Early Militia in British America
For most of the eighteenth century, New York was second only to Charleston in slave population. By 1737, one if five New Yorkers were black; “between 1700 and 1774, the British imported between 6800 and 7400 Africans to the colony of New York. It was cheaper for New York slave traders to import directly from Africa . . .” (Slavery in New York, Berlin/Harris, pg. 61).
Slave insurrection was a constant menace as the British continued to import forced labor to work the colony. In late March 1712, New York and Westchester militia swept the Manhattan woods in search of 40 or 50 black men and women who had killed nine white people and wounded six more in an insurrection. “More than seventy enslaved men and women were eventually taken into custody, and forty-three were brought to trial by jury. Twenty-five were convicted, of whom twenty were hanged and three burned at the stake, one roasted in slow torment for eight hours” (pg. 78).
Early Militia in British America
“New England towns were more scattered than Chesapeake farms, but each town had the capacity for armed resistance that was lacking in an individual plantation. A town could bear the burden of a military draft and still hope to maintain itself from attack, while the loss of a man or two from a single, remote household often meant choosing between abandonment and destruction.
New England promised its soldiers plunder in the form of scalp bounties, profits from the sale of Indian slaves, and postwar land grants . . . But there remains an important difference: the clustering of manpower and the cohesive atmosphere in the town community gave New England greater military strength.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the principal threat to the British colonies was changing. Europeans – French and Spanish – became the main danger. Virginia found itself so little troubled by the new threat, and her Indian enemies so weak, that militia virtually ceased to exist there for about half a century, a time when a handful of semi-professional rangers could watch the frontier.
During the same period, the frontier of Massachusetts was under sporadic attack by French-supported Indians. [Carolina] occupied the post of danger against Spain. The Carolina militia came from the country to repulse a Spanish attack on Charleston in 1706, and it rallied – with some help from North Carolina and Virginia – to save the colony during the Yamassee War in 1715 . . . [when] four hundred Negroes helped six hundred white men defeat the Indians.
But as the ratio of slaves to whites rapidly increased, and especially after a serious slave insurrection in 1739, Carolinians no longer dared arm Negroes; in fact, they hardly dared leave their plantations in time of emergency.
The British government tried to fill the gap, first by organizing Georgia as an all-white military buffer, then by sending a regiment of regulars with Oglethorpe in 1740. But increasingly, the South Carolina militia became an agency to control the slaves, and less an effective means of defense.”
(A People Numerous & Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, John Shy, University of Michigan Press, 1990, excerpts pp. 34-37)