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A march of the train bands

Trainbands or Trained Bands were companies of militia in England or the Americas,[1][2][3] first organized in the 16th century and dissolved in the 18th. The term was used after this time to describe the London militia. In the early American colonies the trainband was the most basic tactical unit.[4] However, no standard company size existed and variations were wide. As population grew these companies were organized into regiments to allow better management.[4] But trainbands were not combat units. Generally, upon reaching a certain age a man was required to join the local trainband in which he received periodic training for the next couple of decades. In wartime, military forces were formed by selecting men from trainbands on an individual basis and then forming them into a fighting unit.

The exact derivation and usage is not clear. A nineteenth-century dictionary says, under "Train":

train-band, i.e. train'd band, a band of trained men, Cowper, John Gilpin, st. I, and used by Dryden and Clarendon (Todd)

— Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (Oxford 1879)[5]

The issue is whether the men "received training" in the modern sense, or whether they were "in the train" or retinue or were otherwise organized around a military "train" as in horse-drawn artillery.

In 17th Century New England colonial militia units were usually referred to as "train bands" or, sometimes, "trained bands".[3] Typically, each town would elect three officers to lead its train band with the ranks of captain, lieutenant and ensign. As the populations of towns varied widely, larger towns usually had more than one train band. In the middle 1600s train bands began to be referred to as companies.

On December 13, 1636 the Massachusetts Militia was organized into three regiments - North, South and East. As there are National Guard units descendants of these regiments, this date is used as the "birthday" of the National Guard, despite the fact that citizen militias in the American Colonies date back to the Jamestown settlement in 1607.


  1. ^ The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia: The Century dictionary ... prepared under the superintendence of William Dwight Whitney ... rev. & enl. under the superintendence of Benjamin E. Smith. Century Company. 1911.
  2. ^ Jonathan Worton: Ludlow's Trained Band: A Study of Militiamen in Early Stuart England, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 91, No. 365 (Spring 2013), pp. 4–23, JSTOR 44232985, last accessed 27 Oct 2018: "Two dozen militiamen—12 equipped as musketeers, 12 as pikemen—who dutifully assembled at Ludlow for the muster on 8 May 1632 constituted the town's Trained Band, a unit maintained at the charge of Ludlow's inhabitants with its ranks filled by local men."
  3. ^ a b Connecticut (1894). The Public Records of the State of Connecticut ... with the Journal of the Council of Safety ... and an Appendix: Pub. in Accordance with a Resolution of the General Assembly, by Charles J. Hoadly. Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company.
  4. ^ a b Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski: For the common defense: A military history of the United States of America, New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1984, Library of Congress bibliographic record,, last accessed 27 Oct 2018: "Although the basic tactical unit in all the colonies was the company, or trainband, regional variations and changes over time were as important as the superficial uniformity. No standardized company size existed, some companies containing as few as sixty-five men and others as many as two hundred. Some trainbands elected their officers, but in others the governors appointed them. Southern colonies, with widely dispersed populations, often organized companies on a countywide basis, while in New England, with its towns and villages, individual communities contained their own trainbands. As populations increased and the number of trainbands grew, colonies organized companies into regiments to preserve efficient management."
  5. ^ Walter W. Skeat: An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, N.Y., an unabridged republication of the work originally published in 1910, p. 658,, last accessed 27 Oct 2018.

External links

  • Media related to Trainbands at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of trainband at Wiktionary

9 Annotations

First Reading

Phil  •  Link

"trained-band," described in the L&M Companion glossary as a "troop of city militia: ordinarily of London, but existing elsewhere".

vincent  •  Link

Every upright citizen was required to be defend the home turf: many versions of the scheme were organised by the wealthy[landed] and the merchants: each had their version of "home guard" not unlike the The Helvitians of to-day and the wealthy new turks with their security system. So many names for keeping ones wealth in the family. We may change the names of home turf defense[trained bands, territorials, national service, home guard etc., gangs for less educated] but underlining idea has not change - don't take my money{or my 'ife}

Peter  •  Link

When I was 14 or so I was forced to read the poem "John Gilpin" by William Cowper. The fist verse has remained with me ever since, and so every time "trainbands" are mentioned in the diary I mentally run through the first verse. Here is a link to the poem:…
It will perhaps give some insight into the calibre of person involved in the trainband (think "Dad's Army"). Probably best read out loud to some like-minded friends after few drinks.

Yogi  •  Link

Without the Trained Bands, the civil war of 1641-48 would never have taken place. They were the only armed force in the area of London and they sided with Parliament, allowing it force the King out of the city. They also saved the day for Parliament at a crucial point in the second year of the war, marching across the country to relieve the city of Gloucester.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

The Honourable Artillery Company

Captains of the Artillery Garden provided officers for the London Trained Bands, a citizen militia, most notably when they assembled at Tilbury Camp in 1588 to oppose the Spanish Armada.� Members of the Artillery Company fought on both the Royalist and Parliamentary sides during the English Civil War of 1642 to 1649; the City of London was predominantly Parliamentarian.� Although the Company�s silver was lost during the Civil War, its archives survive from 1657 onwards.� Since 1633 the HAC has been governed by a Court of Assistants, like many of the City Livery Companies, and a number of committees are appointed by the Court.� The first Annual General Court for which a record can be found was held in 1660.

The Company has always had strong connections with the City of London. In the early part of the 17th Century the Court of Aldermen appointed the chief officers and paid the professional soldiers who trained members of the Company.� The Lord Mayor and Aldermen are honorary members of the Court of Assistants.…

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

TRAIN-BANDS, TRAINED-BANDS Regiments made up of the Inhabitants of a City, trained up to Arms.
---An Universal Etymological English Dictionary. N. Bailey, 1731.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Regicide Owen Rowe was appointed to the Committee of Safety in 1642, and played a major role in supplying weapons for Parliament's armies during the wars. He was captain of green regiment of London trained bands in 1642; and in 1643 was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel in the militia and given charge of the armory at the Tower of London. Owen Rowe became a colonel in 1646. He was a Puritan haberdasher by trade. Think Dad's Army indeed.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

During the crisis of July 1667 Parliament argued that the Train Bands were Britain's defence force, and therefore Charles II did not need a standing army.

This distinction lives on in the US Constitution. The Second Amendment reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Such language has created confusion regarding the Amendment's intended scope, but troops are still not allowed to be deployed in country.
But since we no longer have a 'militia':
Recent Presidents have constructed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol Depts. as its Federal replacements.
States have use the National Army Reserves for emergencies, so they are not under Federal control except for deployment overseas, as provided for by law.
America's self-appointed Militias resist any and all regulation by anyone except the NRA.
The citizens recognize that this potentially has very unpleasant ramifications, and would appreciate Parliament's ruling on this ASAP.

Third Reading

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


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