Primary sources are essential for the best historical scholarship and writing. This week we will be examining advertisements for deserters who played instruments in the armed forces during the American Revolution.
Every army and navy involved in the American Revolution used drums for signaling, and the image of the drummer boy is among the conflict’s most iconic. Not all drummers, however, were boys; in fact, grown men may have formed the majority of them. It was quite common for men already skilled in drumming to enlist and serve their entire military careers as drummers, whether for the duration of the war on the American side, or for a lifetime of service in the British army.
Descriptions of deserters, quite common in newspaper advertisements in the 1770s and 1780s, include some drummers. Although representing just a tiny fraction of the drummers involved in the war, these ads show the wide range of ages of individuals who held this position. Here are five ads that give interesting descriptions of drummers who deserted.
Deserted from the Chatham armed Boat, James Montgomery, Esq; Commander, James Brown, about 5 feet 5 or 6 inches high, stout built, round shouldered, sand Hair, about 21 Years of Age, has a Scar on his Face, can beat the Drum, and is supposed to be gone to Maryland. Whoever takes up the said Brown, and brings him to the Boat, or Commander, or secures him, so that he may be had again, shall have Four Dollars Reward, and reasonable Charges, paid by James Montgomery.
[Pennsylvania Gazette, May 22, 1776]
Deserted from Capt. Wm. King’s company, Col. Jon. Ward’s regiment, one Tilleson Miller, a drummer, he is about 30 years old, 5 feet 6 inches high, has a peaked chin, and something of a guilty look, he has liv’d for a year or two past with Col. Partridge, of Hatfield, it is said his father lives in a place called Pellam, he is not well versed in the art of drumming, and it seems he deserted purely because he had nothing else to do. Whoever will take up said deserter, and confine him in goal, or return him to his company at New York, shall have Five Dollars reward and all reasonable charges paid by Wm. King, Captain.
[Connecticut Courant, July 22, 1776]
Two Dollars Reward.
Broke from the guard at Fort Sullivan, Frederick Peverly Drummer of my company in Col. David Gilman’s Regiment, on the 28th of August inst. he is of a dark complexion about six feet and a half high, light hair, a crooked nose, large fore teeth; had on when he deserted a new hat, blue regimental coat, white breeches, &c. Whoever will take up said Deserter, and convey him to said fort, or confine him in any of the colony goals shall have Two Dollars Reward. Eliphalet Daniels.
[New Hampshire Gazette, August 31, 1776]
Deserted from Capt. John Garzia’s Company of Artillery, in Col. Elliott’s Regiment Eldridge Spink, jun. a Drummer, born in West Greenwich, twelve Years of Age, 4 Feet 8 Inches one Quarter high, light blue Eyes, and light brown Hair: Had on when he went away, a blue Coat, the Seams trimmed with blue and white Saddle Trimmings. Whoever will apprehend him and return him to his Company, at Providence, or secure him in any Gaol of the United States, shall have Five Dollars Reward; and all reasonable Charges, paid by John Garzia, Capt.
[Providence Gazette, May 31, 1777]
Deserted from the Ranger armed vessel, under my command, a certain Thomas Hogg alias Todd, who entered the 26th of June last, and received the state bounty, a down looking thin pale fellow, and not talkative, twenty-four years of age, about five feet nine or ten inches high, a crooked nose, had on when he went away a new blue knap short jacket lined with white flannel, a new brown Holland shirt, an old ozenbrugs trousers, and an old castor hat. He beats the drum tolerably well, and informed me he was formerly a drummer in Col. M’Veagh’s battalion in the militia of this State. It is apprehended that he is now in the neighbourhood of Frankfort. If the said deserter returns to his duty within four days from the date hereof, I will fully pardon him for this his first offence; but should he refuse or neglect to return to his duty at the time appointed, whoever secures him in any jail, or delivers him on board, shall be entitled to Twelve Dollars reward, and reasonable charges. It is most earnestly requested and will be esteemed a particular favor of any officer in the marine or land service, should he offer to enter, to secure him. John Mitchell.
[Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 12, 1777]