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Stephen Thornton 2007
Northamptonshire Militia Lists

In England , militia forces were raised as a body of troops to supplement the regular army in times of invasion or rebellion. From 1757 onwards it was the responsibility of the Lords Lieutenant of each County to raise and train a given number of men  - 640 in the case of Northamptonshire – whose names were drawn by lot every three years.

Those liable to serve had to be able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45, but some groups of individuals were exempt, namely peers, clergy, articled clerks, parish constables, apprentices and seamen and anybody who had already been drawn before.  Also exempt were poor men with 3 or more children, although this requirement was later reduced to just a single child. Service, except in time of war, was a 28 day training and exercise period each year for three years. Even then it was possible for the drawn man to provide a substitute, so that few drawn actually served.

Every three years the parish constable was required to produce “fair and true lists, in writing, of the names of all the men usually and at that time dwelling within their respective parishes, tythings and places, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, distinguishing their respective ranks and occupations … and which of the persons so returned labour under any infirmities, incapacitating them from serving as militia men …”

The lists still exist for Higham Ferrers Hundred for those assessments in 1762, 1771, 1774, 1777 and 1781, and are held by the Northamptonshire Record Office.

Having drawn them up, the constable then displayed them on the door of the parish church, and anybody who felt they should not have been listed could appeal at a local meeting. However, not all parish constables followed the instructions laid down in the Act to the letter, and failed to include those who were exempt or the occupations. Nevertheless the lists provide a vivid snapshot of the size, occupations and the social structure of the time, and can be a boon for the family historian.

A comprehensive listing and analysis of the 1777 assessment was produced by the late Victor Hatley. As the 1777 lists were incomplete, lacking the returns for Nassaburgh Hundred (the Soke of Peterborough) he and Brian Statham made good the omission with an analysis and listing of the 1762 Nassaburgh Hundred.

The 1st Northamptonshire Militia only saw active service during the darkest days of the Napoleonic War, when they formed part of the force defending the Channel coast between Dover and Deal from the threat of invasion between 1804 and 1808. Their Muster Books and Pay Lists from 1780 to 1856 are available at the Public Record Office under WO 13/1618-1635, together with those of the 2nd Militia for 1798/9 under WO 13/1643-4  various Northamptonshire Volunteer Companies under WO 13/4478-9.

Further Reading
Victor A. Hatley. Northamptonshire Militia Lists 1777. Northamptonshire Record Society, Volume XXV, 1973.
Victor A. Hatley and Brian G. Statham. Nassaburgh Militia Lists 1762, (in Northamptonshire Miscellany, Northamptonshire Record Society, Volume XXXII, 1982)

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