The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is the oldest chartered military organization in North America and the third oldest chartered military organization in the world. While it was originally constituted as a citizen militia serving on active duty in defense of the northern British colonies, it has become, over the centuries primarily an honor guard and a social and ceremonial group in Massachusetts. Today the Company serves as Honor Guard to the Governor of Massachusetts who is also its Commander in Chief.
As the settlements which followed the landing at Plymouth increased and spread, there was no organized military force for protection – only local volunteer companies, which lacked the capacity for joint action or any centralized authority. Many of the settlers of Boston had been members in England of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) of London, and the military training they had received in that company led them to form a similar organization in the new country. In 1637 the company was formed as a citizen militia for instruction in military discipline and tactics. Robert Keayne and many of the original members of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company had been members of the original HAC of London.
Governor Winthrop granted a charter in March 1638, and on the first Monday in June following, an election of officers was held on Boston Common. Among the charter members was Nicholas Upsall, who later forsook his membership to join the Quakers. Since that time, the company has continued to hold their annual elections on the Boston Common on the first Monday in June by casting their votes on a drum head. Company membership has long been considered a distinction among the New England gentry in a similar manner to which regimental membership conferred distinction on the sons of the English gentry. The Honourable Artillery Company of London and the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts acknowledge and celebrate their common historical roots.
Since 1746, the headquarters of the Company has been located in Faneuil Hall. In this armory, the company maintains a military museum and library containing relics from every war in which the United States has been engaged since its settlement. The armory is open to the public daily.
In the 1870s, this organization was parodied in Ancient and Horribles Parade in Vermont and other places in New England. This practice largely died out by 1900.
In 1927 Chepachet, Rhode Island refounded this parade.
Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company members have served in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War. The Company has had eight members who were recognized with the Medal of Honor, and has had four of its members serve as President of the United States: Presidents James Monroe, Chester A. Arthur, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy. Honorary membership was also extended to Prince Albert and his son Edward VII.
In 2012, the organization voted to induct its first woman members. Lieutenant Colonel Catherine M. Corkery and Lieutenant Colonel Christine Hoffmann, both officers in the Massachusetts National Guard were inducted into the organization on September 17, 2012.
The group’s motto is “Acta Non Verba” which is a Latin phrase meaning “Deeds Not Words”.
Referring to its well-known social cachet, some wags have suggested its unofficial motto is “Invincible in peace, invisible in war.”