies as well.
While the term "minuteman" goes back at least to 1756, the famous body that developed under that name first appearing in the reorganization of the Massachusetts militia by the Worcester convention and the Provincial Congress in 1774. To rid the older militia of Tories, resignations of officers were called for in September. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress called for a reorganization of regiments and enrolled the minutemen as an organized militia. The Provincial Congress, meeting in October, found the same process voluntarily going on in the militia of other counties, and directed its completion. Thus a system of regiments was established in the province, with the minutemen to be ready for any emergency. The formation of the minuteman regiments proceeded slowly. On 14 February 1775, the Provincial Congress set 10 May for a complete return. None was ever made, and only scattered records show that while Marblehead organized its company on 7 November 1774, Woburn, though close to Boston, did not vote to establish
its minutemen until 17 April 1775, two days before the outbreak of war. No complete list of minuteman companies and regiments was possible, and only from town records, a few lists, and the "Lexington alarm lists" of minutemen and militia can a fragmentary roster be patched together of an organization that never was completed.
On 19 April, militia and minutemen turned out together to resist the British in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in the first battles of the American Revolution. After news traveled through the countryside that the minutemen engaged in a skirmish with the British at Lexington, the colonial forces met with little opposition as they moved to the Concord bridge to meet the British expedition later that day. Both militia forces and minutemen participated in these conflicts. The minuteman organization was abandoned by the Provincial Congress when they organized Washington's Eight Months Army. As this was formed, it drew men from both minutemen and militia. Those who could not join went back into the militia, and the minutemen thenceforth disappeared in Massachusetts.
Other colonies organized their minutemen on the recommendation of the Continental Congress in July 1775. Maryland, New Hampshire, and Connecticut used minutemen for rounds of service on special brief enlistments. Most notably, the Connecticut minutemen resisted William Tryon's expedition against Danbury.
The battle site in Concord, Massachusetts, is the present-day site of the Minute Man National Historic Park.
Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and their World. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976, 2001.
Hoffman, Ronald, and Peter J. Albert, eds. Arms and Independence: The Military Character of the American Revolution. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984.
min·ute·man / ˈminətˌman/ • n. (pl. -men) hist. (in the period preceding and during the American Revolution) a member of a class of American militiamen who volunteered to be ready for service at a minute's notice. ∎ (Minuteman) a type of three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile.