At that time, the British Army gave them short shrift. On land and sea, Britain had the greatest military force in the world. The American militia, in Britain’s estimation, was ragtag and untrained. In calculating the threat, the British made a mistake; they forgot the French and Indian War.
During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the British Army conscripted and trained a formidable fighting force, to wit, the American militia. So, in the end, Britain’s opponent was neither ragtag nor untrained, and the Brits got drubbed.
The American militia was trained as the fyrd was. Fyrd was a group of freemen in England mobilized to defend their shire (county) against Viking invaders. They provided their own clothes and weapons. Service was of short duration and repeated during the year; the fyrd was skilled at rapid deployment. The militiamen were trained and served in the same way. By the end of the French and Indian War, American militiamen were case-hardened. So, barely 13 years later, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, there was an organized system of conscription and service established, as well as a hard core of experienced fighting men and military leaders.
In Lenox, John Paterson, a veteran of the French and Indian War, was a major general in the Revolutionary War. In Sheffield, General John Fellows, a veteran of the French and Indian War, fought during the Revolutionary War, and after the war, quelled Shays’ Rebellion.
There was a Stockbridge militia. It was composed mostly of Wappinger, Mohican and Munsee from the Stockbridge area. The Stockbridge Militia was the first group of Native Americans to fight for independence during the war.
Sadly, 40 members of the Stockbridge Militia, almost the total fighting force, were killed during a battle in 1778.
The militiamen fought in short bursts. These soldier-farmers returned home for the planting and harvesting seasons. Later in the year, they rejoined the fight. Like the fyrd, the American militia fought in their own dooryards, on their own back forty, at the nearby fort and neighborhood strong house.
In this way, the colonists fought for independence and democracy over autocracy. No one promised that America would fight for democracy only once.
On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln said: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether [this] nation, or any nation, so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.”
... and now
On May 31, 2021, President Joe Biden said: “What we do now will determine if this democracy will long endure.”
If the battle lines are drawn, if we must fight again, will we fight as they did 245 years ago? Probably not. First of all, those opposing and undermining democracy have usurped the argument.
Their militias are formed. They are called the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, The Oath Keepers, Q-Anon, the America First and Stop the Steal movements. They attacked once on Jan. 6, 2021. They set up a straw dog (Stop the Steal) and pointed their weapons at it. They call it “The Article Two Solution.” By that, they mean forming militias to fight a government that will not do as they wish — that is, it will not overturn a free and fair election and will not establish a government with rights for whites only.
They say it is defense against government tyranny (the tyranny of the right of all citizens to vote; the tyranny of majority rule as whites rapidly become a numerical minority).
So, what do we do? What do those of us do who believe this government is a democracy — one we wish to defend? Think about smoking, no kidding.
Remember when everyone in America smoked? Remember when someone was teased or even ridiculed for not smoking? What changed that? Guns? Violence? Cession? No. A slow, steady social pressure to stop. A slow, steady retelling of scientific facts and truth. A coalition of educators, politicians, lawmakers, doctors and just plain folk creating a national echo chamber. It took time. It took persistence, it required an unvarying message, but it worked.
How do we win back America? Support social decency, democratic norms and push. Push with a slow steady unyielding pressure. “Thank you for not smoking” signs replaced by signs that read “Thank you for not verbally attacking others,” “thank you for not inciting violence,” “thank you for not lying.” Push and do not yield.
Provide a “smoking” section for those who will repeat bizarre conspiracy theories and defame their neighbors. As that number dwindles, push the remaining few out of doors. Push that behavior out of our public and private places. They will not stop hating, but they will hide the hate as they do the cigarette. The behavioral norms will shift back. Trust that and start now.
Articulate the intolerable effects of the other choice. Demonstrate — quietly and firmly — our utter intolerance for fascism, for limiting the rights of others, and for anti-democratic policies and speech.
Speak out loud against those things; vote against them and those who support them. Eject fascism, limiting the rights of others and hate speech from our lives as we eradicated smoking from America. Unrelenting social pressure will work, and it may be the only thing that does.