The First Company is, and has always been one of Connecticut's official military units. Originally authorized by a Charter granted by the General Assembly of the Colony of Connecticut, the First Company retains its official status as a military unit of the State of Connecticut by state statute. In modern times, Section 27-6a of the General Statutes of the State Of Connecticut provides for the organization of the First Company Governor's Foot Guard. This same statute also authorizes and defines the existence of the Second Company Governor's Foot Guard, while Section 27-7 authorizes and defines the existence of the First and Second Companies of Governor's Horse Guards.
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.
The petition 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.
The 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.
Early Foot 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 untilOctober 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.
The First 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.
In 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.
On April 30th of 1782, the Guard paraded in celebration of the end of the Revolutionary War.
President 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 Guard escorted.
The First 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.
In 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 Service.
Members of 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.