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Massachusetts militia scores another victory over Virginia


**FILE** House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, speaks Jan. 31, 2012, during a news conference on Capitol Hill. (Associated Press)

The North wins again.

Lawmakers from Massachusetts managed to outflank their Virginia counterparts on the House floor last week, powering through a bill that officially designates Salem as the birthplace of the U.S. National Guard — based on the town’s claim to having the country’s first militia starting in 1629.

But Rep. Morgan H. Griffith, a freshman Republican from Virginia, thought the claim sounded suspicious, given Jamestown’s founding more than a decade before the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

After some digging, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation provided him data that a militia was formed in Jamestown in 1624, which is five years before Salem’s claim. Armed with the information, he issued a call to the old gang from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia — which were part of the Virginia colony — and asked them to stand up for their history.

“The real problem is that Massachusetts has first-colony envy,” Mr. Griffith told The Washington Times.

His effort fell a little short: The bill handing the claim to Massachusetts passed by a vote of 413-6, with four lawmakers voting “present.”

“The House’s recognition of Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard is a great honor for the city and its residents,” Rep. John F. Tierney, Massachusetts Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a statement to The Times. “The Army’s Center for Military History confirmed the accuracy of the facts in the bill, and I was pleased that over 400 of my colleagues, including a bipartisan mix of members from Virginia, voted in favor of the bill. I hope the Senate moves to pass this bill in the coming days.”

According to the legislative findings, Capt. John Endicott organized Salem’s first militia in 1629 along the lines of the existing English system.

The bill goes further, though, to declare the city “as the birthplace of the national guard of the United States.”

The Center for Military History said it did confirm the facts about  Salem’s militia starting in 1629, but said it didn’t weigh in on whether that meant Massachusetts was first.

“We’re not disputing it; we’re saying, ‘Here are the facts.’ We left it up to the Congress how they want to interpret it,” said Frank Shirer, chief of the archives for the Army’s Center for Military History, based at Fort McNair.

He also said Virginia and Massachusetts aren’t the only ones to make the claim.

St. Augustine, Fla., argues it had a militia in the 1570s.

Massachusetts and Virginia have been rivals since the beginning.  

Massachusetts produced John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, and John F. Kennedy; Virginia produced George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

But Massachusetts has arguably done the better marketing job — particularly when it comes to Thanksgiving, where most schoolchildren learn the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims.

Virginia offers up its claim of the feast of thanksgiving celebrated by Capt. John Woodleaf when he landed at Berkley Hundred in 1619 — two years before the Wampanoag Indians shared their food with the settlers at Plymouth, Mass.

Kennedy, during his time in the White House, acknowledged Virginia’s claim, but Massachusetts continues to win the public relations war.  

Now, it is poised to notch another victory, this time on the militia front.

“By the time the Pilgrims got here, the trail had already been blazed, and most everything they claim — ‘We were first at this; first at that’ — we’d already done it, except for doing witch trials,” Mr. Griffith said.

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Stephen Dinan

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