The Salem Zouaves were founded in the spring of 2000 by the late Dr. Patri Pugliese and Paul Kenworthy. Patri and Paul had been meeting on a regular basis for years to practice 19th-century bayonet fencing. Their demonstrations of bayonet fencing and military sabre drills were popular at local ACW re-enactments, so in 1999 they began to look around for an appropriate historical military unit to recreate that would give an identity and context to their activities. A mutual friend, local historian, and fellow re-enactor, Dr. David Goss of Gordon College, pointed them to a long-forgotten volunteer militia company from Salem, Massachusetts that had been at the forefront of the Zouave craze of 1860-1861. The exotic colorful uniforms, flashy French light-infantry drill, and the wealth of surviving primary source material made Company J of the 8th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia a perfect fit for their purposes. And so the Salem Zouaves were born.
Initially growth was slow. The first recruit to join Patri and Paul, John O’Brien, began drilling in October of 2000. The second recruit, Mark Millman, joined in October of 2001. The strength of the unit remained at 4 privates for the next five years. 2007 saw the loss of Patri to cancer, but also a surge in new members that has brought the current strength up to 7 privates.
The second phase in the evolution of the group was adding a 17th-century English colonial militia impression. This was occasioned by an invitation from the Massachusetts Army National Guard to participate in their National Guard Heritage Day celebration in Salem. The Army National Guard considers its birthday to be the date of the first regimental-sized muster in North America on Salem Common in the spring of 1637. The Mass National Guard celebrates this event by holding an inspection and review on Salem Common to which they invite re-enacting groups that represent the military heritage of the region. They found out that we were re-enacting a Salem militia company and invited us to parade with them. Up until that time, we had not been aware of the special position of Salem in the history of militia in North America. We discovered when we began to study it, that the militia organization in Salem actually dates back to 1628/29 and that quite a lot of source material survives from that period.
We began drilling with half pikes in the summer of 2005 and three of our members gave a demonstration at Pioneer Village in Forest River Park in Salem in the fall of 2005. Our first full unit demonstration was for the opening of the colonial arms and armor exhibit at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester in June of 2007. Since then the demand for our early colonial presentations has grown steadily and we continue to expand and improve our equipment and demonstrations.