American Colonel's Network

History of the Honorable Title and Rank of Colonel

North America's Colonels

Honorary Colonelcy: A Civilian State

In the United States of America there are 13 states that award or have awarded the honorary titles, "Colonel" or "Lieutenant Colonel", based on a variety of circumstances to denote honor to civilians based on their noteworthiness, community service, deeds in society, or the need to assign them as commissioned officers. Not all of these states currently offer honorary colonelcy, but they are all equally discussed here.

In history all of the 13 original colonies had the capacity to commission colonels.

Most Recent States to Recognize Colonels

History of the Colonel in America

The colonel during the time of Colonial America was the highest appointed office that could be granted to a native colonist. With this authority a person could charter a township, county, company or militia.

The honor of receiving the title of "Colonel" dates back to middle of the 17th century (1600's) in the 13 original colonies. As a title, Colonel was used to distinguish the gentry who lived and worked in these 13 colonies and persisted into the 20th century before becoming known as an honorary and ceremonial status used by governors to distinguish civilians based on their achievements.

Under English Colonial rule, "colonelcy" was purchased from the government resulting in letters patent or an officers commission, which authorized and entitled the subject to form a "company" or "militia". Colonels had the ability to recruit and issue further commissions to those who joined their private companies under the leadership of the person holding the original letters patent. Many of the most prominent figures in history became colonels to protect themselves legally, garner respect and to establish new forts and townships. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Paine and many others were either civilian or militia colonels during their political careers.

Prior to and throughout the American Revolution it was very desirable to become a colonel, especially if you were forming a company to head West to start a community in the unexplored areas beyond the Appalachian range.

Title and Rank Was Not Originated by the Military

It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the title was adopted as a rank by the US Army, later it was conformed in the 20th century for other branches of the US Armed Forces. Prior to 1802 it was most often used to recognize organizers of companies and sponsors of local militias, where the title was the highest rank, but did not denote colonels themselves being active in any military role except as the commissioners of their own militia troops.

Alternatively under the British Army in the Crown Colonies, colonels were also commissioned as uniformed (red-coat) officers under generals starting around 1750 when the army was formed and militias became prominent. In real life, a commission required being of "good family", having access to money or patronage. No formal military training was mandated.

Our Network is Open-Source

This website is a creative work and open-source project developed to delineate and disambiguate the differences and similarities between these titles and recognize all those who have received the title as a civil honor or a military rank. We recognize all forms of North American Colonelcy as they all have emerged from the same common civil tradition beginning in the United States during the 1700's.

Our network is developed to help colonels elevate the title indiscriminately as a prestigious award and notable form of recognition by tracing the origin of the honorable title of Colonel in history. The network serves as an equal platform for all of its participants and users. Organizations and institutions listed here does not imply their direct affiliation or association with this network. All content presented here is based on publicly-sourced information or that which is provided by members or supporters of the network.