The terms “minutemen” and “militia” are often thought of as one and the same. However, in early America — especially in the 18th century — there was a distinct difference.
The true minutemen — always the first to appear at or await a battle — stood at Lexington Green on the morning of April 19, 1775, and led the attack on Concord Bridge. Their numbers were reinforced by the regular militia that turned out in that day’s historic battles. Minutemen represented a small hand-picked force selected from the ranks of local militia companies and regiments. Approximately one-third of the men in each militia unit were chosen “to be ready to march or fight at a minute’s notice.”
Actually, the concept of minute-men existed in America as early as the 17th century, while the term itself came into use in 1759 during the French and Indian War.
The title “minutemen” was formally adopted the year before the American Revolution started. At that time, in October of 1774, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts voted to enroll 12,000 men under the title of Minutemen — volunteers who would be ready at a minute’s warning to take to the field with arms.
After Congress authorized a Continental Army under the command of George Washington, minutemen units eventually ceased to exist. But their contribution as a trained and battle-hardened corps of veterans was an important and significant force as patriots took up arms to oppose the British army in the Revolutionary War.