In contrast to the rag-tag rubes of Johnston’s satirical print, the certificate of merit issued to John F. Bannister in 1820, in recognition of seven years of service in the Light Infantry Company of Winslow Blues, is decorated with a scene of an infantryman in splendid uniform, correctly holding a rifle with bayonet, standing in front of an elegant and well-ordered encampment. The Winslow Blues were typical of the voluntary militia groups that began forming in the early 1800s. These groups had a social as well as a military function, and could exercise political influence. They were often formed by wealthy, locally prominent individuals. In urban areas, militia units were sometimes organized by trades, or by immigrant groups such as the Irish and Germans. Blacks were prohibited from joining the Massachusetts state militia. Twice, in 1852 and again in 1853, leaders of Boston’s black community petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to form a black military company, but were rejected. Still desiring a community militia to discourage slave catchers and other threats, in 1854 they established a privately funded black military company named the “Massasoit Guards.”  

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