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Pennsylvania Militia

posted Apr 24, 2010, 1:16 PM by James Wise   [ updated Aug 29, 2010, 11:58 PM by Travis Wise ]

The earliest settlers were, soon after landing here, compelled to re- sort to some mode of military organization, by the action of the Indians. Then there were the conflicting claims to the country by the Spaniards, French and English. The different settlements, as they happened to be from different nations of Europe, were often given to raids upon neighboring colonies, and sometimes drove them off and destroyed their property; at other times they were content to take the colony under their authority, and incorporate the conquered colonists with their own society. Except the Quakers, all the people were more or less militant. As early as 1750, nearly every able-bodied man was in some way or other connected with the militia of his county. The Indians had become so troublesome that parties, when they went out to open new roads, had to go as armed squads of militia. In 1755, COLONEL JAMES SMITH, who after- ward became eminent in the wars of the country, was captured by the Indians while in the act of opening a road from Loudon to Bedford. After the Revolution the Assembly enacted laws for the regular or- ganization of the militia, and appointed officers to take charge there- of, and to hold regular encampments and muster days. All the people of the county enrolled in the militia were required to meet upon the mus- ter days, and to bring their guns and learn the drill of arms. Those who had no guns, the State being too poor to supply any, were requested to use a stick or, as some did, a corn stalk; and, hence, the name of "Cornstalk militia" was at one time a term quite common. These muster days were eventually great annual events in the county. Here the peo- ple met, discussed political and current events, arbitrated disputes, fought out old quarrels, and some drank whisky and rather indiscrimi- nately frolicked and fought, as opportunity offered. In the early part of the century the authorities ordered a change in the uniform from a black to a white cockade in the hats of the militia. In counties where the Federal party was the stronger, this order created in some places almost riots, and in many there were acts of insubordination and open denunciation of the order. Companies would put on the required cockade while in the ranks drilling, but, the moment the commanding officer would say "dismiss," they would tear off the regular cockades and trample them under foot, and from their pockets produce and place in their hats the other color cockade, and thus boisterously parade the town. Many court-martials of militia officers occurred for insubordi- nations, and the two political parties for a while were the "white cockades" and the "black cockades."