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Militia service in early Maine

The Legal Genealogist is off to Maine this weekend for the Maine Genealogical Society’s 2016 Annual Fall Conference in Brewer — and am sure hoping to see many friends old and new at the conference.

me-militiaBut of course that means I was was poking around in old Maine statutes last night, and in doing so came across a law that started me thinking.

What about the names we see on a militia list there?

What do we know about those men?

Now you already know where I’m going to start with this particular question.

As usual, I want to look at the laws.

And not just because I was poking around in the statute books, but because the laws can often explain the records we’re seeing — or not seeing.

Or, in this case, the names that are or aren’t on a list.

Maine statutes on this subject begin not in Maine at all but rather with the 1792 statute of the United States:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives, of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That each and every free, able bodied, white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of the age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty five years, (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the Militia, by the Captain or commanding officer of the company, within whose bounds such cit izen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act.1

There were some people who didn’t have to serve under federal law: “the Vice President of the United States, the officers, Judicial and Executive of the Government of the United States, the members of both Houses of Congress, and their respective officers; all Custom House Officers, with their Clerks ; all Post Officers and Stage Drivers, who are employed in the care and conveyance of the Mail of the Post Office of the United States ; all Ferrymen, employed at any ferry, on the post road ; all Inspectors of Exports ; all Pilots ; all Mariners, actually employed in the sea service of any citizen or merchant, within the United States ; and all persons who now are, or may hereafter be exempted by the laws of the respective States,” to be precise.2

The federal government passed several militia acts after that one, but none that changed the basic requirement.

And then along came Maine statehood and, with it, Maine’s own militia act. It added a few people to the exemption list:

… the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court ; all regularly ordained Ministers of the Gospel, of every denomination, while they shall ordinarily officiate as such, and continue in regular standing ; all officers, who have heretofore held, or may hereafter hold commissions in the Militia of this State for the term of five years, or shall have been superseded, or whose corps or company shall have been disbanded, and who have been honorably discharged ; and every person of the religious denominations of Quakers and Shakers …


All officers, who have held or may hereafter hold commissions in the Army or Navy of the United States, or in the Militia of any of the United States ; and all officers, who have held or may hereafter hold commissions in the Militia of this State for a term less than five years, and have been discharged otherwise than in pursuance of any sentence of a Court Martial ; and all Staff-officers, who shall have ceased to act as such, in consequence of the resignation, promotion or removal of the officers, who appointed them ; and such Engine men between thirty and forty five years of age as shall annually produce to the commanding officer of the company within whose bounds they reside, certificates from the Selectmen of their respective towns, that they have been legally appointed and are bound to perform the duties of Engine men, and that there are not more than ten appointed to any one engine…3

And anybody between the ages of 40 and 45 didn’t have to do militia duty unless called out to suppress insurrection. He did have to keep himself equipped with arms and ammunition just in case.4

It was up to the enrolling officer to check the ages of the men in his district, and if he challenged anybody, that person had to prove his age to the satisfaction of the enrolling officer.5

The troops had to turn out on parade once a year, so their equipment could be checked, usually on the first of May, but in any event not on an election day.6

Put it altogether and what does it tell us?

It tells us that we should find the men of Maine on a militia list where they live as long as they were between the ages of 18 and 45. Not on the list? Probably under 18 or over 45.

It tells us that some men won’t be on the list even if they were the right age. Not on the list? Check the rolls of the Quakers or the Shakers, or the ordination lists of the churches.

It tells us that some men won’t be on the list even if they were the right age and laymen of ordinary denominations. Not on the list? Check the occupations: were they postal employees? Stage drivers? Or, of course important in Maine, were they mariners?

In this, as in many similar issues, the answers to the names on the list — or not on the list — will be found in the law.


  1. “Laws of the United States, relating to the Militia, now in force,” in “An Act to organize, govern, and discipline the Militia of this State,” Chapter 64, in Laws of the State of Maine, 2 vols. (Brunswick, Me. : State Printer, 1821), II: 687; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 15 Sep 2016).
  2. Ibid., at 688.
  3. Ibid., at 688-689.
  4. Ibid., at 689.
  5. Ibid., at 709.
  6. Ibid., at 715.
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