Monday, March 17, 2014

Mass State Guard Collection

Handwritten form letter on company letterhead
dated May 22, 1868. State Guard Clerk Samuel
Houghton hand-wrote these letters requesting
guardsmen's attendance at drills and ceremonies.
Sometimes processing a collection – describing its contents and researching the historical context of its creation – creates more questions than it answers. One of those collections is the Records pertaining to the Worcester State Guard, 1867-1888 (Ms. 50).

The Worcester State Guard was incorporated in 1863. Its members attended military funerals of Worcester soldiers who had died in the “War of the Rebellion,” as the Civil War was then known in the North. The state guard also drilled regularly and was occasionally called upon to keep the peace or to escort officials or new enlistees. In 1866, the act that incorporated the state guard was repealed, and it was disbanded. However, former members petitioned to reinstitute it, and the legislature decided in 1867 to permit their continued existence. They were disbanded when the state militia was reorganized in 1875.

List of signatures of new members of
the Worcester State Guard. Penciled
meeting notes on back, dated "Oct 5”
and “Oct 7.” Undated, probably 1867.

Because there is no accompanying information about its origins, some aspects of the collection remain a mystery. Why, for example, is the bulk of the collection from 1867-1868, with only two items dating from after that period? Is the receipt from 1888 meant to be part of the collection, or was it swept into the file by a careless clerk? Does the 1879 form letter of acceptance to the Guard mean that these records were transferred to the official guard after the state militia reorganization? Sometimes there are more questions than answers.

Newspaper clippings relating
to the Worcester State Guard,
probably cut from the
Worcester Daily Spy. Two
are undated attendance
requests from the “Notices”
section. The third is a
resolution of mourning
dated June 3, 1867,
marking the death of
Simeon Clapp, late State
Guard member.
The collection contains an assortment of materials, including newspaper clippings, receipts, handwritten documents, and stationery. It seems likely that the collection exists because someone at the early stages of the state guard’s reformation wanted to document its history. Thus, we have some pieces of information that help us get a sense of its regular activities, like the two tiny newspaper clippings cut from the ‘Notices’ section of the Daily Spy (the local Worcester newspaper) that request the attendance of guard members at Brinley Hall Armory, or the six copies of a form letter that ask guardsmen to attend a drill and to march in a memorial procession. One of the most interesting documents in the collection is the state guard’s handwritten bylaws. Dated June 21, 1867, they extend to several pages and have attached amendments from August 6, 1869. 

The Worcester State Guard's existence was brief and the records of its existence are scarce, but the documents it left behind give us an interesting window into Massachusetts history after the Civil War and the ways that the War was memorialized and mythologized.

Katie Seitz
Special Collections intern