Military records in the Archives cover conflicts dating from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries, although those of major genealogical use date from 1643 to 1865. The records can be used to identify the service of particular individuals but provide little background on the person’s family or life.
Information concerning military service in the colonial wars (circa 1643-1774) can be gleaned from legislative records and a variety of military rolls and accounts. Similar rolls from the Revolutionary period document the service of those in the state militia and the Continental Army. Additionally the Archives holds records of state pensions and bounties of Maine land grants for Revolutionary War veterans or their heirs, who were not eligible to receive federal pensions. Family relationships may be included in the pension records, as heirs tried to document their status. Military records from the colonial wars and the Revolution are indexed by name and are available on microfilm at the Archives. Revolutionary service is also referenced through the seventeen-volume set, Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (Boston: 1896-1908).
The military garrison on Castle Island is documented through payrolls and other records. Following the Revolution, soldiers continued to be stationed at the Castle as a defense for Boston Harbor. These soldiers guarded the state prison that existed there between 1785 and 1798.
Records from Shays’ Rebellion (1786-87), a period of internal turbulence, are included in the Massachusetts Archives collection, and records of the Treasurer and the Commissary General. Letters, orders, warrants, petitions, special reports, military payrolls, service certificates, financial records, and oaths of allegiance provide extensive documentation of Shays’ Rebellion. Partial indices exist with names of soldiers and individuals who supplied or housed the army.
Military records relating to the War of 1812 (1812-1815) are found in the records of the Governor and Executive Council; these are concerned primarily with the formation of militia units and commissions for officers. Records of the Massachusetts Militia in the War of 1812-1814 (Boston: 1913), provides information on the militia regiments called out in 1814 in anticipation of a British attack on Massachusetts.
The most complete list of Massachusetts men who served in the Civil War is found in the multi-volume set, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War (Norwood and Brookline, MA: 1931-1935). Archival records include a variety of muster, clothing and descriptive rolls, lists of assignments of recruits to particular town quotas, correspondence from recruiters serving in the south, and materials documenting the use of substitutes for draftees. Other archival materials from this period include the records of the State Military Agent and the letterbooks of Governor John Andrew, an early and strong supporter of the war effort.
Records relating to the Spanish American War (1898) include a small collection of letters and petitions for bonuses from veterans or their families to the Treasurer and Receiver General.
The Adjutant General’s Office oversees a large collection of military records. These are particularly strong in the areas of the Mexican, Civil, Spanish American, and twentieth-century wars. These records are stored in Worcester at the Office of the State Quartermaster, 44 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609.