Martial Music in Uxbridge Massachusetts 1727-Present

     Insight into tradition……. Fife and Drum bands in Uxbridge, MA   1727-2002.

Uxbridge has long enjoyed the presence of a fife and drum band within its boundaries. During Colonial times a Militia was organized to insure the communities security in a sometimes hostile environment. The Colonial militia was patented after the existing English army. The fife, which was originally called the Swiss Flute, was introduced to the English army during the mid 1500’s. The drum has been associated with the movement of armies dating back to the time of the Romans. The combination first appeared in the English army in 1747 by order of the Duke of Cumberland. English Troops stationed in America were undoubtedly the origin of our fifing and drumming.

From these beginnings Colonial militia companies adopted the English style of drill and the English army traditions. An example of this comes from the book "The Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood 1775-1783". He writes that at about the time of the Boston Massacre; "I commenced learning to play upon the fife, and trifling as it may seem to mention the circumstance, it was, I believe, the sole cause of my travels and disasters. I was so fond of hearing the fife and drum played by the British that somehow or other I got possession of an old split fife, and having made it sound by puttying up the crack, learned to play several tunes upon it sufficiently well to be a fifer in the militia company of Captain Gay." The first documentation of fife and drum in Uxbridge was the enlistment of Baxter Hall, drummer. He was born in Uxbridge in 1757. At the age of eighteen he volunteered for service with the Minute Company formed during the Lexington Alarm of April 19, 1775.

Hall later served as a Drummer with Col. Nathan Tylers, 15th Massachusetts Regiment of Conntinental Line. He served at many engagements; Bunker Hill, Tiverton R.I. and Saratoga N.Y. just to name a few. He reported in his pension request that he was present at West Point N.Y. under General Benedict Arnold. Being a drummer he was not detached on a wood cutting pretense ordered by Arnold, and was present at his Headquarters the morning of his escape. Hall obviously learned his craft in Uxbridge, but gives no reference to how. Captain Wyman's company of militia engaged at the Battle of Bunker Hill, listed fifty-one in rank and file, the majority from Uxbridge; there were five sergeants, four corporals, two drums and two fifes.


The next mention we have of fifing and drumming comes as a result of the organization of the
Uxbridge Grenadiers
(1818-1830), a Volunteer militia company formed by the merge of the North and South enrolled militia companies. William C. Capron recorded in the Account of the Uxbridge Grenadiers, “ Paid by cash for fifing October 17, 1821, D. Darling the amount $1.50." That date reflects a payment for services rendered. Some of the performers listed are:

Daniel Darling, Fifer
Luther Bullard, Drummer
George Wade , Drummer
E. Seaver, Drummer
Isaac Smith
Virgil Whipple
Baxter Hall
Warren Rawson
Daniel Seagrave

Records show that Isaac Smith was paid to “cover the drumstick”. This would indicate the use of a bass drum. The bass drum stick was made of wood and commonly covered with leather. The mallet was used in one hand and was struck on the drumhead to maintain a steady tempo, a necessity when marching. The drums were usually large and the sound would carry over a great distance. One such drum remains in the collection of Benjamin P. Emerick and has been played for many years within this town.

During the post War of 1812 period able-bodied males enrolled in the standing militia, the forerunner of today’s National Guard. They were required by law to maintain records and appear for an annual inspection and military drill. The Grenadier Company took great pride in its appearance and ability to execute drill. They paid numerous individuals to perform at events, adding to the eloquence and entertainment of the participants as well as spectators. The sum of $1.50, equivalent to a days pay at the time, was paid to musicians performing fife and drum music. Interesting to note that on the same day, they hired a bugler at the rate of $2.00. The records fail to indicate, but one can assume this was a Regimental Muster. The Grenadiers were part of the Second Regiment, First Brigade, Seventh Division of Worcester County. It was commonplace for “Regimental Musters” to occur at various locations within the Division. Several County towns were incorporated into this Division.  


The uniform was described as “a dark blue cloth coat and pantaloons (pants) trimmed with yellow silk braid, a white waistcoat (vest) and a black silk handkerchief (usually worn as a tie), boots or bootees; a napped hat with no rim behind with a cockade and feather.” It was customary for the musicians to wear the reverse colors of the soldiers. The rationale behind this was to distinguish the non combatants from those armed. It was considered unchivalrous to shoot at a musician as they played a major roll in the transmission of signals required to move large masses of men.  

The Grenadiers performed at social functions as well as military. They were the pride of their community and a display of the best Uxbridge had to offer. The Company continued until 1831 when a merger occurred within the Regiment, and the Volunteer Grenadier Company became an Enrolled Light Infantry company. They continued through 1839 when changes in the Militia Law lowered the enlistment rolls, causing eventual disbandment.  Little documentation exists as to the number of fifers and drummers; however a great number of references can be found on bands and buglers. Douglas had a brass band that exersized at musters and regimental gatherings as well as social events. Most of its members eventually enlisted to service in the Civil War as musicians.

As the Civil War approached, Uxbridge sent one hundred and sixty nine of its sons off to war. Twelve never returned. No record of any of those soldiers being martial musicians have been located. The Civil War had proven to be a milestone in the progress of the performance of fifing and drumming. Publications such as the "Drummers and Fifers Guide" written by George Bruce and Dan Emmett (composer of "Dixie" etc.) showed the traditional tunes in a more complicated light. With this transition and the subsequent conclusion of the war the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was formed to serve as a national voice for Civil War Veterans. This organization formed its own fife and drum corps and published it's own music of tunes from the Civil War. These veterans spawned a resurgence of civilian bands. At the dedication of the Civil War Monument on the Uxbridge Common a Fife and Drum Corps is pictured. Functions were held to celebrate our nations Centennial. Groups were formed that reenacted our Revolutionary ancestors. The Centennial Legion reorganized old militia units and with them the fife and drum corps. Some of those corps such as the Worcester Continentals existed until the early 1950's. Fife and drum was fast becoming a cultural phenomena. Organizations such as the National Association of Rudimental Drummers and the National Association of Civil War Musicians helped to promote a competitive atmosphere.


In June of 1885 an article appeared in the Uxbridge Compendium concerning the Slater Drum Corps. "The Slater Drum Corps practice two and three times per week, and under the leadership of Capt. Wood are fast becoming a first class corps". They attended a serenade on June 26, 1885 for George Rice (Civil War veteran) at his home. Mr. Rice extended them a "thanks for their courtesy and paying them a deserved compliment for their proficiency in playing, and after a rattling piece they started homeward." The corps was principally from the Linwood section of town. In that same week the G.A.R. in Blackstone held a Clam-bake with the veterans of Co. K. 15th Mass Vols. and among those present was comrade A.J Bellows who was the Drummer of Co. K and had come from Oregon territory as a delagate to the National Encampment G.A.R. held in Portland, ME. "Comrade Bellows and the old company fifer were called out by the boys and rendered some of the old tunes in a way that took the old vets back to old times"

A fife and drum corps was founded shortly after World War One, called the "North Uxbridge Fife and Drum Corps." They were sponsored by the "North Uxbridge Club" and Homer Gariepy was the leader. In 1921 they sponsored a "Field Day" that drew the attention of more than 20 of the best drum corps from throughout the state. It is documented in the Blackstone Valley News as continuing the following year. The Field Day consisted of a parade which began in the area of Linwood St. proceeding down North Main St. to Mendon St. and ending at the Fair Grounds located at the end of Capron St., what's now the High School. Once arriving at the school the units would perform in a competition with judges awarding various prizes.

In the line was the Odell Chapman Fife and Drum Corps of Willimantic Ct. which won the prize for having travelled the longest distance; followed by the Sons of St. Mathew from Pawtucket RI.; Continental fife and drum corps of Worcester; Nathaniel Lyons, G.A.R. Webster; Capt Thorton Parker drum and fife, Worcester and the Knights of Columbus drum, fife and bugle corps of Worcester. The Worcester Continentals were awarded the cup for the best appearance in the parade and also the cup for having the largest amount of men in uniform. John Shea of the K. of C. corps was given the cup for the best appearing drum major in the parade. The judges were John A. Jones, G.S. Haven of Worcester and Homer Gariepy of Blackstone. The day closed with a dance held at the Town Hall where during intermissions the cups were awarded. The North Uxbridge Club was said to have the finest fife and drum corps in this section of New England. The corps raised almost $700.00 to be used to construct a club house. A gray wool tunic and cap are on display at the Cornet John Farnum house in Uxbridge and a fife belonging to one of its members Teddy Leduc, is in the possession of Peter B. Emerick. The fife continues to be played at events in town as well as throughout th Northeast. A drum used by this corps remains in town.

In 1927 the town celebrated it's bicentennial and a large parade was held. The Uxbridge Grenadiers were recreated and many organizations from about the County represented.

During the 1940's Troop 24 of the Boy Scouts of America formed a fife and drum corps at the Uxbridge Progressive Club.

In 1958 Benjamin P. Emerick and his nephew David Emerick started a fife and drum corps called the "Commonwealth". They performed in Civil War style uniforms boasting 33 members in line. They began at the onset of the Civil War Centennial and continued until 1977. They were active on the parade and competition circut where they traveled extensively. They hosted a Junior Corps called "The Little C's".

In 1962 Benjamin P. Emerick organized the Captain James Buxton fife and drum corps wearing colonial costumes and playing 18th Century music. Under the fife instruction of Ben Emerick, and the drum instruction of Joseph L. Rene and William Albin, the corps developed a style of perfomance that remains unique to this day. The members including Ben, have dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort in research, documentation, performance and recording of Martial Musick from the 1750's to the 1870's. The corps enjoyed great success over the years becoming widely recognized in Ancient fifing and drumming.Today they perform as the 15th MAS. REG. Captain Buxton's Company ca. 1778, the 2nd REG 6th Division Field Musick ca. 1810-40, the A.A. Sherman Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War fife and drums and as the Field Musick of Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge Massachusetts.The performers pride themselves in presenting a well researched and historically accurate impression of early American Field Musick. They can be seen at many local events as well as parades and historical venues throughout the Northeast. The current roster includes:  
Benjamin P. Emerick, Founder, Fifer and Major

Paul Benoit, Fife

Peter B. Emerick, Fife

Ron Fournier, Fife

Richard Benoit, Fife
James Benoit, Fife
Alan Stinchfield, Fife
Martin A. Pope, Fife and Major

Mark Riemer, Fife
David Emerick, Drum

Thomas Emerick, Drum

Jeremiah Stratman, Drum
Peter Stevens, Drum
Ron Sullman, Major

Michael Sullman, Drum
Bruce Wood, Bass Drum
Benjamin F. Emerick, Bass Drum

Thomas Riemer, Bass Drum

The corps has three recordings available and are currently working on a fourth. Representing music of the Revolutionary War period and entitled; A Favorite Selection of Airs, The Massachusetts Collection of Martial Musick 1816-1826 and The Field Musick of the A.A. Sherman Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, are available in CD or cassette tape.

On June 30th 2002 the Corps held a Muster and Parade at 1:00PM in the town of Uxbridge. The parade will started in North Uxbridge and proceed to the High school field. There were 12 corps in attendance wich included; The Westbrook Fife and Drum Corps from Westbrook Ct, The Kentish Guards from Greenwich RI, The Middlesex County Volunteers from Boston MA, The Colonial Navy from Fall River MA, The Sudbury Ancient Fifes and Drums from Sudbury MA, The Ancient Mariners from Guilford CT, The Bluff Point Quahog Fife and Drums from Fitchburg MA, The Nathan Hale Fifes and Drums from Coventry CT, The 25th MASS Infantry from Uxbridge MA and the 20th Mass Infantry from Millis MA. Participants performed on the football field and a jollification including food, beer and a great jam session ensued.The Corps expresses it deepest appreciation for those that withstood the oppressive heat of the day and made this one of the most enjoyable experiences in the history of fifing and drumming in Uxbridge.







Web page Created By:
   Benjamin Emerick