Notes on Bands of Music in the British Regiments

Don N. Hagist
©1997, 2002

Originally published in The Brigade Dispatch,
Volume XXVII, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 17-19.

Bands of music came into fashion in British regiments after the Seven Years War. While it is known that many regiments maintained bands, there is not a great deal of information about them. This article presents some details of British regimental bands that served in America, including information on clothing, instru­ments, and the kinds of duties that they per­formed.

Information from several sources gives us a general picture of the uniforms of the band of the 22nd Regiment of Foot. This band wore red coats with the regiment's buff facings, buff waistcoats and breeches, and black cocked hats trimmed with silver lace. The band was formed in 1767, and new clothing was purchased that year and every second year thereafter through 1774.1 That the bandsmen did not wear coats with reversed colors is at first counterintuitive, but remember that these men were not drum­mers and fifers, for whom the reversed colors were typically warranted.

The instru­ments of the 22nd's band included two concert horns, three clarinets, and a pair of brass cym­bals; the remaining instru­ments in the nine-member band are not currently known. The instruments were purchased in the last half of 1767 and early 1768; that they were heavily used for a substantial period is demonstrated by a number of surviving records of repair dating from the ensuing years.

It is inter­esting to note that, from 1767 through 1774, expenses for the 22nd's band were distributed among the captains, major, and lieutenant-colonel of the regiment, but no expenses for the band were borne by the colonel himself. We do not currently have proof that this band was in Amer­ica. No expenses for the band appear in the ledgers of the regimental agents after 1774, but other evi­dence implies that the band was maintained after that year.

Among the records of soldiers granted pen­sions through Chelsea Hospital are two listed as musicians in the 22nd Regiment (again, "musicians" and not "drummers" or "fifers".) John Meyell was born in 1739, became a shoemaker, then joined the regiment in 1759. He was discharged in 1786, and is listed as having been wounded in service. Although neither the date nor place of that wounding is recorded, his service in America is confirmed through archival sources. Matthew Myers, a German hairdresser, was born in 1749 and joined the army in 1770, being discharged in 1785. The fact that both of these men served during the years the regiment was in America implies, but does not prove, that the band itself accompanied the regiment.2 More compelling evidence, though, is found in three pieces of sheet music signed and dated by the adju­tant of the regiment during its service in Rhode Island in 1778.3

Because bands were not a part of the regi­ment's official establishment, we cannot simply assume that they accompanied their regi­ments to America. Some certainly did; there are refer­ences to two regimental bands in Boston before the war began. The first reference is actually a descrip­tion of the militia companies of Boston at a field day in 1773, which includes their "...hav­ing a grand band of musick consist­ing of eight that play nearly equal to that of the 64th."4 The 64th Regiment was on service in the Boston area at the time. The following year, the 59th Regi­ment of Foot under Colonel Hamil­ton arrived in the city. One evening in August "about 6 o'Clock the Colo politely entertained several gentm from town with his band of mu­sic".5

A bandsman of the 21st Regiment deserted from the army in America in 1771. An advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 12 December 1771 describes the man and his uniform:

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.

Here again we have a uniform that is not what we would expect. While “Royal” regiments with blue facings normally did not “reverse” the colors of the clothing of their drummers, we see that the 21st Regiment’s band wore reversed colors. Contrast this with the 22nd Regiment, in which the drummers wore reversed colors but the band did not.

We might expect that men in regimental bands were hired musicians, and not simply soldiers who had a musical bent. But there is some evidence that soldiers may indeed have staffed the bands. The pay lists of the 22nd Regiment include one instance of a private soldier with the notation "band" beside his name, but this notation does not appear consistently and its meaning is not fully clear.6 In New York City in October of 1779, Private William Whitlow of the 44th was tried by a general court martial for "having Wounded his Wife with a Bayonet, of which Wound she died." Two members of the band of music of the 44th Regiment testified at the trial. One of them, Thomas Fourcreas, has no rank given, imply­ing that he was a civilian employed by the military, rather than a soldier. On the other hand, the master of the band, who also testified, was a Sergeant John Stevenson. Further research could determine whether this sergeant was one of the noncommis­sioned offi­cers on the regimental establishment or an additional sergeant.

A portion of the sergeant's testimony tells us that Private Whitlow himself was also a member of the band:

Serjeant John Stevenson, Master of the Band, who being duly Sworn deposed, that he has known the Prisoner from his Infancy, and that he has frequently known him to be out of his Head; and that that Insanity has to him appeared to have encreased within these four or five Years... that upon Laurel Hill when they went to prac­tice, he has frequently known the prisoner get up, flourish his Instrument about, and indeed would not obey any Order that was given him; and in fact he has always been obliged in those Cases to let him have his Frenzy out...7

Besides illustrating that a private soldier could be a member of the band, this testimony mentions band practices. The fact that this sergeant knew one of the private men "from his Infancy," when the man was now a married adult, is also interesting.

The records of Cox & Co., an agency in Lon­don which handled the finances of many British regi­ments, include various tidbits about regimental bands. Many of these notes simply refer to expenses for clothing and maintenance of bands, from which we learn of several regi­ments that included bands during our period - the 10th, 12th, 34th, 39th, 43rd, and 57th Regiments of Foot, among others.8 There are also many references to the procurement of specific items for the bands. In 1767, the 13th Regiment of Foot purchased concert horns, clarinets, and bassoon reeds for its band; the 15th Foot pur­chased clarinets in 1774. French horns and bassoons were purchased by the 36th Foot in 1770, and the 58th purchased a clarinet in 1777 for 8 pounds 8 shillings. (Note that not all of these regiments served in America.)

A letter in the Westminster Magazine of Novem­ber 1778 describes the band of the 2nd Regiment of Foot, commanded by Colonel Dalrymple, as having a "curious combination of musical instru­ments imported by that Officer from the Coast of Barbary..." Clearly, not all bands were equipped in the same manner.

Some insight into the recruiting or hiring of musicians for bands can be found in a 1779 newspa­per ad, which reads as follows: "Warwickshire Militia, There being a Band of Music ordered to be formed in the above Mili­tia, an smart active young Men that can play on the French Horn, Bassoon, or any musical Instrument, willing to serve as one of the Band of the said Militia by applying to Sergeant Pring, in Bank Alley, Birmingham, will have proper information."9

A final note, which tells us of another service of a regimental band, comes from India in March or April of 1783. The band of the 101st Regi­ment of Foot participated in the funeral proces­sion for General Sir Eyre Coote (who had served in America only a few years earlier), with "the fifes playing 'Nancy Dawson,' an awkward change from the solemn ceremony and certainly ill-judged, notwithstand­ing in a military sense it might be strictly cor­rect."10


1. Ledger books of the 22nd Regiment of Foot, Lloyds Bank, Cox & King's Branch, London. The ledger entry concerning the hat trim reads "Silver Fringe for the Sergeants & Musics Hatts"; since sergeants' hats are included, we can assume that it was the silver lace prescribed by the 1768 clothing warrant.

2.Out Pension lists, WO 120, Public Record Office, London

3. The tunes are "The 22nd Regiment Slow March," "The Cheshire Regiment Troop," and "The Duke of York's Troop." The music is written in a format that could be easily applied to any instrument (a one-finger bass), so it could have been for the regiment's drummers and fifers, for the band, or for private musicians. It is interesting to note that one of the titles refers to the Cheshire Regiment, since county titles were not given to British regiments until 1782. It is possible that these titles were used colloqui­ally before they became official.

4. "Letters of John Andrews, Esq. of Boston", Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, July 1865. Letter of June 4, 1773.

5. "Extracts from the Interleaved Almanacs of William Wetmore of Salem, 1774-1778", Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 43 (1907). Entry for August 11, 1774.

6. W. O. 12/3872, pay lists, 22nd Regiment of Foot, Public Record Office, London.

7. W. O. 71/90, pp. 397 - 405, transcript of the trial of Private William Whitlow. Public Record Office, London.

8. Sumner, Rev. Percy. "Cox & Co., Army Agents - Uniform Items from their Ledgers," Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. XVII (1938). All references in this paragraph are from this article.

9. Aris's Birmingham Gazette, Monday, Febru­ary 1, 1779. Reprinted in Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. LIII (1975).

10. Memoirs of William Hickey, A. Spencer, ed., London, 1918.