The Massachusetts Minutemen, the Origin of America’s First Special Forces

This 1775 engraving, made by Amos Doolittle, depicts the Minutemen and Militia engaging the British at the North Bridge in Concord. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The Massachusetts Minutemen are some of the most legendary figures of the American Revolutionary War. Initially established to prepare for war with Britain, they are most famous for answering the call of Paul Revere and others on the night of April 18–19, 1775, as British troops marched to Lexington and Concord.

10 Facts About the Massachusetts Minutemen and the Militia

This video from Minute Man NPS discusses the history of the Massachusetts Militia and the origins of the Minuteman companies that were organized in 1774.

All Men Were Required to Serve

In Massachusetts, all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 to 60 were required to serve in their town militia. Each town militia was required to gather for either inspection or training for at least six days a year.

Flintlock Muskets

The first weapons carried by the militiamen were flintlock muskets, which were required to have a “barrel not less than three foot and a half long.” Each man was also required to carry a knapsack and a blanket. 

Bayonets Were a Preferred Weapon

Early on, the men were required to carry a bladed weapon of some type, such as a sword or cutlass. By 1775, the bayonet was the preferred bladed weapon, but they were in short supply.

Buildup to War

Following the 1774 Powder Alarm, many leaders of the Patriot Cause, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Joseph Warren, believed war was inevitable.

Massachusetts Provincial Congress

The Minutemen companies were established by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, an illegal government body that was preparing to protect the inhabitants of Massachusetts against British aggression. 

Preparations for War

Military supplies were collected and hidden in towns like Concord, a spy network was organized to keep watch on British forces in Boston, and a network of express riders was established. Paul Revere and other Sons of Liberty, including William Dawes, were part of the spy network and also volunteered as express riders.

Alarms Call Out the Minutemen

On the night of April 18, 1775, rumors spread that British forces were marching to Concord to destroy the military supplies. Joseph Warren responded by sending Revere and Dawes on the road to Concord. Along the way, Revere warned the towns. Alarms were raised, and the first men to respond were the Minutemen.

The Minutemen on the First Day of the War

The next morning, hostilities started with the Battle of Lexington and continued with the Battle of Concord, Parker’s Revenge, and the Battle of Menotomy. The Minutemen were joined by thousands of Massachusetts militia throughout the day.

Captain John Parker, Statue, The Lexington Minuteman
This statue in Lexington commemorates Captain John Parker, who assembled the Lexington Militia.

The Army of Occupation Incorporates the Minutemen

By the end of the day on April 19, British forces in Boston were under siege from the Minutemen and Massachusetts Militia. Over the next few days, they were joined by militia from nearby colonies, including Connecticut and New Hampshire. These forces, 20,000 strong, were organized into the Army of Occupation, the first true American Army.

Memorials to the Minutemen and Militia

The Minutemen and Massachusetts Militia are memorialized by a statue at Concord’s North Bridge, along with a statue on Lexington Green.

Minutemen for APUSH

The Massachusetts Minutemen are covered in the AP US History curriculum in Unit 3.