In the beginning...
The First Company
Governor’s Foot Guard was organized in October 1771 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.
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 as the Governor’s Guard until 1775. At
that time a second company was organized in New Haven which caused the
name to be changed to the First Company Governor’s Guard. Still
further change was necessary in 1778 when the Horse Guard was
chartered. From that time on, the original company bore the name of the
First Company Governor’s Foot Guard.
uniform of the First Company, as far as can be determined, is the same
as the original one, and it has always been greatly admired wherever it
has been seen. Tradition hold that the 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
busby 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.
Guard records show that the meetings of the Company were held in
various places, especially the State House, until 1826, when Bennetts’
City Hotel was used as a meeting place. St. John’s Inn was used in
1827, and Ripley’s Washington Hall in 1828. In 1838, the command was
holding their meetings “in their Armory City Hall buildings”, while
in 1842, the company had their quarters in the City Hall which they
occupied for several years. Other locations as time passed were;
Central Hall, Union Hall, and in 1863, Allen Hall. From 1864 to 1882
they met in American hall hired at $1,000 yearly. It was not until
October 16, 1888 that the present armory was dedicated. The cost was a
little over $60,000, with Mayor Kinney and Major Parsons largely
responsible for the success of the project.
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. They then
turned about and marched for Hartford.
September, 1780, the famous Comte de Rochambeau came to Hartford with
Admiral Ternay to meet Generals Washington and Lafayette for a
conference which probably decided the final outcome of the war.
30th of 1778, the Guard paraded in celebration of the end of the
Adams visited Hartford on August 2, 1798, and the Guard for the first
time performed escort duty for a President of the United States. They
were again called upon in June, 1817, when President Monroe came to the
city. In 1833, President Jackson visited Hartford and was escorted by
both foot and Horse Guard. James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant,
Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Herbert Hoover,
Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Kennedy are also Presidents whom the
Company has taken part in many anniversary celebrations, dedication of
monuments and armories, expositions, world fairs, and the like. One
most memorable trip was that taken in 1926, when the command went to
Europe. It visited Brussels and Paris and was reviewed by the King of
Belgium and the President of France.
addition the Guard has helped in many emergencies. In March, 1936, the
command was ordered out for flood duty when large sections of the city
were inundated, The Guard had the exclusive duty of guarding federal
property. This same service was repeated in 1938, when a severe
hurricane swept New England. Most of the Command became the first
members of the Connecticut State Guard which was organized in August
1940, to replace the National Guard which had been called into Federal
the First Company have offered their services to their country in every
war in which the United States has participated since and including the
Revolutionary War. Over 50 members served in World War II, two of whom
lost their lives.
SSG Mike Chiaro