The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is the oldest – and most often made fun of – chartered military company in North America.
On every first Monday of June for the past 376 years, the Ancient and Honorables elect their officers in Boston. That, actually, is the reason it started out as a volunteer militia: to train young officers (though they aren’t so young any more). Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop signed their first charter in March 1638.
June Day starts with a parade from Government Center to the Granary Burial Ground, where the militia lays a wreath at the grave of their founder, Robert Keayne. Keayne was a wealthy Puritan merchant who left the Ancient and Honorables a bequest in his will — while pointing out they were inferior to similar English military companies.
The parade then proceeds to The Cathedral Church of St. Paul for a memorial service for recently deceased members. It reconvenes and marches to Boston Common, where ballots for officers and sergeants are placed on the drumhead in a reenactment of the first election. Over the years, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company has evolved into a color guard for the governor and preserver of history. It maintains a museum and library at its headquarters in Faneuil Hall‘s attic, with relics from every war in which the U.S. has been engaged.
On July 4, 1851, Lowell, Mass., held what may have been the first ‘Antiques and Horribles’ parade mocking the venerable militia. It featured silly clothes and a cannon made out of a pistol on stone wheels drawn by oxen. Antiques and Horribles were so popular they spread throughout New England during the 19th century. Today, Gloucester, Mass., and Glocester, R.I., still stage Antiques and Horribles parades.
The Ancient and Honorables were often the butt of jokes at the annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. Former Mass. Senate President William Bulger was fond of calling them ‘the Budweiser Brigade.’