the Concord Magazinejanuary '99

Grand Musik and the Concord Conflict

By D. Michael Ryan, company Historian with the Concord Minute Men, an 18th Century volunteer historic interpreter with the National Park Service and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.


"...then we was orded to about face and marched before them with our drums and fifes agoing and also the B. (British). We had grand musick." Amos Barrett, 1825 Letter

Stomping of marching feet, yelling of commands and the rattle of musketry were not the only sounds to stir the Concord morning air on 19 April 1775. The thunder of drums and the shrilling of fifes were also to be heard.

The presence of martial music with American colonial militia is recorded dating to the 17th Century. Drums in particular served to promote discipline, provide a marching beat, signal commands over the chaos of battle, instill spirit and encourage valor. Fifes added a melodic accompaniment. Together they enlivened militia drills and muster day parades. Generally the town drummer and musicians were young boys whose role gave them a sense of importance.

In January 1775, Concord raised two minute companies. The town militia had probably already been served by a drummer and on 27 January Town Meeting voted to provide a drum for the minutemen. It also was voted to return Capt. Nathan Barrett's donated drum to him and pay any damages. A committee was chosen on 6 February to insure that Capt. Miles's company received its new instrument.

music, more music!

Quite certainly Col. Smith's column of Regulars included unit fifes and drums (eg. 2 each from the 10th Regiment). They were silent on the approach to Lexington to protect secrecy but after the skirmish on the Green, instruments came to life. Capt. Parker's militia mustered to the drum of William Diamond (19) and the fife of Jonathan Harrington (17).

In Concord, Capt. Brown's company paraded at about 6 AM and was dismissed with the order to reassemble at the beat of the drum. Fifer John Buttrick (15) was awaken for the days events by his father Maj. John.

Near 7 AM, several colonial companies marched to meet the British and swung down the road to music from Concord and Lincoln musicians. Being outnumbered, the American's faced about and proceeded back to town, their music joined by that of the closely following British force. The surreal "parade" was recalled by Amos Barrett. Redcoat drums rumbled like thunder before the brisk wind and swirled through town. Eighteen year old Harry Gould was panic-stricken by the sound and had to be consoled by Rev. Emerson.

While the Americans reformed above North Bridge, Capt. Isaac Davis's Acton company marched to Concord at a brisk pace set by fifer Luther Blanchard and drummer Francis Barker playing "The White Cockade". When the order came to march on the Bridge, Acton's men and music led accompanied by the same Jacobite (Scottish) tune considered an affront by the Hanoverian English.

While history notes that "The White Cockade" was the song played, eye-witness verification is limited. Charles Handley in an 1835 deposition could not remember the tune's name but whistled it for the interviewer who recognized it as "The White Cockade". Luke Smith, whose father Solomon was at the Bridge, stated that his father recalled the same tune by name.

music, more music!

Accounts differ as to how many American musicians actually played at the Bridge skirmish. Some say Acton fifer Blanchard and Concord fifer Buttrick; some say a pair of fifes and drums from Acton and Concord; someone said Blanchard alone. It is most likely that at least 5 fifes and 3 drums were at least present.

Fifer Blanchard would be wounded in the side during the first British firing and although he would fife throughout the entire day's actions, he would die of the injury. Erroneously, Abner Hosmer (Blanchard's housemate) would occasionally be listed as a fifer or a drummer killed at the Bridge. Hosmer was an Acton private.

When Lord Percy's relief column left Boston, his musicians were reported to have played "Yankee Doodle" a tune derisive of New Englanders. That day, at least one Redcoat drummer would be killed and one wounded.

Thus did the sounds of fife and drum, usually overlooked, play an important role in the emotions and events of 19 April. Such music would continue to be heard in military, political and social arenas during the Revolution as each side attempted to promote its views and bolster its morale. They would have grand musick.

Musicians Most Likely at Concord, 19 April:
Concord: drummer Daniel Brown; fifers John Buttrick, Samuel Derby
Acton: drummer Francis Barker; fifer Luther Blanchard
Lincoln: drummer Daniel Brown; fifers Elijah and Joseph Mason
Bedford: drummer Oliver Bacon; fifers David Lane and Jonas Welch

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"Fyfe, Drum & Bugle" by Fairfax Downey, 1971.
"The Minutemen and Their World" by Robert A. Gross, 1976.
"The Battle of April 19, 1775" by Frank W. Coburn, 1922.
"The Day of Concord and Lexington" by Allen French, 1925.
"Military Music of the American Revolution" by Raoul F. Camus, 1975.
"We Were There" by Col. Vincent J-R Kehoe, 1975.
Town Meeting Records, Special Collections, CFPL

Text: ©D. Michael Ryan

Cartoon: John Deecken
Other art: Pat's Web Graphics

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