There were drummers, there were fifers, and then there were men who had general musical talent, capable of playing several instruments.
Many British, American and German regiments, and other military organizations, had bands of music. These bands, which might consist of six to twelve men, were separate entities from the regiment’s drummers and fifers. In general, then, the term “musician” applied not to drummers and fifers (who were called “drummers” and “fifers”), but to men who played in the band.
Some military musicians were professionals retained by the army solely for their musical skills; others were soldiers who also had musical talent. Occasionally, they deserted and were advertised in newspapers, leaving us with descriptions of these versatile men. Here are a few ads for musicians, showing that they were often adept at more than one instrument.
Whereas Nathaniel Lock, musician in the 64th regiment has absconded from the regiment, and taken with him a hautboy, watch, and other articles which do not belong to him. This is to caution all people from concealing him, as they will be prosecuted for harboring a thief.
Any person who will bring said Lock to the regiment, now quartered in Boston, shall have five guineas reward. He is a middle sized person, about five feet seven inches high, swarthy complexion, dark hair, round shouldered, plays on the bassoon, hautboy and flute. He had better surrender himself. He has with him a woman low in stature, marked with the small-pox, and has the Irish brogue.
[Boston Chronicle, February 9, 1769]
The Reward of Five Guineas for apprehending Nathaniel Lock, a Deserter from the 64thRegiment is hereby withdrawn.
[Boston Chronicle, March 13, 1769]
Perth Amboy, New-Jersey, Sept. 6, 1770.
Deserted from the 29th Regiment of Foot, William Simpson, Fifer, aged 19 Years, 5 Feet, 8 Inches high, born in the Regiment, straight and well made, fair Complexion, thin Face, long Visage, large Nose, large Limbs, short brown Hair, blue Eyes, speaks short, and pretty much of the Irish Accent, a large Hole or Hollow on the top Part of his Scull, occasioned by a Fracture received at Castle Island; no Hair growing on it; plays well on the Flute and Fife, and plays a little on the Violin and French Horn. Had on when he went away, a short yellow Coat, fac’d Red, red Fall-down Collar, red Wings and Lining, the Coat lac’d with Drummers Lace, white Linnen Waistcoat and Breeches, a black Cap, bound with white Tape, the Number of the Regiment in the Front, and a Scarlet Worsted Feather round the upper Part of the Front. Whoever apprehends and secures the above Deserter so that he may be delivered over to the abovesaid Regiment at Perth-Amboy, or to the Commanding Officer of the 26th Regiment at New-York, shall receive Ten Dollars Reward, on Application to either Commanding Officers.
N.B. It is supposed the above Deserter is gone towards Boston or Halifax, having a Brother in the 64th Regiment at Halifax.
[New York Gazette or Weekly Post Boy, September 10, 1770]
Deserted, on the 4th of this instant December, belonging to the band of music, of his Majesty’s 21st regiment of foot (or Royal North British Fusiliers) John Grant, aged 23 years, 5 feet 2 3/4 inches high, born in Beverly, in Yorkshire, England, by trade a jockey, has brown hair, grey eyes, fair complexion, a little pitted with the smallpox, and very thin made; had on, when he deserted, his uniform blue jacket, turned up with a red cape, and cuffs. Whoever apprehends and secures the above deserter, shall, by giving proper notice to Captain Nicholas Sutherland, Commanding Officer of the said regiment, at Philadelphia, receive One Guinea reward, over and above what is allowed by Act of Parliament for apprehending deserters. N.B. He is supposed to be gone to Maryland, as he has a wife and a plantation in that province.
[Pennsylvania Gazette, December 12, 1771]
Twenty Dollars Reward.
Deserted from the Barracks in Philadelphia, a certain Anthony Richsolley, a Frenchman, private in Capt. Isaac Coren’s company of Artillery, about five feet five inches high, swarthy complexion, round face, black hair tied behind, curled locks, is a smart active young fellow, plays well on the violin, German flute, and fife, about eighteen or twenty years of age, a barber and hairdresser by trade; had on when he went away a round felt hat, blue coat and jacket pretty much worn, black breeches, old shoes and stockings, and is supposed to be harboured and employed by some barber in or about the city. Whoever secures the said deserter in any gaol in the American States and gives notice thereof, shall have the above Reward and reasonable charges, or what the law allows, paid by Isaac Coren, Capt. Artillery.
[Pennsylvania Packet, November 21, 1778]
This is a very interesting piece about a very understudied topic. Great work. Reading through the clippings, I can see why William Simpson might have deserted – “a large Hole or Hollow on the top Part of his Scull, occasioned by a Fracture…” – ouch!