Militia (British Dominions and Crown Colonies)

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The Militia of the British Dominions and Crown Colonies were the principal military forces of the Dominions and Crown Colonies of the British Empire.


The English had raised militia forces in their settled colonies in the New World immediately upon establishing them in the first decade of the 17th century. Whereas militias in England remained little used, outside the period of the English Civil Wars, during the following century, those in the North American colonies were to play significant roles. In many actions fought with Native Americans, the militia were the primary English force in the field, as professional full-time military forces were usually far away. Even when the English colonies around the world became the British Empire, and regular forces began to become available for garrison duty, militias were still a vital part of Great Britain's military power in the Americas, and British victory over Spain and France during the Seven Years' War, and its resulting hegemony in North America, could not have been realised without the colonial militias and their Native allies. It was the presence of their militia that allowed thirteen American colonies to launch the secessionist American War of Independence.


The colonies of Australia did not have militia, nor officially did New Zealand. In 1843 a local militia had been formed in Wellington without official sanction it was immediately disbanded.


The Castle Islands Fortifications, in Bermuda. Construction beginning in 1612, these were the first stone fortifications, with the first coastal artillery batteries, built by England in the New World, and were manned by the Militia 'til taken over by the regular British Army following the American War of Independence.

In Bermuda, a self-governed (rather than Crown) colony settled in 1609, with no native population, the Militia followed a trajectory more like that in Britain, finally becoming moribund after the American War of 1812, by when the build-up of regular forces had removed the demand for the militia. Nevertheless, during the first century of its settlement, Bermuda's militia had remained the colony's sole defence, manning its fortifications and coastal batteries and calling up all available manpower in times of war. This included slaves and indentured servants, among whom were Irish and Scottish Prisoners of war (POW), forcibly removed from their homelands following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and the invasion of Scotland by England during the Third English Civil War and sold to the highest bidder.

Large numbers of Irish POWs and civilians were sold in Bermuda, where they were highly antagonistic to the English majority. In 1661, the local government alleged that a plot was being hatched by an alliance of Blacks and Irish, one which involved cutting the throats of all the English. The Irish were perceived as the chief instigators of this plot. Governor William Sayle prepared for the uprising with three edicts: The first was that a nightly watch be raised throughout the colony; second, that slaves and the Irish (defined by the government as indentured servants, though imported and sold against their will) be disarmed of militia weapons; and third, that any gathering of two or more Irish or slaves be dispersed by whipping (a ban was also placed on the further importation of Irish to Bermuda).

Enslaved Bermudians continued to serve in the colony's militia, however, which was to lead a unique judgement on their rights as British subjects. By the 18th Century, virtually all Bermudian men were engaged in the maritime trades, including building and crewing ships. The colony's dependence on its seamen was such that the Royal Navy excluded them from impressment, to which all other British seamen were liable. Perennially short of manpower, the crews of Bermuda's merchant fleet (most of which turned to privateering whenever war broke out) were required, by local law, to contain a percentage of black sailors, most of whom were enslaved. British law at the time required that all crewmen of British vessels be British subjects, which slaves were not generally considered to be. Following the arrest of a Bermudian vessel by the Royal Navy due to its enslaved crewmembers, Bermudian ship owners protested to the courts that their service in the Militia meant that Bermuda's slaves should be considered British subjects, and this view was upheld by the courts.

Bermuda's seasonal occupants of the Turks Islands also raised militias there, as their lucrative salt trade invited attacks from enemies, foreign (France and Spain) and domestic (the Bahamas). The fortifications built in Bermuda by the militia (including the Castle Islands Fortifications), starting in 1612, remain the oldest English new world structures, as well as the first stone fortifications, the first coastal artillery, and the oldest surviving fortifications built by the English in the New World. The Militia manned these fortifications with standing bodies of artillerymen 'til the fortifications were taken over by the regular British Army following the American War of Independence, with some, like Fort St. Catherine's, used well into the 20th Century.

British West Indies[edit]



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