The Governor’s Guards of Connecticut are four distinct units of the Armed Forces of the State of Connecticut. There are two foot guard units and two horse guard units. In colonial times, one foot guard unit and one horse guard unit served the Hartford area and the other two in the New Haven area. The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard was created in 1771 with a Second Company raised in 1775. The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard is the oldest American military formation in the United States with an unbroken lineage. The First Company Horse Guard was created in 1788 as the Independent Volunteer Troop of Horse Guards in Hartford. The Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard was created in 1808 in New Haven. Both were created to serve and protect the governor between his travels between New Haven and Hartford.
The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard was organized in Hartford in October 1771 as the Connecticut Governor’s Guard, and is the oldest military organization in continuous existence in the United States. Although other organizations may have been formed at an earlier date, the First Company is unique in its record of unbroken service.
Hartford, in 1771, was remote from larger towns. It was a small town of 3,000 inhabitants, with few churches and schools. The journey to New York or Boston took three days in a stagecoach which ran but once a week. Small as it was, Hartford was not lacking in public spirit. A group of leading young men in Hartford decided it was time to organize a select company for the purpose of escorting the Governor and General Assembly at the General Elections after an unfortunate incident in 1768, when a “trainband” made a farce out of the escort duty. Certainly another reason for the decision was that a company from East Hartford actually did escort duty in 1769 and 1770. Accordingly, Samuel Wyllys and others petitioned the General Assembly. The petition was granted by the Assembly, and Samuel Wyllys, a young man of 32, was elected Captain, William Knox, Lieutenant, and Ebenezer Austin, Ensign. The company was known at this time as the Governor’s Guard.
As Connecticut had two capitals at this time, it was not long before citizens of New Haven, its other capital, felt the need to establish a unit of Governor’s Guards composed of their own citizens. The Second Company was organized in New Haven primarily by Benedict Arnold who was elected the company’s Captain. This caused the original unit to take the name First Company Governor’s Guard and the new organization to take the name Second Company Governor’s Guards. It was in 1778, with the establishment of a unit of Governor’s Horse Guards, that the original unit changed its name for the final time to “First Company Governor’s Foot Guard” and the newer unit adopted the name “Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard”. Both units of Foot Guard are recognized by the state of Connecticut as separate and distinct entities.
The ceremonial uniform of the First Company, as far as can be determined, is substantially the same as the original one, although it has picked up elements from different time periods over the years. Tradition hold that the original uniform was copied from that of the Coldstream Guards, the personal body guard of Queen Charlotte. The uniform consists of a scarlet coat, the tails of which are faced with buff, and a black velvet frond crossed with silver braid. The vest and breeches are of buff, and the leggings are black velvet. The hat, or ‘bearskin’ as it is known, is of bear skin with a shield in front bearing the State Coat of Arms and supports a red and black feather plume on the side. Enlisted men wear white cross straps. Sergeants dispense with the cross straps and wear a white belt, sword and shoulder scales. Officers wear a black and silver belt, fringed epaulets, and carry a saber instead of a sword.
The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard has been closely connected with many historical events. In 1777, although not obligated to do so, it resolved to join the patriot army at Saratoga. As an advance guard of reinforcements under Captain Jonathon Bull, they were crossing the Rhineback Flats on their way to Saratoga when they were met by a messenger with the good news of Burgoyne’s surrender.
Earlier, at the start of the American War of Independence recognizing that members of the Second Company Governor’s Guards were keen to travel to Massachusetts where the fighting had begun at Lexington and Concord, the colonial authorities wished the Guards to remain at home and kept their weapons locked up. On April 22, 1775, Captain Benedict Arnold called his men together at a tavern and successfully demanded the keys to the magazine for his company’s weapons or else they would break into the storehouse. He reportedly stated, “None but the Almighty God shall prevent my marching.”
During the American Civil War men of the 2nd Company formed Company “K” 6th Connecticut Volunteers and fought in 26 battles in the conflict.
All four units of the Governor’s Guards remain active today as subordinate units of the Connecticut Military Department under the command & control of the Connecticut Adjutant General. Their mission today remains primarily ceremonial, but they can be called up to active service to augment the Connecticut National Guard for state emergency operations. They perform their annual training each August at Camp Niantic in East Lyme. Over the years, the location of their headquarters have changed due to space availability and financial costs. Currently, the First Company Governor’s Foot Guard is headquartered in Hartford, CT with the Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard headquartered in Branford, CT. The First Company Governor’s Horse Guard is headquarted in Avon, CT and the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard is headquarted in Newtown, CT.