Founded in 1783, The Society of Cincinnati is America’s oldest lineage society, and one of its least known. Per the Society’s “History” page, it was created to serve as support of the commissioned officers of the Continental Army. Since 1854, it has welcomed descendants of those who joined the society in 1783 and those who did not join but met the society’s standards for qualification.
Per the Society, qualifications are as follows:
The basic qualifications of membership are defined in the Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, adopted in 1783. The Institution provided for the admission of commissioned officers in the Continental and French service who had served to the end of the war and those who had resigned with honor after a minimum of three years’ service as a commissioned officer. The Institution also provided for the admission of commissioned officers who had been separated from the army in a reorganization involving the merging of two or more units. The contemporary term for this was “derangement.”
In short, the following basic requirements must be met for an individual to considered a qualified.
- The individual must descend from a commission officer.
- That officer may not have served in the militia.
- They must have either served to the end of the War or resigned after three years service.
The most constituent societies have an additional qualification: the line must be available. Membership in the Society generally passes by primogeniture, from eldest son to eldest son. If the line dies out or a descendant chooses not to pursue membership, a new line in the direct descent may lay claim to the line. If they do not, it becomes available to nieces or nephews of the qualifying ancestors. As a result, the Society remains competitive to join.