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A march of the train bands A march of the train bands (BM 1865,0610.1118).jpg
A march of the train bands

Trainbands or Trained Bands were companies of militia in England or the Americas, [1] [2] [3] first organized in the 16th century and dissolved in the 18th. The term was used after this time to describe the London militia. In the early American colonies the trainband was the most basic tactical unit. [4] However, no standard company size existed and variations were wide. As population grew these companies were organized into regiments to allow better management. [4] But trainbands were not combat units. Generally, upon reaching a certain age a man was required to join the local trainband in which he received periodic training for the next couple of decades. In wartime, military forces were formed by selecting men from trainbands on an individual basis and then forming them into a fighting unit.

The exact derivation and usage is not clear. A nineteenth-century dictionary says, under "Train":

train-band, i.e. train'd band, a band of trained men, Cowper, John Gilpin, st. I, and used by Dryden and Clarendon (Todd)

Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (Oxford 1879) [5]

The issue is whether the men "received training" in the modern sense, or whether they were "in the train" or retinue or were otherwise organized around a military "train" as in horse-drawn artillery.

In 17th Century New England colonial militia units were usually referred to as "train bands" or, sometimes, "trained bands". [3] Typically, each town would elect three officers to lead its train band with the ranks of captain, lieutenant and ensign. As the populations of towns varied widely, larger towns usually had more than one train band. In the middle 1600s train bands began to be referred to as companies.

On December 13, 1636 the Massachusetts Militia was organized into three regiments - North, South and East. As there are National Guard units descendants of these regiments, this date is used as the "birthday" of the National Guard, despite the fact that citizen militias in the American Colonies date back to the Jamestown settlement in 1607.

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  1. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia: The Century dictionary ... prepared under the superintendence of William Dwight Whitney ... rev. & enl. under the superintendence of Benjamin E. Smith. Century Company. 1911.
  2. Jonathan Worton: Ludlow's Trained Band: A Study of Militiamen in Early Stuart England, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 91, No. 365 (Spring 2013), pp. 4–23, JSTOR   44232985, last accessed 27 Oct 2018: "Two dozen militiamen—12 equipped as musketeers, 12 as pikemen—who dutifully assembled at Ludlow for the muster on 8 May 1632 constituted the town's Trained Band, a unit maintained at the charge of Ludlow's inhabitants with its ranks filled by local men."
  3. 1 2 Connecticut (1894). The Public Records of the State of Connecticut ... with the Journal of the Council of Safety ... and an Appendix: Pub. in Accordance with a Resolution of the General Assembly, by Charles J. Hoadly. Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company.
  4. 1 2 Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski: For the common defense: A military history of the United States of America, New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1984, Library of Congress bibliographic record,, last accessed 27 Oct 2018: "Although the basic tactical unit in all the colonies was the company, or trainband, regional variations and changes over time were as important as the superficial uniformity. No standardized company size existed, some companies containing as few as sixty-five men and others as many as two hundred. Some trainbands elected their officers, but in others the governors appointed them. Southern colonies, with widely dispersed populations, often organized companies on a countywide basis, while in New England, with its towns and villages, individual communities contained their own trainbands. As populations increased and the number of trainbands grew, colonies organized companies into regiments to preserve efficient management."
  5. Walter W. Skeat: An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, N.Y., an unabridged republication of the work originally published in 1910, p. 658,, last accessed 27 Oct 2018.