The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is the oldest – and most often made fun of – chartered military company in North America.
On every first Monday of June since 1638, the Ancient and Honorables elect their officers in Boston. That, actually, is the reason it started out as a volunteer militia: to train young officers (though they aren’t so young any more). Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop signed their first charter in March 1638.
Known as June Day, it starts with a parade from Faneuil Hall. Historic military companies join them in the march to the Granary Burial Ground. There, the militia lays a wreath at the grave of its founder, Robert Keayne. Keayne was a wealthy Puritan merchant who left the Ancient and Honorables a bequest in his will. He also pointed out they didn’t measure up to similar English military companies.
The parade then proceeds to The Cathedral Church of St. Paul for a memorial service for recently deceased members. It reconvenes and marches to Boston Common, where the men place ballots for officers and sergeants on the drumhead in a reenactment of the first election. A cannon volley then greets the governor of Massachusetts during the change of command ceremony.
Over the years, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company has evolved into a color guard for the governor and preserver of history. It also maintains a museum and library at its headquarters in Faneuil Hall‘s attic, with relics from every war in which the U.S. has engaged.
Making Fun of the Ancient and Honorables
On July 4, 1851, Lowell, Mass., probably held the first “Antiques and Horribles” parade mocking the venerable militia. It featured silly clothes and a cannon made out of a pistol on stone wheels drawn by oxen. Antiques and Horribles spread throughout New England during the 19th century. Today, Gloucester, Mass., and Glocester, R.I., still stage Antiques and Horribles parades.
The Ancient and Honorables often served as the butt of jokes at the annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. Former Mass. Senate President William Bulger often called them the “Budweiser Brigade.”
This story last updated in 2022.
Featured image by leoj saidnawey via youtube.