Drums, fifes, and bands provided martial music ranging from battlefield signals to ceremonious pomp. The drummers, fifers, and musicians might also provide casual entertainment for their comrades, but some soldiers played other instruments. The most common non-military instrument to appear in deserter advertisements was the fiddle (or violin); it was the most common among non-military runaways as well.
As this selection of ads shows, some of those who played the fiddle played other instruments as well. And notice that, apparently, not all of these men were particularly good fiddlers.
Deserted from Ensign John Sumner, of Ashford, belonging to Capt. Daniel Lyon’s Company, of Woodstock, in Colonel Huntington’s Regiment, in Norwich, in Connecticut, one who calls himself by the Name of William Daby, a transient Person, about 5 Feet 10 Inches high, 27 Years of Age, a slim Fellow, with brown Hair, and dark Eyes – Had on when he went away a blue Coat, Leather Breeches something old, a Pair coarse white Tow Stockings, or a Pair of mix’d coloured Worsted ditto which he stole, is a Fiddler by Trade, and looks something wild with his Eyes. Whoever shall apprehend said Deserter, and return him to me the Subscriber, shall have Three Dollars Reward paid by John Sumner, Ensign.
[Norwich Packet, August 28, 1775]
Five Dollars Reward.
Deserted from my Company and in Col. Cary’s regiment at New Haven, an Indian Man, named Ephraim Frost, about 22 years of age, five feet eight inches high, long hair; had on when he went away, a claret coloured coat faced up with red, breeches of the same, white stockings, and a straw hat and feather; he plays on the fife and fiddle; his native is Rehoboth. Whoever shall bring said Deserter to the Regiment in New-York, shall receive the above Reward, and all necessary charges, paid by Nathaniel Carpenter, Capt.
N.B. Said Frost deserted on the 30th of July last.
[New-York Journal, August 15, 1776]
Five Dollars Reward.
Deserted from the Continental Troops at New Haven, on the 1st Instant, a Soldier who says his Name is Jonathan Brown, has received his full Bounty: had on when he went away a new Beaver Hat, new Shoes, white cloth Coat something worn, a Pair of half worn Leather Breeches, blue Stockings; is 5 Feet 7 Inches high, a Native of Long Island, has with him a Fiddle, on which he pretends to be a Player. Whoever shall take him up, and secure him in any Goal, or return him to me, shall receive the above Reward of Five Dollars, and all necessary Charges paid, by Henry Cunningham, Ensign.
[Connecticut Journal, March 26, 1777]
Deserted from the Alfred Ship of War, now in this Harbour, a French Negro, named Francois, by Trade a Barber, and plays well on the Violin: had on when he went away, a blue French Great Coat, brown Waistcoat and Breeches, and his Hair queued. Whoever takes up said Negro and returns him on board the above Ship shall receive Four Dollars Reward, and all necessary Charges, by Elisha Hinman.
[Boston Independent Chronicle, May 15, 1777]
Check my two volume compilation of military desertions, published by Clearfield Books in 2009, for a lot of references to fifers and drummers deserting.
More specifically, JAR contributor Joseph Lee Boyle refers to his two-volume collection of deserter advertisements from American newspapers:
“He loves a good deal of rum…” Military Desertions during the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Joseph Lee Boyle. 2 Volumes. Baltimore, MD: Clearfield Publishing, 2009.