"The Colonial Wars in America may be said to have begun with the earliest great Indian wars for which troops were officially mustered and led into battle by duly appointed officers. Those conflicts, ensuing from cultural, trade, or sovereignty collisions, involved organized military actions based upon strategy and tactics. Four such Indian wars were waged in the first half of the 17th century—in Virginia with the Powhatan Confederacy twice (1622-1629, 1644-1646), in New England with the Pequots (1637), and in New Netherland with the Algonquin League (1643-1644). Terrible losses were suffered by the Virginians and the Dutch."
These four conflicts, together with King Philip's War in New England (1675-1678), first disclosed the courage and determined spirit of our Colonial forefathers in battle. Civil wars and revolts, such as the Maryland disturbances (1644-1657) and Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia (1676), which occurred during this period, revealed the Colonist' independence of thought, their sense of justice, and their natural bent for liberty. Later, with the entanglements in the European wars—the first three of which were known in America as King William's War (1689-1697), Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), and King George's War (1739-1748) — there came a developing sense of nationalism and duty. Finally, with the great French and Indian War (1754-1763) the Americans became militarily competent, as was evident in the American Revolution which soon followed.
As the leaders of the Colonies realized that their struggle for independence from Royalist England was to be successful, their thoughts immediately turned to establish firm foundations for a native hereditary aristocracy in America. Some suggested that Washington become our King, but he declined the honor. During the next hundred years, the need to replace the English aristocratic system with one of our own which would include the basic ideologies of the new Republic resulted in the establishment of several hereditary patriotic societies.
The Society of the Cincinnati, of which Washington himself was the first President, had its origin in 1783 at the close of the American Revolution. But up to 1892, although there were hereditary societies honoring the soldiers of the American Revolution, of the War of 1812, of the Mexican War, and of the Civil War, the men who participated in the American Colonial Wars had somehow been neglected. No society existed to commemorate the military events of this significant and formative period in our history; nor was there any patriotic organization dedicated to keeping alive the ideals of liberty that our Colonial forebears achieved by their courageous exploits—those ideals of individual and community freedom that we know as the American way of life.
In the summer of 1892, this deficiency became the subject of earnest conversation among three New York friends of distinguished Colonial ancestry who decided that something should be done about it. These patriotic gentlemen were Samuel Victor Constant, Esq., graduate of Columbia College and member of Co. "A", 7th. Regiment; Edward Trenchard, Esq., the well-known artist; and Colonel Thomas Wain-Morgan Draper, a civil engineer. On July 10th they convened in Colonel Draper's office at 45 Broadway to plan the formation of the needed Society. Other meetings followed in Mr. Constant's office at 120 Broadway, at which the purposes and objectives of a "Society of Colonial Wars" were formulated, and at which a certificate of incorporation together with proposals for a Constitution and By-Laws were drafted. Finally, a formal meeting for organization was called to be held at Mr. Constant's office, and to which other interested friends were invited. Among these was Charles Henry Murray, Esq., a member of several patriotic societies, who had previously suggested to Mr. Trenchard the formation of a "Society of French and Indian Wars."
Altogether, those attending this historic meeting, which took place on August 18, 1892, were: Messrs. Samuel Victor Constant, Frederick Everest Haight, Charles Henry Murray, and Colonel Thomas Wain-Morgan Draper, representing New York; Messrs. Edward Clarence Miller and Charles Benjamin Miller, representing New Jersey; and Messrs. Nathan Gillette Pond and Satterlee Swartwout representing Connecticut. At this meeting, over which Mr. Constant presided as the organizing founder, the Certificate of Incorporation was approved. Subsequently, on October 17th, it was filed in New York County. All of the foregoing gentlemen together with Messrs. George Miles Gunn of Connecticut and Howard Randolph Bayne of Virginia were named as Incorporators.
The Incorporators, with the exception of Edward C. Miller, Esq., then became members of the organizing Board of Governors of the new Society, and the following temporary Officers were elected: Charles H. Murray, Esq., Chairman; Col. T. Wain-Morgan Draper, Secretary; S. Victor Constant, Esq., Treasurer; and Frederick E. Haight, Esq., Historian. The Board of Governors met at the office of Chairman Murray at 115 Broadway, New York on October 18, 1892, and again at the same place on November 10th. At the latter meeting the Committee on Membership, composed of Colonel Draper, Mr. Murray, and Mr. Haight, Chairman, reported that the application papers of twenty-seven candidates had been approved. Those candidates were thereupon elected, and the Society was "in business" with dues-paying members. Mr. Constant was the first member elected, receiving Society Registration "No. 1." It was at this time that the first insigne was approved, a small bowknot of British scarlet, to be worn in the left lapel of the coat. A quantity of these bowknots of ribbon one-eighth of an inch wide in a one-inch bow was made by Mrs. Thomas Wain-Morgan Draper, and these decorations were worn by members until the present rosettes and insignia were adopted. The colors of the Society as later adopted, were the scarlet and white of the Colonial uniform.
At the next three meetings of the Board of Governors, eligibility qualifications were worked out, details as to Staff Officers and a Council to replace the Board of Governors were agreed upon, and a Constitution and By-Laws were adopted. Fifty-seven additional members were elected. When the first General Court met under the new Constitution on December 19, 1892, the anniversary date of the Great Swamp Fight of King Philips' War in 1675, it was announced that the Society had one hundred and five members.
This General Court, in conjunction with a Banquet, was held at Delmonico's famous restaurant at 26th Street and Fifth Avenue. At this meeting forty voting members elected the first permanent Officers of the Society of Colonial Wars, Frederic James de Peyster, Esq., becoming the first Governor, and Howland Pell, Esq., becoming the first Secretary. Both of these New York gentlemen were to serve the Society for many years with high devotion and competence.
It was in 1893 that the inauguration of a General Society of Colonial Wars was first discussed and carried out. As early as January 20th the Council approved a request from a group of Pennsylvania members to form a State Society there, and all the members from that State were thereupon transferred out of the New York Society. Similar action was taken on March 15th when State Societies were formed in Massachusetts and Maryland. This led to the formation of the General Society of Colonial Wars whose first General Assembly was held in New York City on May 9th and 10th, 1893, and whose membership then included New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia. The name of the New York Society was changed by the Council to "Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New York." Twenty-eight State Societies and the District of Columbia now comprise the General Society. It holds a General Assembly every three years rotated among these Societies, at which the General Officers are elected.
The first Annual Banquet, which was also the occasion of the Second General Court of the New York Society, was held at the Hotel Waldorfon on December 19th, 1893.
Up to the date of this first Banquet of the Society and in a period of twelve months, 311 members had joined. Since then the Society has held an Annual Banquet each year (except 1894, 1917, 1918, 1933, and 1937). Many eminent men have addressed the members, and various prominent patriotic and military societies, as well as the Army, Navy, and Air Force, have been represented among the distinguished guests.
During the first formative months of the Society's existence, there had been some lively discussion concerning the beginning date of the Colonial period to be commemorated. Some contended for 1620, the year of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and this had been included in the original Constitution; others for 1607, the year of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the western hemisphere. There was also some agitation to make the date earlier, 1565, when the first permanent European settlement in the future United States was established at St. Augustine, Florida. Even earlier dates were proposed, such as 1541, which was the year of the arrival of the Coronado Expedition on the Arkansas River.
However, it was finally voted to adopt the period from the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia on May 13, 1607, to the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775, and to limit qualifying ancestral 'service to those ancestors who served under the authority of the Colonies, which afterward formed the United States of America, or with participating British forces. These qualifications were then written into the Constitution. Shortly afterward, on February 6, 1893, because the word "Colonies" as used in the Constitution did "not with sufficient clearness describe the same," the Society resolved the word "Colonies" as contained in Article II relating to eligibility to membership "shall be construed and held to mean the Original Nine Colonies, which through the War of Independence became the Original Thirteen States."
The new Council of the Society met frequently after the first General Court, usually at the homes of members of the Council. There were numerous important matters to be determined and details to be worked out. A motto for the Society was adopted: "Fortiter pro-Patria" (Bravely for Country). The designs for the Society's Seal and Insignia were adopted, following considerable discussion about the advisability of having the crown surmount the escutcheon in the Seal and the badge of Insignia. The ayes won, and the crown is there today, symbolic of course, of the Colonial period that the Society covers—up to the Battle of Lexington. Regulations were worked out for the wearing of these insignia by the Governor, Council Members, and the membership at large. Also approved and adopted at this time was a design for a Society Flag: the red Cross of St. George on a white field, bearing at the crossing in the center the Society Seal.
Contact us about becoming a member. CLICK HERE