October 2: The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard

 

One of the largest and most effusively celebrated civic holidays in 18th century Connecticut was Election Day, when the freemen of the colony gathered in town centers to cast their votes for local officials.  Many townspeople viewed Election Day as a fine excuse to gather together and socialize under the guise of exercising their civic duties, but more often than not, these social gatherings devolved into loud and rowdy crowds, complete with plenty of public drunkenness and the occasional fistfight.  By midcentury, political candidates were in the habit of hiring quasi-military escorts to guarantee their safety as they walked the streets during Election Day — but in 1768, the company hired to accompany Governor William Pitkin through Hartford became so drunk and disorderly themselves that the Governor had them disbanded.

A few years later, a group of nearly fifty Hartford men led by future Continental Army colonel Samuel Wyllys submitted a petition to the General Assembly on October 2, 1771, desiring to form a new “Governor’s Guard” and restore honor to the service.  With the Assembly’s approval, the Governor’s Guard was charged “to attend upon and guard the Governor and General Assembly annually on election days and at all other times as occasion shall require, equipped with proper arms and uniformly dressed.”

Four years later, a second company of the Governor’s Guard was created in New Haven (then the co-capital city of Connecticut) and led by none other than Benedict Arnold, who was then one of the Elm City’s leading colonial citizens; at that time the two groups assumed the respective names of the First and Second Company, Governor’s Foot Guard.  To this day, both companies of the Governor’s Foot Guard are mainstays in parades and ceremonies throughout the state, sporting distinctive colonial-style red uniforms modeled after the First Regiment of Foot Guards in England.  Throughout their long history, members for the Governor’s Foot Guard have escorted dignitaries like presidents George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy as well as other heads of state including Queen Elizabeth II.  With a history of nearly 250 years of serving Connecticut with honor and distinction, the First Company Governor’s Foot Guards is considered the oldest continuously-operated military unit in the United States.

A 19th century print depicts the First Company, Govenor’s Foot Guard in front of the State House in Hartford. (Connecticut Historical Society)

Further Reading

Our History,” First Company Governor’s Foot Guard

Matthew Reardon, “Forgotten Volunteers: The 1st Company, Governors Foot Guard During the Saratoga Campaign,” Journal of the American Revolution