Still at the ready

A few years ago, when the Lafayette Artillery Company was seeking some support from a Town Meeting in Lyndeborough, a newcomer asked what the company did, or had done, for the town.

“The Lafayette Artillery has been in Lyndeborough since 1833,” artilleryman Edna Worcester said. “Under its protection, the town has never been invaded by any foreign nation.”

While that is undeniably true, the company has done a great deal more for the town, both as the original military unit and as the social organization it is now.

The artillery company actually dates to 1804, when it was founded in Peterborough as part of the state militia. It is the oldest such organization in the state and one of the oldest in the country.

In 1833, apparently as part of a dispute, members of the artillery company were allowed to reorganize in Lyndeborough. They have been here ever since, and are now in the final steps of planning a yearlong 200th anniversary celebration.

The first event will be the annual Washington’s Birthday Ball, scheduled for Citizen’s Hall on Feb. 21. The first such ball was held in 1883, and continued every year until the early 1950s. The event was revived a few years ago. Citizens’ Hall was constructed in 1889 to provide a large enough hall for the event.

Other events include a dinner theater in April and special ceremonies for Memorial Day, and probably in August there will a parade, a re-enactment and an encampment.

As part of the bicentennial, Scott and Stephanie Roper, currently living and teaching in Texas but

still very much a part of the town, have written a history of the organization, “Citizen Soldiers: New Hampshire’s Lafayette Artillery Company, 1802-2004.” They say it will be published “probably around the first of June.” The book required months of research through company records, town records and histories, old newspapers and state archives.

“Much of the published information that previously existed on the history of the Lafayette Artillery is inaccurate, often based on tradition and exaggeration rather than on facts,” the Ropers note. “We have discovered that many of the traditions that the artillery holds dear originated in an 1895 article in the Manchester Union, in which ‘old timers’ related often apocryphal stories of the first seven decades of the artillery.”

In spite of debunking some favorite stories, such as the one in which Lyndeborough men, after the break with Peterborough, went to that town and “captured the old cannon and brought it home,” the book is full of good stories that have been documented.

One of those is the company being called upon at a county muster in Amherst to put down a disturbance caused by too much drinking among spectators.

The book is in the final stages of preparation and pictures are being selected. The Ropers expect to offer a discount for preorders as soon as dates are finalized.

The company still occasionally fires its 1844 brass 6-pound smooth-bore cannon. Although requested by the state in 1881 to return it, the company refused.

In adapting to changing times, the artillery is becoming a Civil War re-enactment unit, having chosen to concentrate on that period of its history. It also has continued a longtime commitment to community service.

Walter Holland is the current captain and Lorraine Strube is the company clerk.

During the past 200 years, the company has had two headquarters, more than 800 members, and 71 men and one woman who served as captains.

The Ropers are also engaged in a long-term writing project: the eventual updating of the town history. The last comprehensive town history was published in 1905, with a short update published in 1955.

Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or