Strafford Guards: Dover’s Famous Military Company
How and When Organized-Brief Sketch of its Career By Ex-Quartermaster Joseph E. Porter
The War of 1812 was
followed by a period of soldierly inactivity throughout the land, but few
military companies existing during those years, while fewer still were destined
to survive and round out a century of continuous service, a proud record soon to
be claimed by the
Strafford Guards of Dover, New Hampshire.
As far back as the middle of July, 1817, when our old colonial town was honored by a visit from James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, and author of the famous Monroe Doctrine, no local military organization prepared for escort duty was in existence, and the committee of arrangements was actually obliged to call for the service of what appears to have been a Cavalry company composed of Rochester and Milton men, known as “Captain Lyman’s Troop,” and commanded, on this occasion, by Col. Edward Sise. It is probable that this, or similar events, had a tendency to arouse the inhabitants to a sense of the importance of a local military company and to awaken in the hearts of youth the long dormant spirit of ’76.
While the exact date of institution of our veteran corps is a question, as much disputed as the rival claims of Cook and Peary, and a point as slight and wobbly as the precise latitude locating the North Pole, topics now adding much to the gaiety of current events, old records prove that in May, 1822, about sixty of the wide-awake fellows of the town assembled in the historic building once known as the Old Court House and recently as the “Bradley Garage,” and then and there formed a military company to which was given the singular name of “Souls of Soldiery.”
Dissensions in the ranks, however, soon led to its disbandment, but a majority o f the members immediately re-organized and in the year 1823 assumed the name of Strafford Guards.
Dover’s leading citizen, Hon. Moses Paul, agent of the Cocheco Manufacturing Company, was chosen captain, and under his matchless leadership the organization soon became known as the crack military company of the state and renowned far and wide for its parades and social functions.
Captain Paul was one of nature’s noblemen, still remembered by our older citizens.
Introduced to Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the latter at once remarked:--
“Well, sir! As you bear the names of both Moses and Paul you must be a pretty good man.” Perhaps the most interesting event in the history of the Strafford Guards occurred during the year 1824 when the company had the distinguished honor of performing escort duty for the Marquis De LaFayette, on the occasion of his visit to Dover during a triumphant tour through the United States fifty yeas after the revolution. This was before the days of railroads, air ships and automobiles, and consequently LaFayette and suite came over the road in carriages.
At Piscataqua Bridge, a locality six miles from our present city, the distinguished party was received by the Dover Military company, and as the carriage containing the Marquis passed down the line he was heard to express surprise at the size of the soldiers, wh if traditions are correct, were nearly all six footers, and with their bell shaped hats and plumes, 24 inches high, must have appeared still taller.
In a copy of the original By-Laws and Constitution we find a description of the first uniform, which is here inserted:
ARTICLE 2. The uniform shall be a blue broadcloth coatee, to be trimmed with gilt ball buttons, three rows in front, one dozen in each, two on each side of the collar, three on each cuff, three on each skirt and eight of the folds, making in all five dozen on each coatee, the collar to be bound round with gold lace at top and bottom, two dead eye button holes, of the same on each side of the collar, a black leather cap, similar to those worn by infantry officers, with gilt scales and eagle in the front with two brass chains and a back band, leather cockade and black plume, 24 inches high, and a tulip to sit it in; the pantaloons to be white linen drilling, made loose, and to turn up at the bottom 4 1-2 inches and half boots worn under the same.
During the early years of the company there still resided in Dover a veritable hero of the revolution, Dr. Ezra Greene, M.D., who lived to the advance age of 101 years, and who as a surgeon in the navy had actually sailed the wide world over and passed through many a bloody sea fight with John Paul Jones on the Ranges. Dr. Greene is said to have taken a deep interest in the new military company, and on days of public parade delighted in his old revolutionary uniform, and with his uncovered head and drawn sword stand at “Attention” on the lawn in front of his home, corner of Silver and Belknap streets, in acknowledgment of a passing salute from the Strafford Guards.
At the outbreak of the civil war in 1861 the Guards did a three months’ tour of duty at Fort Constitution, Portsmouth Harbor, and later many members went to the front, all to return honorably and some to give up their lives for their country.
At the commencement if the Spanish American War in 1898 the Strafford Guards, otherwise known as Co. A., 1st Regiment, New Hampshire National Guard, were prompt to tender their services to Governor Ramsdell. The offer was promptly accepted and within a week the company, specially recruited to one hundred and six men strong, was hurried from Dover to Concord and from thence to Chicamauga as Co. F.,, 1st Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers. Three Dover boys, viz.: Corporal Cassius B. Roberts, Musician William Rossiter and Private Oliver J. Boudreon died from disease contracted during the campaign and were buried with military honors in Dover.
While the honor of escorting President Monroe was denied to the Dover boys of 1817 the honor of guarding a real, live President was reserved for a generation then unborn—so it came to pass that on the 26th day of August, 1902, the Strafford Guards and Sawyer Rifles, formerly a battalion, under command of Col. F.E. Rollins and Major F.H. Keenan, two former commanders, and acted as guard of honor to President Roosevelt during his brief visit to Dover.
While a complete list of past commanders has not been discovered, it is learned that the first Captain, Moses Paul, was succeeded in turn by Captains Frye, Tibbetts and Curtis, while later on the writer remembers Captains William Smith, Israel Littlefield, Zimri Wallingford, Thomas Currier, Jasper G. Wallace, Joseph S. Abbott, George H. Demerritt, Frank E. Rollins, Frank H. Keenan,, Lewis E. Tuttle, John Sunderland, Austin E. Sanborn, and the present commander, Frank. W. Butler.
A recent reorganization of the New Hampshire National Guard resulted in the transfer of Strafford Guards, Co. A., 2nd Regt., Infantry, to Coast Defence—henceforth to be known as Co. C., Coast Artillery.
No history of the Strafford Guards, however brief, would be complete without a reference to the veteran Jesse A. Whitehouse, who enlisted in the company about the year 1825 and served continuously for 60 years, his grim figure being as familiar to three generations as the spire of the First Parish Church, or the summit of old Garrison Hill. Dying in March, 18885, he was buried in uniform with military honors.
Among those who have marched in the front ranks with Jesse as active members, may be mentioned Hon. Charles H. Sawyer, Afterwards one of New Hampshire’s most famous and popular governors. Governor Sawyer was a lifelong friend of the company, and as long as he lived was always ready to assist the Boys with his purse and powerful influence. Incidentally the Strafford Guards have participated in 30 annual encampments of the New Hampshire National Guard, not to mention the famous Barrington Musters of earlier days or the more recent tour of duty at White Plains, New York. The company also assisted at centennial celebrations at Bennington , Vt., New York City and Yorktown, Virginia.
But there have been tragedies as well as festivals to record in memory of one who at the time of his death, June 23, 1906, was the idolized Captain of the Strafford Guards.
Lewis E. Tuttle was killed by the accidental discharge of his revolver on a stormy night while en route from his home in the suburbs to the armory. Captain Tuttle was honored by a military funeral at the First Parish Church, and was buried in Pine Hill Cemetery amid a feeling of universal sadness.
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