The Depot

Freedom Fighter: Capt. Francisco Menéndez


Painting of Capt. Francisco Menéndez and troops fighting in front of stone fort.

In 1738, Spanish militia Capt. Francisco Menéndez was the commander of a North Florida military garrison in St. Augustine known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. The area was later named Fort Mose, but according to the National Park Service, Fort Mose when commanded by Menéndez, was the first free black community in what would become the United States. Menéndez was black.

Black slaves fled British territories to live free at Mose. They also served in Mose’s militia which is considered by historians, including some in the Florida National Guard, to be the predecessor of the modern-day Florida National Guard. In fact, historians have proof that the Spanish militias were the first European militias to muster in what would become the United States and that they existed more than 70 years before the British Anglo militias organized and mustered.

In 2020, the Depot Blog published a four-part series that did an in-depth investigation into this topic. Although the Anglo militias in 1636 are given lineage credit by the U.S. Army and the National Guard claims those militias are its predecessors, the fact is that Spanish militias, which included freed black slaves, were truly the first European militias in what would become the United States. A phenomenon known as the Black Legend would align history to ignore the Spanish and African lineage that contributed to the development of this country.

Born in West Africa, Menéndez fled slavery in the British territories through Georgia, making his way to Florida in 1724. In exchange for emancipation, like other former slaves, he converted to Catholicism and joined the Spanish militias. The garrison and community thrived until the British came to Florida.

In May 1740, Gen. James Oglethorpe, founder and governor of the British colony in Georgia, marched on St. Augustine and captured Fort Mose which had been abandoned to prevent civilian bloodshed as the British approached. The townspeople retreated from Mose and gathered inside the walls of St. Augustine to regroup and plan.

One June 26, the attack known as “Bloody Mose” crushed Oglethorpe’s forces and caused them to retreat to Georgia.

“At length they came on again sword in hand and entered the gate. At the same time another party entered one of the breaches so that the fort was once full of Spaniards, it being then about half an hour before the day,” a British soldier wrote of the battle, according to the Florida Park Service and the Fort Mose Historical Society.

Florida’s Spanish Governor, Don Manuel de Montiano, wrote shortly after the battle that he had “sent out 300 men to make an attack on the Fort of Mose … Our people swept over it with such impetuosity that it fell with a loss of 68 dead and 34 prisoners.” According to historical records, only two dozen British soldiers survived.

The post was reclaimed and rebuilt by the Spaniards (free blacks). Menéndez joined a Spanish privateer and in 1741, he was captured and sold into slavery in the Bahamas. It is unknown if he escaped or if he gained freedom because the Spanish paid a ransom for him, but in 1759 he returned to Florida to again lead Fort Mose.

Fort Mose prospered until 1763 when Florida was ceded to Britain by treaty. Menéndez was evacuated to Cuba with others from Fort Mose. In Cuba, he established San Agustín de la Nueva Florida, a similar free black community like he had helped build in Florida.

The site of Fort Mose is now designated a National Historic Landmark after the original site was an archeological dig in the 1990s.

It is not known when Menéndez died or where.

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books.

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part IV

Old comic book of the forming of the first militia

I will end this series as I started it in part one. In that first essay I wrote that history is written by the victors and like all human endeavors, history is influenced by bias. Amidst the social unrest in our society right now I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the National Guard’s lineage. As a nation, we have built monuments to men who established this nation, but we never really acknowledged their human failings and their behavior and attitude toward their fellow man, particularly people of color. That is starting to change as we come to terms with our violent, racist history.

What continues to puzzle me is why when a historically marginalized population asks that as a nation, we reconsider history, why do some people take offense to it? Why are some people resistant to embracing changes to our national narrative? Those same people argue that we are trying to rewrite history or that we are being politically correct. People who argue those points have history working in their favor, so naturally they do not want it to change.

Within the Department of Defense, I have been surprised at the outspokenness of some of our former and current military leaders who have stated that military bases named after confederate generals should be renamed. These military leaders are modern thinkers, receptive to ideas because they have operated in a professional world where merit is based on performance and not the color of a person’s skin. That’s not to say the military is free of racists. There’s racial bias.

That’s what makes the National Guard’s response to my queries troubling. I asked for a response from the chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB), Gen. Joseph Lengyel. I sent an e-mail to Wayne Hall, a media operations specialist for the National Guard Bureau. I wrote: “What are the chief's thoughts that the National Guard aligns its lineage and history to militias that were responsible for the massacre and enslavement of the Pequot people?  Has NGB ever thought of apologizing to the tribe? Has NGB ever considered changing its founding date to reflect alignment with American militias and not English militias that committed human rights violations?”

If you are unfamiliar with the massacre at the Mystic River, English militias surrounded a Pequot village, set it on fire and when tribe members tried to flee the burning palisades, they were shot, including women and children.

This was Hall’s reply to my questions: “The historical documentation used to prove the continuous existence of the four Massachusetts units since 1636, which the National Guard cites as its official establishment, is on file is at U.S. Army Center for Military History….” He added that I could get more information from the U.S. Army Center of Military History concerning methodology about the lineage and honors process.

Suspecting he did not understand my questions, I replied to Hall.

“Thanks Wayne, but I'm asking direct questions to the chief of the NGB (or his appointed rep on this topic). Are you declining to answer the questions I am asking? … What I am looking for are responses from NGB about the guard's alignment with those militias, not the process. I'd appreciate your help.”

Hall never replied.

Based on the reaction, NGB is not ready for or open to historical reflection. Remember, in other essays in this series I wrote about evasive NGB historians. When I persisted with my queries that were going unanswered, they accused me of having an agenda and as one historian said, they were told to “disengage” me.

With the NGB door closed, I queried the Department of Defense media relations division. This is verbatim from my e-mail to the press desk.

“What are the thoughts of the Army's Center of Military History that the National Guard aligns its lineage and history to militias that were responsible for the massacre and enslavement of the Pequot people? Has the US Army Center of Military History ever considered that they awarded lineage and honors to English militias that committed human rights violations? Now that we know this to be true, is there any consideration that the lineage could be revoked/rescinded? Why or why not? …”

The Pentagon replied with very long answers about the genesis of lineage and honors, citing a lot of regulations and orders. The comments bled into diatribes about the nationality of militias and then dates and names of units that earned lineage honors. The answers provided by Chief Historian Jon Hoffman of the U.S. Army Center of Military History did not answer my questions. But he did answer one worth mentioning here.

“The Center of Military History currently has no effort underway to evaluate the lineage and honors of units and determine whether the members of any particular unit might have been involved in a human rights violation,” Hoffman said. That response, of course, makes me ask, why not? Why isn’t the Center of Military History willing to re-examine its decision to align modern day National Guard units with English colonial militias that killed hundreds of Native Americans in a massacre? Who makes that decision? Remember what I wrote in the second paragraph of this essay? Hoffman’s remarks are disconcerting.

In part three of this series, I posited that the Florida National Guard might have been excluded from consideration as the “Nation’s First” militia because of their lineage with Spanish colonial militias. This is a point that Hoffman refutes because a Puerto Rican National Guard unit’s Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) includes Spanish symbols. He states because the DUI was created, the notion of Spanish Black Legend influencing NGB’s decision to crown the Massachusetts National Guard as the “Nation’s First” are not plausible. I believe that the existence of one, does not negate the existence of the other.  

If Hoffman’s argument was really true, then I could proclaim that because we had the Tuskegee Airmen there is no racism in the military. It’s a silly assertion. Think about what Colin Powell experienced, or Carl Brashear.

Some historians at NGB opined that the decision to align with English militias was made by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, not NGB, but that’s partially true. Army units submit documents to the Center supporting their positions and the Center reviews them for approval and then grants lineage and honors if everything is in order, but the entire process starts with a historian.

I asked several NGB historians who the NGB historian was that petitioned the U.S. Army Center of Military History for lineage honors connecting the English to the American modern National Guard. I never got an answer.

What I do know is that the chief of the NGB in 1956 was Maj. Gen. Edgar C. Erickson, a man who had fought against Pancho Villa. Did he have implicit bias? Did Spanish Black Legend influence him? I can’t answer that question. I know that men that I interviewed for an article about World War II that I was writing had not just bias, but malice for those they fought. When I pulled up in my Toyota truck, they were disgusted with me for buying something made by the Japanese. Not all who fought against the Japanese in World War II are like this, but the fact is, some people harbor dark feelings about those they’ve fought against.

Something important to note about Erickson is that he was born, raised and died in Massachusetts. He served in the Massachusetts state legislature and he was also the commander of the 181st Infantry Regiment, one of the four Massachusetts National Guard units considered to be the “Nation’s First.” That’s a big coincidence. Did Erickson influence the decision, push for Massachusetts to get tagged as the “Nation’s First” or was he biased towards his state and his former unit? It’s speculative. But given the lack of granular response by the NGB and the U.S. Army Center of Military History, there’s enough doubt surrounding the National Guard’s lineage to ask it to take a close look at itself. Remember, I asked NGB historians if they had ever traveled to Florida to take a look at Spanish militia documentation and like other questions, they ignored it.

And let me state clearly that I'm not advocating for Spanish Militias to be considered the first. I'm merely saying that decisions of the past can be clouded by bias.

Charles R. Bowery, Jr., the executive director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History said a couple of years ago “…that history should not be a bedtime story. Professional soldiers and our civilian leadership have an obligation to interrogate our past, ESPECIALLY the darkest corners, in order to improve ourselves.”

I agree with his bold statement and that’s been the point of this entire series, to encourage our military leaders to look at whether or not they want to align themselves with a dark history. The militias that the National Guard claims as its heritage were responsible for the first European massacre of Native Americans. Those English colonial militias are honored and celebrated as part of the National Guard’s legacy, and they killed women and children. Survivors were enslaved by the militias. Why is this issue not getting a second look? Why isn’t someone in the Defense Department, U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Guard Bureau not asking themselves, is this really the heritage we want to embrace? Why isn’t anyone interrogating the past, as Bowery states?

On June 23, 2020, via Twitter, Bowery shared photos from Gettysburg, in front of a memorial to Pops Greene, a Union general who fought on Culp’s Hill. In the post he writes “Pops Greene, defender of Culp’s Hill, says that one! Take that *^%# Confederate memorial down! And the rest of them too!” After a few likes and comments, Bowery added to the thread. “And while you’re at it, change the post names and stop giving units lineage to the Confederate Army.”

A few days later, on July 2, 2020, he posted on Twitter “I’m here to remind Army leaders at all levels that @USArmy history and heritage are enablers of inspired, resilient, critically-thinking soldiers. You should be reinforcing the Army’s historical diversity, but also its challenges with racism and discrimination, with your soldiers.”

I tweeted at Bowery and asked him his thoughts about the Guard’s lineage. He never replied.

As of this writing, there are publications and comic books that depict the Pequot tribe as the aggressors in the decades long war with the English colonies. We know that history is a false narrative. The Pequot were trying to maintain their tradelines and defending against constant English expansion. NGB has these documents listed on their website as “Historical Publications.”

Let me wrap this up by saying that I served in the National Guard and I’ve served alongside of the National Guard. I’ve been with them during national disasters all over the United States and during the war in Iraq. They are a wonderful group of professionals.

I interviewed National Guard helicopter pilots after Hurricane Katrina. They were flying seemingly non-stop humanitarian aid and rescue missions knowing that their own homes were destroyed. I rolled into Gulf coast towns with National Guard engineers moving slowly into devastated neighborhoods and people came out of their homes crying, thankful to see them. On my first convoy in Iraq, the lead gunner wore a patch from a National Guard unit. 

My series is not an attack on the men and women of the National Guard. Read the body of my work over the course of my military writing career and you will find that I’m a friend of the National Guard and everything they do for their communities, states and for the nation. I’m just not a friend of obstructive bureaucrats.

Our Guard members deserve a better heritage than what they’ve been given.

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part III

 Painting of early American national guard in battle

In part one of this series, I wrote about the selective American history that has been taught for generations in the United States. This version of history does not accurately portray our history, but as a nation we’re slowly getting a clearer picture.  

Part two of the series covered the fact that the Spanish colonial militias were the first European militias to muster in North America that could claim lineage to the modern National Guard.

I also wrote about how the English colonial militias in the 1600s, are considered to be the predecessors of the modern National Guard. In particular, the Massachusetts National Guard and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) both claim that four English militias from 1636 are the forebearers of several current Massachusetts National Guard units considered the “Nation’s First.” Those modern units have been given lineage honors by the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

I believe that the documents used to support the claim of the “Nation’s First” were created by NGB to ensure that Anglo-Saxon heritage secured its place in American history. Do I believe that there was a sinister plot to suppress the contributions of other cultures to the National Guard? No. Do I believe that implicit bias had something to do with NGB’s positioning of Anglo-Saxon militias in American history? Yes.

At the core of the Guard’s justification are four documents which NGB argues is proof of lineage. These documents are CMH products granting lineage and honors to four English militias dating back to 1636. These papers were created and are based from other historical documents that NGB allegedly has that show continuity from the English militias to modern-day National Guard units in Massachusetts.

Joseph Seymour, an Army National Guard historian with the CMH told me via e-mail: “We have copies of the original documentation for the four units organized in 1636, or references to the documents that are in Massachusetts repositories.”

Although I have not seen them, I don’t doubt that those documents exist. Seymour said that as soon as the government reopened that he would be more than happy to share them with me. Therefore, I do not doubt their existence. As I mentioned in part one of this series, those documents were created in 1956 as a result of the NGB’s request for lineage and honors from the CMH for four Massachusetts units.

My concern is that there are multiple historians, including several who worked for the National Guard, who have stated there is additional documentation showing musters in Florida in the 1500s, as I mentioned in part two of this series. If those documents exist in Florida, why weren’t they ever reviewed by NGB or CMH? Did NGB or CMH ever make a trip to Florida to examine the historical documents in Florida? I asked that question to multiple historians and to a public affairs officer at NGB. It was never answered. I did not take it as some kind of coverup, I assumed they just overlooked the question.

“The National Guard is rooted in law,” said Dr. Richard Dennis Harold Clark, an NGB historian via e-mail. “The earliest legislation creating an organized militia was the 13 December 1636 was passed by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This was the earliest legal document establishing a militia among any of the English, French, or Spanish colonies of North America.”

According to Clark and other historians at NGB, there are several elements that have to be present in order for a unit to be eligible for consideration as a militia. First, the unit must be organized.

“The organized militia is the National Guard and its predecessors,” Seymour said. “It means legally constituted units, and legally sanctioned commissions. The unorganized militia is the population under the Constitutional obligation to provide military service.”

The terminology is key because use of the word “organized” to legally define militias prevents the Spanish militias from being considered as the first militia to muster in America. Prior to 1903, militias in the American colonies were governed by the Militia Act of 1792. Before the 1792 Act, English militias were governed locally by the various colonies under the English flag. The Militia Act of 1792 helped the American colonies organize the militias into a tool that could be used as a federal entity when needed.

The criteria for “organized” militia also included a requirement that military units be structured in regiments. “The militia tradition meant citizens organizing themselves into military units, responsible for their own defense. Organizing the militia into regiments increased its efficiency and responsiveness, which proved critical for the defense of their communities,” according to the National Guard’s website.

In New Spain, comprised of North, South, and Central America, and islands in the Caribbean, Spanish militias were organized and mustered when needed. “In September 1565, the Spanish established St. Augustine,” author Michael D. Doubler wrote in his book, I am the Guard. As part of the organization of St. Augustine, the Spanish created a militia known as a “milicia.” That’s more than 70 years before the English.

“Early Spanish troops and milicias in Puerto Rico, Florida, and New Mexico were the first to introduce European military systems to North America,” Doubler wrote. The Spanish brought the militia system to the Americas, a system that was originally created by the Greeks and Romans, according to Doubler. “In the Southwest, the New Mexico Territory relied upon its Spanish milicia roots to develop a credible force of citizen-soldiers. The earliest militia forces came to New Mexico in April 1598 when Spanish adventurers first crossed the Rio Grande and took formal possession of the region,” Doubler wrote. That’s almost 40 years before the English.

Historians Robert Hawk and Doubler both have written about the early Spanish militias, including one that mustered in 1578. The roster from St. Augustine carries the names of 43 citizen-soldiers. Despite the existing evidence and the fact that those Spanish militias may have been organized, meaning, arranged in a systemic way, they were not structured into regiments and therefore NGB argues they are ineligible for consideration as militias by the CMH.

Somewhere along the way, the U.S. Army decided that unit lineage would be based upon the regiment in accordance with authorizing legislation. “Like British Army practice, Army National Guard unit lineage is further characterized by geographic basing and unbroken continuity of service; unit lineages represent the legal and historical basis of individual units,” according to a 2010 Army National Guard information paper. NGB historians did not explain when this criteria was selected and why.

The Militia Act of 1903, also known as the Dick Act, was authored by Charles W.F. Dick, a man the National Guard considers the “Father of the Modern National Guard.” Dick joined the Ohio Army National Guard in 1885. His regiment mobilized and served in the Spanish-American War in Cuba where Dick rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he continued his service with the guard.

In 1898, Dick was elected to the U.S. Congress and he served as the chairman of the Militia Committee. Eventually, as a guardsman he attained the rank of major general and rose to become the leader of the Ohio National Guard. He was also president of the National Guard Association of the United States (a lobbying organization) for seven years while sitting as a member of congress.

It was the Dick Act’s language in 1903 that first introduced the concept of organized versus disorganized militia. Prior to that, states and territories could self-regulate their militias. The Dick Act codified what the federal government could do with state militias in times of national crises and it also branded the organized militias as National Guard.

According to the NGB, the language in the Dick Act, which identifies the National Guard as organized militia, and the U.S. Army’s requirement that units considered for lineage honors must have continuity of service and be organized in regiments, are the primary reasons why the English colonial militias were considered the forebearers of the modern National Guard over the Spanish militias.

“St. Augustine is recognized as the oldest, continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States,” Alison Simpson, command historian for the Florida National Guard said via e-mail. “At the time of St. Augustine’s founding in 1565, the Spanish laws governing colonial provinces authorized the civil governor and commander-in-chief of the military … to organize a militia.… While it is true that the governing bodies of St. Augustine and thus colonial Florida changed from Spanish to British to Spanish and finally American, in St. Augustine, the colonial capital, some residents chose to remain living in this community after each change of government. These individuals pledged an oath to the incoming government and in some cases, continued their service in the local militia companies. Thus, not only was the civil occupation of St. Augustine continuous, but its service by its resident civilian soldiers was also continuous.”

The fact that NGB historians currently support NGB’s historical posture from the 1950s doesn’t come as a big surprise. American institutions are notorious for pushing inaccurate and incomplete histories and many within those organizations don’t challenge the status quo because heritage is held in such high regard, especially in the military ranks.

Not long ago I interviewed the former national historian of the Civil Air Patrol for an article. As the historian for the organization, he bravely did a deep dive into the organization’s folklore that they had sunk German U-boats during World War II. Documents from the Nazi navy were reviewed and compared to other supporting documents from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Air Corps. The end result was that he debunked organizational legends that had been around for 75 years.

The Civil Air Patrol did not lie to the American public and it did not paint itself in a particular light, but somehow over the course of time, a certain culture took hold and the organization's history morphed into less than factual. The historian uncovered the truth and published his work in a U.S. Air Force journal. In my opinion, his research has not taken the luster off of an incredible American institution which contributed enormously to World War II.  

That said, I believe the National Guard has to revisit its birth date. The Dick Act was written by a man who fought against the Spanish so it is open to bias. The English militias currently aligned with the National Guard slaughtered hundreds of Native Americans. The Spanish militias in the 1500s included black militiamen according to historical documents from the Florida Department of Military Affairs and those black militiamen took up arms against the English multiple times, as did the Spanish. Was there a grudge against blacks and the Spanish that prevented them from being considered as having a larger role in the American militia's history? Should we rethink this lineage? At the very least, shouldn’t we reexamine the connective tissue? Is this really what we want the National Guard’s heritage to be and are we bound to history by documents created in 1956?

NGB and CMH use "rules" to determine lineage that were created by a few people a long time ago. What we call history today is the perspective of those few in 1956, a narrow vision of how they chose to view the National Guard’s lineage. Looking at the lineage today, in the historical context we know to be true, inclusivity broadens that picture and we recognize that the narrow view excludes other cultures and prevents them from becoming a part of American history.

We cannot get into discussions about why NGB chose to align itself with foreign militias in the first place. I can speculate that it was to ensure that an Anglo-Saxon heritage was guaranteed, but I can’t prove that. The folks that made those decisions are long gone. Who were they? I’ve asked that question and I was told that someone would get back to me, but that was about a month ago.

Most professional soldiers and historians I’ve talked to over my more than two decades in uniform state that the National Guard’s birth date should be the date when they were first aligned under an American flag, sometime in 1776, when the English colonial militias became American colonial militia. It is the first time that they were tasked with serving an American cause, not an English cause. The Massachusetts units transitioned from English colonial defense, to American revolt. Maybe the birth date of the National Guard should coincide with the birth date of our nation because from 1636 to 1776, 140 years, the militias were purely English, not American.

Like other chapters in American history that are being revisited, the birth date of the National Guard deserves a hard look. Implicit bias could have played a role in the alignment of the English militias to the National Guard. The Spanish Black Legend could have come into play and influenced some of the decisions and actions of National Guard and U.S. Army personnel. We can’t know for sure, but reexamining what we know to be “true” or “fact” might lead us to a more refined picture of what is history.         

In 1956, as the civil rights movement spilled into mainstream America, a historian at NGB filed paperwork requesting lineage and honors for Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, English colonial militias to be recognized as the first American units formed. The chief of the NGB at the time, it should be noted, had fought against Pancho Villa. The English militias that NGB sought to get recognized in the 1950s had not only fought against Native Americans, but also against the Spanish. And according to reports from the State of Florida, black militiamen, both free and slaves, also fought against the English colonies for Spain. It isn’t unreasonable to think that bias could come into play.

Clark agrees and says the leadership of the National Guard in the 1950s likely didn’t consider a lot of factors in selecting Massachusetts as the "Nation's First."

“To some extent, I also think the decision in the 1950s had to do with the black legend,” Clark said. “The black legend colors the opinions of most folks not intimately familiar with Spanish or Latin-American history. History always depends on your perspective.” 

Why would we as a nation, want to align ourselves with English colonies responsible for the massacre of women and children at the Mystic River? We may have ignored the past in the 1950s, but to do so now is a travesty. It is certainly not something that should be supported today. If this is a case of implicit bias, then the National Guard should fix it.

“The English, some may say Anglo-centric presentation of our nation’s history is the result of New England historians’ influence on early publications of U.S. history,” Simpson wrote in an e-mail to me. “The presentation of U.S. history has been biased in favor of the white, male-dominated story line. However, Florida historians and those who study the Spanish borderlands have made great strides in the past century to overcome the oversight of the important role of Spanish, African and other minorities in U.S. history. ... The narratives, transactions, court cases and cultural material that has literally been unearthed over the course of the past century has wielded an enormous amount of information to document how small our world really is,” Simpson added.

I’m not lobbying for the Spanish militias to get credit as the forebearers of the National Guard. I do believe they were the first to muster and that is well documented. Multiple sources support that claim. And I'm not blind to what the Spanish initially did to the people of the Americas in their time here. It was horrible. We just need to tell the complete story of our nation. I also think that the first American militias should be credited to Massachusetts starting in 1776 and not 1636. The National Guard Bureau, the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the U.S. Army and the Defense Department need to take a position on this topic.

Hopefully in part IV of this series, they will.

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part II

Painting of the first Florida national guard

I started writing this series because I had a lot of questions about the founding date of the National Guard. As I mentioned in part one of this series, when I was a public affairs officer with the Florida National Guard I learned that two states, Florida and Massachusetts, both made conflicting claims as the first militias in North America, Florida claiming lineage to the Spanish militias in 1565, and Massachusetts claiming lineage to British militias in 1636. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the U.S. Army Center of Military History align with Massachusetts as “The Nation’s First.”

In part one, I mentioned that the Florida and Massachusetts National Guards were claiming that they were the first European militias with lineage to either the Spanish or British militias. This is an important distinction because both Florida and Massachusetts recognize that their current military units spawned from militia units in 1565 or 1636. The two states, the only two National Guard entities to assert definitive “first” status, cannot and do not claim lineage to other groups because there is no historical evidence linking those other cultures to the military heritage of Florida and Massachusetts.

Therefore, while I am aware that the indigenous people of North America were here thousands of years before any Europeans and they were likely the first militias in North America, a point agreed upon by one of the NGB historians, the militias of Florida and Massachusetts cannot be linked to the Native tribes. There is no historical evidence to support that position.

Similarly, I understand that the Norse came here long before the Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and others, making them the first Europeans to reach North America. They too likely had militias to protect their group, but like the Native Americans, there is no evidence linking the Norse to either the Florida or Massachusetts National Guards, therefore, the Norse are also excluded from this series.  

Central in this discussion is how the U.S. military, particularly the U.S. Army, determines lineage and honors for military units. According to the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History, a Lineage and Honors Certificate, like those for the U.S. Army’s original units, is a document that serves a legal function as the “birth certificate” of the unit, its “service record,” and its “deed” to organizational properties and historical records. These documents are concise statements of organizational history of units and they denote dates of constitution (being placed on the rolls of the Army), activations and inactivations, and changes in unit designation.

“In September 1565, the Spanish established St. Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent,” author Michael D. Doubler wrote in his book, I am the Guard. As part of the organization of St. Augustine, the Spanish created a militia known as a “milicia.” The origins of militia can be argued depending on which historian you talk to, but some believe that the militias used in the European model introduced in North America, date back to the Greeks and Romans.

“Commemoration of the birth of the militia in St. Augustine stems from the research by National Park Service Historians Albert Manucy and Luis Arana who worked at the Castillo de San Marcos in the 1960s during St. Augustine’s Quadricentennial Celebrations,” Command Historian Alison Simpson of the Florida National Guard said via e-mail. According to Simpson, Manucy in 1965 published a significant work on Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the founder of St. Augustine, and later historian Dr. Eugene Lyon produced the seminal work on Menéndez and the establishment of St. Augustine in his book, The Enterprise of Florida, published in 1976.

The research material from these projects is housed in the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute at Flagler College and includes material, Simpson said, that shows that upon the founding of St. Augustine in September 1565, in addition to 500 professional troops, there were approximately 100 civilians of whom about half were men who qualified for service in the militia.

“These men, farmers, craftsmen and laborers, are considered the original members of St. Augustine’s 1565 militia,” Simpson said.

Doubler’s research confirms that the Spanish militias were the first in North America (excluding native tribes and the Norse as previously stated). He based this assertion on the fact that he found evidence considered the earliest documented proof of a militia in North America, a Spanish militia muster roster from St. Augustine which contains the names of 43 “citizen-soldiers” on it. However, the document is dated 1578. The dates are subject to further scrutiny, but the Spanish musters happened.

In his book, Florida’s Army, historian Robert Hawk wrote that the Florida National Guard was “the oldest militia tradition in America” and that for 250 years, Spanish had been the official language of the military in Florida.

Five historians—two of them U.S. government historians, spread out over several decades, from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and then the 1990s and 2000—all stated based on their research, including first-time reviews of historical Spanish documentation, that Florida had the oldest militia in America. While the dates of the first muster in Florida can be argued, credit for the first muster of a European militia goes to Spain and therefore, one would think, the Florida National Guard. However, that position is one that NGB historians do not support.

“The National Guard dates its origins to 13 December 1636 when the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony directed the establishment of three militia units,” Dr. Richard Dennis Harold Clark told me via e-mail. Clark, who is a historian with the National Guard Bureau’s history office said. “These units have continued in uninterrupted service since 1636 as a part of the organized militia and the National Guard.”

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by a group of people who left England seeking religious freedom just like the folks at the Plymouth Colony. In particular, and this will be really important in this discussion at a later time, the pilgrims left Europe because they had grown dissatisfied with the Roman Catholic Church and they wanted to practice Christianity differently than what England was enforcing under some of their compulsory religious laws. In short, the pilgrims, Anglo-Saxons, had problems with the Catholic Church. There was a massive migration of protestants to North America.

Almost 100 years after the Spaniards arrived in North America, the British landed and began to colonize North America. Sporadic uprisings and tensions with some Native American tribes, particularly the Pequots, and the threat posed by other colonizing nations, led to the establishment of a militia.

In 1636, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed legislation organizing a militia. One of the primary missions for the militia was the defensive protection of the colony against the Pequot tribe. The Pequot stood in the way of English colonial expansion and skirmishes broke out over the course of several years, but in 1636, with their newly formed militias, the Massachusetts colonies had a mechanism to deal with the Pequot tribe.

Battles with the Pequot would become known as the Pequot War and by the war’s end in 1638, only a few hundred Pequot survived due to war and disease transmitted by the puritans. The surviving Pequot surrendered, signed a treatise dissolving the tribe and they were distributed by the militias and enslaved to tribes that were allies of the militias. The Pequots were forbidden from occupying lands they previously held and they were almost pushed to extinction. Pequots were shipped to the West Indies as part of the slave trade or forced to become slaves in wealthy New England colonial households. Today, the Pequot number around 2,000 and their native tongue is extinct.

Two of the first officers to lead the newly formed Massachusetts militias were Colonel John Winthrop and Captain John Mason. Winthrop was a wealthy Anglo-Saxon landowner, a lawyer, and he would become the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mason’s claim to fame is a little more nefarious.

In 1637 near the Mystic River, Mason led a group of around 200 militia soldiers and allied tribe warriors to a Pequot village. Their initial surprise attack was repelled by the Pequot, but under Mason’s orders the militia set fire to the palisades, trapping not only warriors inside, but the elderly, women and children. When Pequot tried to flee using the exits, they were killed. More than 500 were killed in the massacre and another militia captain journaled that maybe five got away with their lives.

After the killings, Mason went on to write: “Let the whole earth be filled with his glory! Thus, the lord was pleased to smite our enemies in the hinder parts, and to give us their land for an inheritance.”

Winthrop, a commander of one of the four original militia units recognized by the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Army as having lineage honors, kept three slaves from the Pequot War. He believed that the rights of “more advanced” peoples superseded the rights of the Native Americans.

The Massachusetts National Guard refers to itself as “The Nation’s First.” The National Guard Bureau embraces that designation. If the lineage is correct then they are right. The Mystic River massacre would be the first time Anglos would kill unarmed Native American non-combatants, creating a precedence that would be seen over and over again for hundreds of years.

And those Massachusetts militias from the Mystic River massacre, are now, because of lineage and honors bestowed on them by the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Guard Bureau, officially a part of the U.S. Army and the National Guard.

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part I

Painting of the first muster of the national guard

There is an old maxim that says history is written by the victors. That is certainly true when we look at American history and in recent weeks the nation has started on a path to introspection. Around the country, Americans are revisiting dark periods of U.S. history. Citizens, municipalities, states, and the federal government are trying to determine what is history and heritage, and what is hate.

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the history I learned canonized and lionized the virtuous and God-like founding fathers. History books made no mention of the many human flaws of our forefathers and they pushed the messages that our founding fathers were great, noble men.

Away from American educational institutions, I discovered historian Howard Zinn a dissenting voice amongst the chorus of pro-European historians and I began to see that the United States was formed for more reasons than what history espoused—patriotism, freedom, and equal rights. I learned that those men who helped construct the country were slave owners.

It is ironic that I can visit the Washington Monument and then drive just outside of Washington, D.C. and explore the slave quarters on George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Somehow, we, as a nation, chose to ignore that our most popular general and first president owned human beings as property. Somehow, this information managed to elude the historians who were writing America’s history books for more than 200 years. In those instances when Washington was identified as a slave owner in historical products the mention was perfunctory, passed off as part of the period’s landscape because all wealthy Anglo-Saxon landowners owned slaves. Washington’s subjugation of his fellow man in bondage rarely raised an eyebrow.

Washington wasn’t alone. It is no secret that Thomas Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves, according to Jefferson’s own “roll of negroes” which he meticulously kept on his plantation. For some reason that information was never really pushed in our society and historians, like Zinn, who tried to teach truth were labeled as unpatriotic or unAmerican, accused of trying to rewrite history.

For Jefferson, “all men are created equal” was a legendary public slogan that became his personal brand, but his true beliefs were that all men weren’t created equal. His actions, owning slaves, coupled with his writings in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, clearly shows a man who did not believe in racial equality. In fact, Jefferson wrote in his book that blacks were inferior to whites and Native Americans. As a statesman, Jefferson made attempts to end slavery all while he profited from the slave owner trade. He was a complicated, often contradicting man.

In 1997, a Harvard historian published a book that led to the DNA testing of an African American family who had long stated that they were part of the Thomas Jefferson family tree. One of those African American descendants of Jefferson told CBS News that when he was young, he would proudly tell his classmates that one of his great grandfathers was Thomas Jefferson. Because he was black, teachers would tell him to sit down and be quiet.

As a nation, we’ve collectively done that. We’ve listened to those who have a voice, those in power, those victors who have written history, but we have muted many who have tried to share their versions of history. When only one voice is recognized and accepted, you have only a partial understanding of history.

Ask Americans from different cultures, races, and socioeconomic statuses what they know about history and they will all give you a different version of history as they know it. If we accept all those varying interpretations of history, or if we at least take the time to reexamine what we think is history, then we start to get a sharper, more focused image of who we are because it is inclusive of all people, and not just some.

In 1998, science proved what one family knew for more than 200 years, that Thomas Jefferson had fathered the six children of a slave he owned named Sally Hemings, their family’s great matriarch. For many, it was hard to accept that Jefferson had a long-term sexual relationship with a slave, starting in her teens, and that he could possibly be a rapist. Studies done by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the National Genealogical Society supported the finding. The falsity of Jefferson’s identity stood for more than 200 years, supported by historians.

About 18 years ago, I was a public affairs officer with the Florida National Guard. My job was to tell the story of the Florida National Guard which is headquartered in St. Augustine, the first European city in the Americas and the oldest city in the United States, by those same standards.

I started to research an article about Fort Mose which is in St. Augustine. I was writing a piece for African American history month and I wanted to tell the story about early Florida militias defeating the British in 1740. Leading the Florida militia on that attack was Capt. Francisco Menendez, an African-born officer who fled slavery in 1724 and joined other escaped slaves with the Spaniards. 

What makes Fort Mose significant in American history is that it was the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what is now the United States. Founded in 1738, the Spanish governor of Florida chartered the settlement of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose for short, as a settlement for those fleeing slavery from the English colonies in the Carolinas. About 100 former slaves found freedom there. Historians claim that the residents pulled from Native American, Spanish, African and English cultural customs over the 25 years the post prospered. In 1994, the site of Fort Mose was designated as a National Historic Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As I conducted my research, I noticed an inconsistency. The Florida National Guard claimed it could trace its heritage back to 1565, the year the Spanish founded St. Augustine and organized a militia. The Florida National Guard claims they were the first to muster in 1565 as a European militia in what later became the United States. That conflicted with what I knew to be true because everyone in the National Guard knew that the National Guard was founded in 1636. The National Guard Bureau (NGB), the federal entity that manages the National Guard program, and the Massachusetts National Guard, branded everything with 1636. I knew this to be true because this is what the National Guard said. Naïvely, I didn’t question it. Why would I?

When I determined I had an information conflict, I reached out to multiple people to try to get answers. A colleague at NGB chuckled and then laughingly warned me to leave it alone. He said the two sides took the heritage thing very seriously. He said the “workaround” was to say Florida claimed heritage to the Spanish militia, but that the Massachusetts National Guard had lineage as the nation’s first militia.

I found that comment curious since the National Guard had sponsored a book, I am The Guard: A History of the Army National Guard 1636-2000, where the author claimed that there is a militia roster from St. Augustine dated 1578 that carries the names of forty-three citizen-soldiers. Why then, wouldn’t they recognize the Spanish militia as the first as they do Massachusetts?

On NGB’s website, all of the public facing information about the history of the National Guard excluded a Spanish voice, despite the fact that in Florida it was celebrated, recognized and embraced as part of the Florida National Guard. NGB content positioned the Anglo-Saxon former British militias as the birthplaces of the modern National Guard.

That was 18 years ago and people back then could dismiss legitimate queries as if they were shooing away flies. Today, it isn’t that easy to avoid a reckoning. America’s social climate isn’t asking, it is demanding that institutions conduct some level of introspection. Why are U.S. bases named after confederate officers who took up arms against the nation and how did that happen? Why were certain symbols attached to the nation’s history of slavery allowed on military installations?

As things have unfolded nationally in the wake of George Floyd’s death, I have found myself examining my own experiences as a minority in this nation and I have looked at my own involvement with organizations and institutions in my life. That said, I began to wonder about the National Guard and what I saw 18 years ago. Why did NGB select the Massachusetts National Guard as the “Nation’s First” militia over other militias, including the Florida National Guard? Moreover, what evidence did they have to prove their claim and how was the criteria developed to assert that claim?

Simple questions, right? A few weeks ago I asked NGB for evidence that shows transition from British colonial militia to American militia; I asked for the names of people from NGB who petitioned the Army for the lineage; I asked to see the supportive documentation; I asked to see what the criteria was for determining the lineage.

The responses to my two weeks-worth of queries have been disappointing. My many questions remain unanswered which naturally stirs my suspicions. Why won’t they simply answer my questions? Maybe it is because the answer isn’t so simple.

NGB has passed me to multiple people on their history team. I still have no answers. My interactions with their chief historian have been unproductive and at times were argumentative as he spoke about nuances and danced around the questions I asked. When I pointed out that my questions were not being answered, he became upset and accused me of having an agenda and he referred me back to the NGB public affairs officer.

I’ve interacted with a historian from the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) who recommended I read a list of history books to get answers to my questions. One of his colleagues told me “I’m too busy to argue with you” and asked me to prove my case that the Spanish were the first to muster. I’m not sure that these men understand that questions are not arguments. I explained that I didn’t have a case to prove, I didn’t care who was first, but that I was merely asking them to support their position and he then stated that it wasn’t NGB’s position to defend, that it was the U.S. Army’s position. His response implied NGB had not been responsible for petitioning the U.S. Army for lineage honors for the British militia. This, like the exchanges with the chief historian, only added questions to my list.

The historian who said he wouldn’t argue with me then said something interesting. Rather than provide answers to the questions as I requested, he said: “On my side of this how do you account for the 60 years of military and diplomatic opposition from Florida to the early US republic? How do account for how Florida Militia fought and was driven away by the US Army? How do you account for how this was a Spanish militia and the Spanish Colony sought to divide the United States territories with the Burr conspiracy?”

His colleague had done the same thing. The chief historian had focused on facts that disqualified the Spanish from being considered rather than providing evidence that the British militias were the first. Did the NGB have some type of institutional historical grudge against Spain despite the fact that it was the British that we had to fight in order to win our independence? Even with their place in history as the main obstacle standing in way of the creation of the United States, NGB chose to align our U.S. military history with our primary former enemy. Why is that? If being an enemy did not matter, then why not Spain?

My last interaction with the historians at NGB was when I was told that the chief historian had advised everyone to “disengage” from me.

We are back to where this blog post started. A long time ago someone, or some people, decided to teach kids that Christopher Columbus discovered America. That story was regurgitated for centuries until we as a nation decided that the facts were too many to ignore and while we couldn’t determine how these teachings started, we did conclude that they were not only inaccurate, but dismissive of other cultures in our nation’s history. Slowly that archaic narrative of Columbus is fading.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to examine how the National Guard Bureau asked the U.S. Army Center of Military History in 1956 to award lineage honors to several British colonial militia of Anglo-Saxon heritage, ignoring the Spanish colonial militia history of Florida that included Africans, Native Americans, Spanish and other nationalities.

It’s important to note that in the 1950s, the struggle against racism entered mainstream American life with the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. In 1956, the same year that NGB petitioned for lineage and honors to recognize the Anglo units, the 84th U.S. Congress introduced The Declaration of Constitutional Principles, also known as the Southern Manifesto, in response to the 1954 Brown ruling and to counter threats to Jim Crow laws.

The objective of this series is not to rewrite history, but instead to get a proud and great American institution to examine its heritage and to ensure that it is accountable for the decisions it has made. If all of the decisions made to support lineage to the Massachusetts units can be supported, then there shouldn’t be any problems. But when things start off as they have, based on the current climate of social injustice, I can’t help but feel that the destination isn’t going to be good.

And this fly won’t be shooed away.