Captain Boardman’s Bass Drum

dragoons 8-18-08 AmMer

There was a time when Hartford residents tolerated if not welcomed recruiting parties, judging from this advertisement in the August 18, 1808 issue of the American Mercury.

To some, the Captain Boardman affair seemed innocent enough — he had violated a lawfully enacted noise ordinance. To others, it was a political firestorm, one of many that were fanned into flames by federalist hatred of the War of 1812. In any event, what the Captain Boardman affair did was test the law making it a crime to play fifes and drums in the city of Hartford, a curious law indeed since Connecticut, birthplace of the Ancients, preserves so much of the music familiar to Captain Boardman. It also marked the beginning of the end for Connecticut’s Federalist party.

Elijah Boardman was born in December 1787. His father, also Elijah, was a Revolutionary patriot who, according to his obituary, was permanently injured by the “barbarity of his treatment” aboard the infamous prison-ship Jersey, “from which time he never [again] saw a well day.” After the war, Boardman was hired as keeper of the Hartford jail where, perhaps as a result of his wartime experiences, he “uniformly treated the prisoners committed to his charge with all the tenderness humanity could dictate.” He died, much lamented, in September 1808.

Not so 5 years later, as the hated Second War with Britain began.  American Mercury, March 10, 1813

Not so 5 years later, as the hated Second War with Britain began.  Note the wear that has occurred on the wood block.  American Mercury, March 10, 1813

Just weeks before his death, Boardman’s 21-year-old namesake had been appointed cornet of the 1st U.S. Regiment of Light Dragoons. As such, he assisted his superior officers in the recruiting service; in 1810 he was promoted to first lieutenant and became its commander. He was eventually awarded two more promotions, first as captain and then brevet major. Hartford’s federalist newspapers took no notice of Captain Boardman’s military achievements, but the anti-federalist American Mercury did, complimenting the fine appearance of his recruits as they prepared to leave Hartford for Vermont on October 23, 1814:

Seldom do we recollect to have seen a finer body of men. They have been recruited in this vicinity within the last few months, and are all stout, able bodied, healthy young fellows. The indefatigable exertions bestowed upon them, in their discipline and drill, is highly honorable to the officers assigned to their command, and is abundantly repaid by the rapid proficiency made by the men.

Captain Boardman’s efforts, however, were not well-received by the city’s federalists. They petitioned the legislature then in session, complaining of the disorder occasioned by Captain Boardman’s preparations for the Vermont expedition, especially by “exercising the recruits & marching them daily with martial music through the principal streets” of the city. “The citizens, they claimed, “are not only annoyed, but their property has been pillaged and destroyed, and the most violent outrages have been committed. . .” The legislature responded with an act permitting Hartford (and other cities) to regulate the use of “public squares, streets, and highways” and also to “designat[e] the place or places for military parades and rendezvous” [recruiting], upon which Hartford gratefully and promptly passed an ordinance criminalizing the location of recruiting offices and/or the playing of drums, fifes, or “any martial instrument” anywhere except in the most desolate parts of the city. Meanwhile, Captain Boardman was arrested and jailed for his musical crimes. His outraged “brother officers” complained in a letter to the editors of the city newspapers, but to no avail. They were ignored by all but the Mercury.

Bass drum made by Eli Brown, no. 1553 [n.d., prob. 1823], ex-Tommy Riemer, currently Moodus Drum and Fife Corps.

Bass drum made by Eli Brown, no. 1553 [n.d., prob. 1823], ex-Tommy Riemer, currently Moodus Drum and Fife Corps.

Perhaps in deference to his military commitments, Captain Boardman’s trial did not occur until December 1816. Now that the war was over and tempers had cooled, he was no longer accused of the criminal use of fifes and drums; instead, the court considered whether he had illegally “exceeded the limits of his duty:

It was not questioned, on the side of the prosecution, but that he had a right to carry on the recruiting, and for this purpose to make use of martial music in a proper manner; but it was claimed that this power had its reasonable limits, and that Capt. Boardman had exceeded these limits to the great annoyance of the public.

And the public had indeed been greatly annoyed — maybe not the entire public but certainly those of the federalist persuasion. In addition to “parading the streets, with [common] drums and fifes, on an average, as much as three or four hours in a day” the defendant had employed the use of not only “one bass drum” but “sometimes two”! This had so discomfited federalist ears that their owners easily convinced the court that such noise was also “distressing to the sick, interrupting business, frightening horses, and overturning and breaking carriages.” The federalist Connecticut Courant, whose report was reprinted by newspapers within and beyond Connecticut, claimed that Captain Boardman was found guilty by an “impartial court and jury” and was thereby ordered to pay a $50 fine plus $67.10 in costs. The anti-federalist Mercury, whose reports were similarly circulated, claimed that the only laws violated were Connecticut’s notorious “blue laws” and protested the “nearly three hundred dollars” that Capt. Boardman was obliged to pay in consequence of his faithful attention to his military duties.

After the trial, recruiting was once again carried on without incident.  American Mercury, July 6, 1818.

After the trial, recruiting was once again carried on without incident. American Mercury, July 6, 1818.

Things had worsened for Connecticut’s Federalists even before the trial. The Hartford Convention had failed when the war ended in 1815, before it could produce its list of demands to the U.S. government. The demise of the Federalist party soon followed. Meanwhile, Elijah Boardman had returned to his business of annoying the federalists, something he had been doing annually since 1810 by running for public office, first as a democrat and now as a member of the Toleration Party. While he consistently lost each election, he came close twice, forcing a gubernatorial rematch in 1814 and again in 1815.

The Toleration Party, founded in 1816, won its first victory the following year with the election of Oliver Wolcott, Jr. as governor of the state.  American Mercury.

The Toleration Party, founded in 1816, won its first victory the following year with the election of Oliver Wolcott, Jr. as governor of the state. American Mercury.

After the trial he continued his military career in Hartford but only for a little while. It is not known precisely when he left Connecticut, but by 1825 Boardman was in Youngstown, New York, serving as commander of Fort Niagara and as keeper of its lighthouse. He left Niagara in 1827, heading for Wisconsin and the Winnebago War. In the summer of 1828, while stationed at Fort Howard, Boardman was again the center of controversy when he was court-martialed for censuring a superior officer. In a trial that must have revived memories of Hartford, he was found guilty, but this time the verdict was overturned — by none other than President John Quincy Adams, who found cause for Boardman’s conduct (the intoxicated officer in question had stolen a keg of pickled oysters). Thus the last of New England’s Federalists restored to one of its enemies both his good name and his military career.

Shortly thereafter Elijah Boardman returned to New York, presumably at or near Fort Niagara, where he died at the age of 44 on March 22, 1832 following an eight-day illness. He is buried in a nearby Fort Niagara cemetery.




Copyright History of the Ancients Dot Com, all rights reserved.  May 2015.

Comrade Rowley, Department of Iowa G.A.R.

William Smyth, Colonel, 31st Iowa Infantry Regiment, 1862-1865,

Col William Smyth, commander of the 31st Iowa Inf Regt, 1862-1865

Comrade Rowley’s story actually begins with someone else’s, that of Josephus White Benadom.  Benadom, known as “Seph” to family and friends, was 19 years old when he enlisted in the Iowa 31st Infantry, Company E as a fifer.  The 31st was a volunteer regiment raised in and around Davenport, Iowa and participated in several major engagements, including (among others) Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge as well as the Battle of Atlanta and Sherman’s March.  It was mustered out shortly after the war was over, on June 27, 1865.

Benadom’s Civil War experiences entitled him to membership in the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization founded in 1866 and comprised of Civil War veterans who had worn the Union blue.  Benadom, who at this time resided in Maquoketa, Iowa, joined the Ben Paul Post in nearby Wyoming [IA].  The post had been established February 15, 1883.  However, Benadom’s name is not among its charter members or even its early members; in fact, his name does not appear in the rosters until 1915. There he would have remained, unnoticed and unknown among the nameless faces peering at us from old photographs, had it not been for Comrade Rowley, who had never served a day in the war but whose Post “membership” nonetheless earned him and his companion instant fame.

Courtesy National Park Service,

Vicksburg site marker for the 31st Regt.  Courtesy National Park Service,

Rowley was an unlikely candidate for G.A.R. membership. He was a young robin with a broken wing that Seph Benadom discovered in 1926.  Benadom, who by that time had been practicing medicine for decades, set the wing, named the bird Rowley, and kept him as a lifelong companion.  Thereafter, bird and savior were connected by mutual affection as well as a string affixed to both Rowley’s leg and a convenient button on Dr. Benadom’s coat. Legend has it that Rowley was fairly content despite being so confined, making only a few feeble attempts at escape. He thrived on a meat-and-fruit diet and accompanied Dr. Benadom wherever he pleased, including the 1926 G.A.R. encampment held in Des Moines, Iowa, where an alert news photographer captured and preserved for posterity a glimpse of Rowley the robin sitting atop his homemade perch stuck into the cork end of Dr. Benadom’s fife. This photograph catapulted Comrade Rowley (and Comrade Benadom) onto the front pages of many a midwestern newspaper and even one as far away as Canandaigua, New York.

"Seph" Benadom, MD with Rouwley, 1927.  Author's Collection.

“Seph” Benadom, MD with Rowley at the 60th GAR encampment in Des Moines, 1926. Author’s Collection.

If Rowley and Dr. Benadom were to be friends, though, the bird had no choice but to tolerate if not enjoy fife music. The doctor treasured the fife he had made in 1862 from “fine boxwood and brass” and played the old military tunes upon it on many occasions throughout his life.  It was, he said, “the best instrument in the whole G.A.R.” It had seen much wartime use, even when the young Benadom and his regiment “marched with Sherman to the sea.” Undoubtedly, it was the same instrument he used at the Great Jones County [Iowa] Fair in 1927, during a truly unforgettable musical performance that also featured Rowley the Robin:

Dr. J. W. Benadom’s Fife and Drum Corp[s], assisted by his sons, and Charles Clark of Maquoketa and Frank Byerly of Anamosa, appeared that year and are still recalled by many. Benadom had trained a Robin, caught the previous spring, to sit quietly on his fife as he played. The two were a familiar sight on Monticello streets for several years.

Rowley The Second enjoys the 67th Annual Encampment of the GAR.  Unidentified newspaper clipping, Author's Collection.

Rowley The Second enjoys the 67th Annual Encampment of the GAR. Unidentified newspaper clipping, Author’s Collection.

Rowley lived the good life from 1926 until his demise sometime before or during 1933, since that year Dr. Benadom attended the 67th G.A.R. National Encampment in St. Paul with an eight-week-old successor, another robin named Rowley the Second. Apparently Rowley the Second had inherited the amiable characteristics of the original Rowley, among which were stoicism and a fondness for fife music. Benadom explained to a reporter how he had whittled Rowley’s perch himself. Still, he had worried about bringing him to encampments, “I was kind of afraid he’d get scared of all the noise — these drums and bugles,” but there was no need to fret. Rowley the Second behaved as courteously as did his predecessor. Benadom claimed that Rowley the Second was so talented that he could “chirp a few bars” of his favorite tune, “The Girl I Left Behind.”

Both Rowleys proved perfect companions for the old doctor. For 7 years, first the one robin and then the other had posed contentedly on his perch as the duo’s fame spread in newspaper stories published from within and beyond Iowa. But all good things must come to an end, which they did in 1933, only weeks after Benadom and Rowley the Second had returned from the St. Paul G.A.R. encampment.  That’s when Dr. Benadom was murdered:

He was known to take walks in the park in the afternoon near his home at 639 N. Sycamore St, in Monticello, IA. It was on one of these walks that he reported to have been robbed by two thugs in the vicinity of the amphitheater ticket office. The men alleged to have taken $30 to $40. These circumstances of his confrontation frightened him and caused a sinking spell. He laid down on the couch in his reception room and became unconscious and continued so until his death an hour later.

ad for benadom sanitarium 1905

Ad for one of the five Benadom Sanitariums. Featured is Dr. J.A. Benadom, Dr. Seph’s strong-willed son. Item sold by,

This wasn’t the first time Dr. Benadom was mugged. In September 1902, he had been “waylaid, beaten, and robbed of $42, while walking near his home in Maquoketa. But he was a young, strong 59 years old then, and in 1933 he was 90 and unable to recover from the heart attack induced by the shock of his encounter with two burly thugs. Dr. Benadom was buried on December 9, 1933 in the Mt. Joy Cemetery near Davenport. What became of Rowley the Second is at this point unknown.  




(c)  2015.  All rights reserved.

Dry Drum Corps

Socialist DCThe apolitical nature of drum corps is taken for granted today, but that has not always been the case.  Consider such corps as the Socialist Drum Corps of Syracuse (another was located in Newark) and the New Departure corps of Bristol [CT].  Other corps had a distinct political identity even without a suggestive name, such as the GAR fife and drum corps.  Their music assisted their parent organization, which was formed originally as a Grant club, as they lobbied for a variety of veterans’ causes.

Another Grant club, the Boys in Blue, preceeded the GAR.

Another Grant club, the Boys in Blue, preceeded the GAR.

Perhaps the most benign of the politically oriented drum corps were the Father Mathew TAB corps.  “Father Mathew” was an Irish priest (Theobold Mathew, b. October 10, 1790, d. December 8, 1856) who advocated total abstinence from strong drink.

father mathewAbstinence, according to Father Mathew, was a matter of will, and he urged his followers to take “The Pledge,” which promised a lifetime of freedom from the evils of alcohol.  Ireland experienced the power of Father Mathew’s teachings when crime rates dropped and breweries and distilleries closed as more and more “total abstinence societies” were established.

Band of HopeIn 1849 Father Mathew brought his message to the United States, resulting in the growth of temperance societies nationwide and the eventual founding of the Knights of Father Mathew.  In 1895, the Knights had become affiliated with the Catholic Total Abstinence Union, and the old total abstinence societies were now temperance and benevolence societies.  As their name implies, the TABs performed many charitable works, but in Connecticut some TABs also sponsored drum corps, a wholesome activity for the abstinent juvenile.

At least 15 TAB corps were organized between 1886 and 1938 in 13 Connecticut towns.  They all participated at one time or another in the contests sponsored by the Connecticut Fifers and Drummers Association (founded 1885), in either the modern class or the fife, drum, and bugle class.  None of the TABs were known to play Ancient style, and none competed as Ancients.  Notable among them were St. Paul’s of Kensington, the Father Mathew corps of Hartford, and the Young Men’s Temperance and Benevolence Corps of New Britain.

TAB corps 064St. Paul’s was organized in 1909.  The corps was a frequent winner in CF&D contests.  Two offshoot corps, the St. Paul’s Juniors and the St. Paul’s Freshmen, were established in 1957 and 1959 respectively, and in 1956 St. Paul’s took the unusual step of admitting women to its senior corps.  The corps was still competing in 1960.  Its last member passed away in 2010 at the age of 93.

TAB corps 003

Taught by Jimmy Ryan, the “ace fifer” in the Father Mathew Cadets of Hartford. OLS later competed against the FMC in the local contest circuit.

Hartford’s Father Mathew Cadets won their first trophy in 1887, heralding 50-plus years of award-winning performances.  In 1928 Jimmy Ryan, “an ace fifer” with Father Mathew, was recruited to teach the fledgling Our Lady of Sorrows, whose cadets earned a fair number of trophies beginning in 1931.

YMTAB Hall NBJPGLittle is known about the Young Men’s Temperance and Benevolence Drum Corps of New Britain.  They maintained a stellar record of performances in CF&DA contests, spanning a 36-year period beginning in 1901 and continued beyond that date as a contributing member of the CF&DA.

Copyright, History of the Ancients Dot Org, December 2013.

M.W. Mowry — and the Klan????


M.W. Mowry’s autograph book, 1878. Author’s Collection.

M. W. Mowry is a name known so far only through a small book of autographs that he passed amongst his schoolmates just before graduation in 1878.  He may be from one of the Mowry families of Rhode Island, or he may be the “M.W. Mowry” who died in Montgomery County, NY in January 1902.  Or he could be from another Mowry family as yet undiscovered.   What we do know about M.W. Mowry, straight from his autograph book, is that he was a talented young man who didn’t let school get in the way of his music-making activities.

East_Greenwich_Academy_in_RI 1878

From Google Images, accessed 01-07-13.

We know more about the school he attended than we do the student.  Wiki tells us the East Greenwich Academy, originally called the Kent Academy, was founded in 1802 by “eight prominent men,” but in 1841 the school was taken over by the Methodist Episcopal Church, who concentrated on producing teachers, both men and women, for the State of Rhode Island.  They were so successful that “by mid-century, nearly three-fourths of all Rhode Island teachers were alumni of the Academy.”  However, the school was also advertised as a “commercial” and “musical” institute, the latter of which must have attracted young Mowry to its doors.


We can only imagine how bad the bass-viol player was. . . and how he must have raked on Philo’s last musical nerve. . .(Author’s Collection)


Apparently Mowry’s musical criticism extended to dancers as well as bass-viol players. . .(Author’s Collection).

Mowry and Fred, "the two off ones."  From M.W. Mowry's autograph book, 1878.  Author's Collection.

Mowry and Fred, “the two off ones.” From M.W. Mowry’s autograph book, 1878. Author’s Collection.

Mowry must have excelled in the official music curriculum offered by the school, if one can judge from his unofficial musical activities referenced in his book of autographs.  Apparently his nickname of “Philo” reflected not only his musical prowess but also his willingness to encourage musical prowess in others.  Mowry played in the “Consolidated Orchestra” and participated in the “string band,” which likely supplied music for the impromptu “hops” (dances) that occurred in the kitchen and in the barn.  His best friend appears to have been Fred Lawford from Wellesley, Massachusetts, the “one who plays the flute,” and with whom drummer Mowry, lacking a fifing companion, played duets, at which time Lawford’s flute became a sort of “bass fife.”  We get a glimpse of one such performance courtesy of another schoolmate, C. W. Betts, who sketched Lawford with his “basso profundo” and a dour-looking “Filoh” urging him not to just play but to “Put in the agony, put on the style.”

Missing the tambourine, but the the other standard minstrel elements -- the fiddle, flute, banjo, and bones -- are represented in the "Knickerbocker Minstrels."   We might assume that it's Mowry, the drummer, who is playing the bones and his duetting pal, Fred Lawford on the flute.

“The Knickerbocker Minstrels” of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.  Author’s Collection.

The book contains another sketch, which in 1878 must have been amusing to some but not so much today, 135 years later.  Although untitled, it shows what Lawford called “The Knickerbocker Minstrels.”   They are missing the tambourine, but otherwise the standard minstrel elements — the fiddle, flute, banjo, and bones — are represented in this sketch.   We might assume that Mowry, the drummer, is playing the bones and that his duet partner, Lawford, is playing the flute.   What is most remarkable, though, and unlike any other minstrel group, is that they are wearing the pointed caps commonly associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Detail from Music cover, 1843.  Wiki Images, accessed 01-07-13.

Detail from Music cover, 1843. Wiki Images, accessed 01-07-13.

Dan Emmett established minstrelsy in the mid 1840s as a lighthearted form of musical entertainment in which the players “blacked up” to sing comic songs, perform walk-arounds, and recite “stump speeches,” all caricaturing the nameless “dandies” and other “black” characters  invented by white minds.  In fact, Emmett had written “Dixie,” complete with a walk-around, for performance by his group, the Virginia Minstrels, in 1859.  However, minstrelsy was never considered anything more than entertainment, a bit tawdry, perhaps, but entertainment nonetheless.  It attracted large audiences, mostly from the working or “mechanics” class of citizenry, which could get pretty rowdy at times.  It also attracted criticism, mostly from reformers (Frederick Douglass called minstrel performers “the filthy scum of white society”), and today it is criticized as an insult to the dignity of African-Americans.  However crude or vulgar, though, minstrelsy was essentially apolitical (except when poking fun at politicians) and never associated with the Ku Klux Klan – until, that is, this image was discovered in Mowry’s book of autographs.


From Google Images, accessed 01-07-13.

Why “The Knickerbocker Minstrels” chose to wear the pointed caps of the Klan is a mystery.   At this time (1878), there was no real Klan activity in Rhode Island; in fact, there was no real Klan activity anywhere since the organization, founded in 1865, was all but defunct in the early 1870s, a victim of the Force Acts of 1870 and 1871 that were specifically directed against it.  (Not that other vigilante hate groups, such as the Red Shirts, didn’t take their place, but that is another story.)  Was it a stunt, then, some kind of a joke?  If so, who where they mocking, the black man or the lifeless Klan?

Although Mowry and his friends couldn’t know it, things would change some years later.  The film “Birth of a Nation” (1915) fomented a resurgence of the KKK, at which time they retained the familiar pointed caps but added white robes to their costume and cross-burning to their regime of terror.  The new Klan was quite active, hating Jews, Catholics, and immigrants as well as African-Americans.  It was the second Klan that, looking for fund-raising opportunities, borrowed from the minstrel show (rather than, in Mowry’s case, the minstrel show borrowing from the Klan).  The Klan also formed bands, including drum corps. These participated mostly in Klan-sponsored events but also marched in parades alongside the “unpure,” setting aside their hatred for the moment in order to publicize their group and attract new members.

An all-girls Klan-sponsored drum corps, Indiana, 1921.  From, accessed 01-07-13.

An all-girls Klan-sponsored drum corps, Indiana, 1921. From, accessed 01-07-13.

The second-generation Klan, rocked by scandal, essentially self-destructed by the 1940s, but not before the area in and around Liberty, NY, had become a hotbed of Klan activity, which included among its more frightening and gruesome activities, more innocuous ones of music, parades — and drumming.  This bass drum, below, was purchased in 2008 from the granddaughter of its player, who was using it as a coffee table.  Its slick glass top and applied wheels hid the fact that it had been carried by an ancestor in many a Klan parade during the early years of its second resurgence.

A favorite place to nap, atop a ca. 1838 bass drum sold by Klemm of Philadelphia.  That it has been cut down from its original barrel size is evidenced by the off-center eagle.  Author's Collection.

A favorite place for Moo-Cow Kitty to nap, atop a ca. 1838 bass drum sold by the Klemm company of Philadelphia. That it has been cut down from its original barrel size is evidenced by the off-center eagle and shield. Author’s Collection.

M.W. Mowry with his drum and friends? family?  Detail from full-plate tin.  Author's Collection

M.W. Mowry with his drum and friends? family? boarding-house roommates? Detail from full-plate tin, ca 1880-83. Author’s Collection

Copyright January 2013, History of the Ancients Dot Org. All rights reserved.

Hammet Achmet, Middletown’s Not-So-Famous Drum Maker

In the early 1800s, Middletown hosted a sizable free black population, a byproduct of the slave trade of the late eighteenth century. “Plan of Main Street, Middletown,” from “Connecticut’s Historical Collections,” Durrie & Peck and J.W. Barber (1836).

On March 17, 1824, the Middlesex Gazette advised “By order of the Court of Probate for the District of Middletown, will be sold at public vendue, (if not previously disposed of by private sale,) all the estate of David Churchill, late of Chatham deceased.  Said vendue will be held at the late dwelling house of said deceased, on Monday the 20th inst. at 10 o’clock, A.M. at the beat of drum.”

The drummer who summoned bidders to this auction and others like it in Middletown was probably Hammet Achmet.   A former slave who sought day-to-day labor to supplement his modest military pension, Achmet was well known to the upper strata of Middletown, Connecticut society and even to such national celebrities as P.T. Barnum, Senator John C. Calhoun, and George Washington.

Hammet Achmet was born in Africa, probably in 1759.  As a young boy he was “captured and shipped to Virginia,” the further specifics of which are unknown.  While still a child he became a servant of George Washington, first tending his horse and later waiting on the General himself.  Achmet never forgot these years and “continually talk[ed] about Massa Washington;” as an old man he would tell “. . . many long stories . . . of the fine dinners and grand company” he witnessed during his service and would display to anyone interested the sword and lock of hair given to him by the General himself.  Achmet had no kind words for Mrs. Washington, though, and “. . . used to call [her] hard names and find fault with her treatment of him which caused him to run away.

Return Jonathan Meigs, a Middletown native, served with distinction during the Revolution. He went west, served in the Indian Wars, and eventually became governor of Ohio . Courtesy Google Images

Perhaps Achmet ran to Middletown, because in 1777 he enlisted there as a drummer in Captain Benjamin Throop’s Company, Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs’ Regiment of the First (later the Fourth) Connecticut Regiment.  He was a member of the party that stormed Stoney Point and was wounded during the battle of Germantown.  Achmet was also present at the Yorktown surrender in 1783.  Earlier, he had been at Valley Forge, as another soldier named Samuel Fayerweather told pension officials in 1819.  Achmet, he testified, was “among the crowd assembled around the waggons” which brought specie from France to pay the army.  He also remembered seeing “the little black drummer” in 1779, “ . . .the spring of the year after the army quitted Valley Forge,” when Achmet’s attempts to hoard his allotment of rum had amused Fayerweather and his comrades—but not so Achmet.  In anger, Hammet attacked him with the butt of his head, only to “receive upon it,” Fayerweather recalled, “several strokes of my heel” in return.

After the war, Achmet resided in Middletown with his wife Jane and his daughters.  He eked out a living tending his garden and doing odd jobs about town, such as drumming for the vendue and selling old shoes to the local gun factory (these would be made into polishing leather).

Drumming was important to Achmet, and he drummed not only for the auctions but also at various military events held in town.  More importantly, he began making and selling drums, “large and small,” which he advised were “made and sold by General Washington’s Waiter.”  To Middletown citizenry, he was a favorite son, “held in great respect by the community,” as one resident recalled, “Often did I meet him in his rounds, or proudly performing his office at the head of a military company. . .he might be seen any day marching the streets with a string of little drums over his shoulder, he himself dressed in quaint regimentals.”

Here Hammet is paid for goods or services supplied to the town poorhouse. Courtesy Middlesex County Historical Society, Middletown, CT.

To out-of-towners, though, he was a “strange mortal” who walked around town “with a blue jacket trimmed in decayed military trappings.”  His ever-present drum, which had served him so well during the war and helped him earn a living long after it was over, was to them “almost a nuisance.”

Though poor, Achmet had friends in high places.  One was Jonathan Barnes, a local attorney, who oversaw the distribution of Achmet’s military pension.  Obtaining the pension had been a two-year process that Achmet himself, hindered by his thick African accent and “rapidity of speech,” could not accomplish, but he was successful following intervention by District Court Judge Pierpont Edwards of Bridgeport.  Edwards, son of the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards, solicited the aid of none other than John C. Calhoun on Achmet’s behalf, reminding him that Achmet had served in the regiment commanded by the father of current Postmaster General and pointing out that Achmet still had his drum and leather cap from the war, “with the distinctive mark of the United States” still on them.   Other friends included the cadets at the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy run by Captain Alden Partridge, an institution that continues

Achmet’s first marriage was also rocky at times, as this notice from the “Middlesex Gazette” attests. Still, Achmet was so devastated by Jane’s death in 1827 that he tenderly crafted a wooden gravemarker that he labored upon until it “shone like marble.”

today as Norwich [VT] University.  At one point in 1827, the cadets collected a subscription of ten cents each to give to Hammet, this following the deaths, in close succession, of his wife and daughter.

Hammet soon remarried, this time to a white woman who is reported to have “washed her face and hands in a decoction of mahogany chips” in order to avoid the stigma of a “mixed marriage.”  The marriage was not a happy one:

“Mr. and Mrs. Achmet quarreled sometimes, and once she cut off Hammet’s ringlets as he lay asleep. They were his especial pride . . . , so poor Achmet hid himself til the curls grew again.”

It was Achmet’s service to George Washington that nearly earned him national fame.  According to Emily Stedman, granddaughter of Achmet’s benefactor,

One time when grandfather was attending court in New Haven, a man came to the [Barnes] residence and inquired for grandfather. . . the man. . . was Phineas T. Barnum, and that he was trying to get Hammett Achmet to travel with his “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Judge Pierpont Edwards (b. 1750, d. 1826), one of Achmet’s many friends. He was the younger son of Rev. Jonathan Edwards but nonetheless founded the Toleration Party in 1816. He had the political clout to ensure that Achmet got his military pension.

At that time Barnum was in the midst of the Joyce Heth affair. Heth, an elderly colored woman, had been exhibited in Barnum’s traveling show as the reputed 161-year-old former “servant-woman” who in youth had nursed the infant George Washington.  Heth was a charming addition to Barnum’s show–knarled with arthritis, she delighted audiences by singing hymns–but her death in 1836 sparked a frenzied newspaper scandal accusing Barnum of exploitation and fraud.  Perhaps Barnum sought to downplay the Heth affair by replacing his star exhibition with the more credible Hammet Achmet, but to no avail.  Stedman continues:

Hammet had refused to go unless ‘Massa B—-‘ should say he must.  Not finding it possible to persuade old Achmet, and lawyer B—- not being at home, Barnum hired a horse and carriage (there was no railroad to New Haven then, and the stage went there only every other day), and drove to New Haven to interview ‘Massa B—-.”  Grandfather said he would advise with Hammet, the result being that ‘General Washington’s waiter’ concluded he did not want to be exhibited as one of Barnum’s curiosities; and remained at home.

“Massa B–” took care of Achmet’s finances. Achmet, who could barely write his name, acknowledged his debts by drawing the amounts due, using full circles to represent dollar coins and partial circles to represent portions thereof. Courtesy Middlesex County Historical Society, Middletown, CT

Stedman believed that Achmet lived to be 114, but more likely he was around 83 when he died in 1842.  Within a month his wife “became white again” and was married, this time to “an old sailor and bird fancier” named Andrew P. Folio.  None of Achmet’s drums have been identified, if any have survived, and we don’t know how pervasive his influence was on drumming in Middletown–did he teach drumming, formally or informally?  Was he associated with the “drum school of some celebrity” once located in Middletown Upper Houses?  What were his connections with the A.L.S. & M. Academy?  All we have is the recollection of the old-timers, who agreed in 1893 that “there was real music in old Achmet’s drum.”

Copyright 2011, HistoryoftheAncientDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

Book Review, “One of His Many Uniforms: Ed Olsen, Noah Webster, and CT’s Ancient Fife and Drum Tradition.

This image of Moodus Drum and Fife Corps predates  what author James Clark believes could be “…the oldest image of the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps” (p. 122).   Dr. U.S. Cook, back row, center, was heavier, mustachioed, and older when he posed about 10 years later with his bass drum for the photograph featured on p. 112.  Copy in Author’s Collection, original currently unlocated.

Not much has been written about Ancient fife and drum corps, so I am always hopeful when something new surfaces.  The latest of these is Connecticut’s Fife and Drum Tradition (Wesleyan University Press, 2011).  It’s a nice little book that speaks of some history but essentially chronicles the author’s Ancient exploits, beginning with his early days in a hometown corps and progressing through his fascination with local competitions and the corps/drummers who participated in them.  Unfortunately, the documentation is disappointing; in lieu of footnotes, there are just a few in-text references (and not all of them correct) culled from a short and mostly unimpressive bibliography.  This probably won’t trouble the casual reader but will frustrate those bound to question the unusual hypotheses left unproved.   For example, the author devotes too many pages inter alia linking the “Dionysian tumult” of the Ancients (which, he says, angered Shakespeare AND the Puritans) to a lofty but unlikely heritage derived from Elizabethan England, Playford’s Dancing Master, and Othar Turner.  If the author is onto something here, we need supportive citations; otherwise, his arguments are pretentious.  And pretensions run rampant in this book, beginning with the “purple-inked bureaucratic form” (the rest of us call it a mimeograph) in the very first sentence of the introduction.  Elsewhere, you have to look carefully for the good stuff (he found Samuel G. Wilcox, an important figure in Ancient history, listed as a military drum major in 1819), because it’s too easily lost amongst other stuff that is just plain wrong (“Yankee Doodle” did not originate in 1745).  Nonetheless, it’s a fair read you can get through in about an hour-and-a-half, longer if you take notes (a necessity, since there is no index).

“Ed Olsen in one of his many uniforms.”  Actually, it was never his.  Olsen wore it only once, in October 1946 (see below), after which it was packed up by its real owner and taken to South Dakota.  Image from Connecticut’s Fife and Drum Tradition (Wesleyan University Press, 2011)

The illustrations come from a similarly mixed bag.  Overall the  copy photography is not very good, but scattered amongst pictures of hand-rendered  musical scales and “digitally enhanced” second- and third-generation photocopies are some worth looking at.  There are a few of the early Moodus corps and a dark, hazy Sherm Carpenter working on a drum, but the best one, in my opinion, is a rather grainy photo of a young Ed Olsen “in one of his many uniforms.”  Despite its poor quality and bland caption, the photo presages a captivating story that the author couldn’t or wouldn’t tell, starring not Ed Olsen but a gifted self-taught artist who was destined to carve a mountain.

Korczak Ziolkowski was born in Boston in 1908 and moved to West Hartford, Connecticut in 1937.  There, from the workshop at his Sedgwick Street home, he produced a prize-winning sculpture, Paderewski, Study of An Immortal, that was exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

“Paderewski.” “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” –Korczak Ziolkowski

Meanwhile, Ziolkowski wished to sculpt a memorial to Noah Webster, who was born in West Hartford on October 16, 1758.  A Time Magazine article dated October 27, 1941 tells us what happened when the artist:

“… said he would create one if West Hartford would raise $16,519 to pay expenses. When public-spirited West Hartfordians kicked in a mere $3,700, Sculptor Ziolkowski was hurt, but agreed to carry on.  Saying that the money would not provide him a shed to work in, Ziolkowski borrowed a trailer and carted a 32-ton block of Tennessee marble onto the lawn in front of West Hartford’s prim Town Hall. There, stripped to the waist, Sculptor Ziolkowski hacked and chiseled. He turned night into day with glaring floodlights [and] rang West Hartford’s rural welkin with an electric drill. When the West Hartford clergy protested his working on the Sabbath, bushy-headed Ziolkowski snorted: “There seems to be no objection to golfing, tennis, motoring and sports in general on the Sabbath, so why the rumpus over the creation of a masterpiece of art?” As months passed, Sculptor Ziolkowski’s marble cutting became the biggest show in West Hartford. Crowds gathered daily, and tourists parked their cars to have a look. Hawkers sold peanuts and soda pop. To his audience, Sculptor Ziolkowski sold marble chips, at 60¢ to $2, to be used as doorstops and book ends.”

In the midst of this hoopla, Ziolkowski created a musical tribute to his hero in the form of the Noah Webster Fife and Drum Corps.  He recruited members from the local schools and asked Charles S. Miller, founder of the Mattatuck Drum Band, to teach the drummers.   Miller agreed, driving regularly from Waterbury to West Hartford to fulfill his commitment.  This was no mean feat back then…

Noah Webster Ancients, 1946. Ed Olsen is the fifer on the right. Author’s collection

…when 30 MPH was considered speeding.  Miller was rewarded, though, by a long friendship with the artist and his corps that included a ceremonious unveiling of a bronze bust on his 80th birthday, enjoying “drum corps parties” (a precursor to musters) at Korczak’s home, holding drum-making sessions  in Miller’s barn, and a surprise serenade on a cold, rainy day in 1942 to celebrate yet another birthday (his 84th).   The  boys and girls in the corps were devoted to its founder, raising funds for the Webster statue by selling  miniature models door-to-door and performing otherwise-neglected household chores.

Korczak Ziolkowski’s gift to West Hartford,

Finally, on Noah Webster’s 183rd birthday, the statue was dedicated, even though it was not yet completed.  The Mattatuck Drum Band provided appropriate music, and local officials dressed in costume to accept the gift.  Still, the townspeople were unhappy, especially when they read the artist’s carved inscription:

“For you I labored, not for my own day,
that by the Word men should know brotherhood.
My fellow men! You have not understood,
Since each of you would go his separate way.”

When pressed, Ziolkowski claimed it was a quote from Webster’s writings and not a personal reproach to an ungrateful citizenry.

Ziolkowski finished the statue.  Although massive at 13-1/2 feet, it is intentionally shorter than Michelangelo’s David since, as Ziolkowski once told Olsen, “No one should outdo the master.”

Like Ed, Korczak volunteered for duty during World War II, and upon his return the Noah Webster corps resumed activity, marching in events such as Manhattan’s Pulaski Day parade on October 11, 1946, where Ed’s  picture was taken “in one of his many uniforms.”   However, very soon thereafter Korczak removed to South Dakota to work on a new project, a mountain sculpture of Crazy Horse.  Aware that he would not live long enough to complete an artwork 4 times the size of Mount Rushmore, he nonetheless took his tools, treasures, and most of his corps  to the Black Hills.  Renamed the Hill City Ancients, the corps continued for another few years before disbanding.  As of this writing, the old corps drums are still displayed at the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Friends left behind in West Hartford didn’t forget Ziolkowski, and in 1947 his supporters traveled to South Dakota to help him set up camp.  One of them, a drummer named Ruth Ross, never returned.  She stayed with Korczak, had 2 of his children, and then married him in 1950 and had 8 more.   But as he predicted, Korczak’s work was unfinished when death overtook him in 1982.  He is buried on the site in a grave that he and his sons had blasted out of the mountain.  He wrote his own epitaph:

Storyteller in Stone
May His Remains Be Left Unknown

“Crazy Horse” attracts thousands of visitors each year.

At age 84, Ruth continues running the Crazy Horse Memorial, assisted by numerous children and grandchildren.  They are completing Ziolkowski’s magnum opus, the ultimate tribute, both to the artist and the American Indian.

Back in West Hartford, Ziolkowski’s masterpiece continued to irritate the residents.  The anonymous blogger, “Nutmeg Grater,” learned the details firsthand from a friend:

“It seems his mother was part of a women’s group in town that was none too pleased with the final rendition of the statue [because] if you drove around from Memorial Drive taking a right onto Main Street, you would see Noah’s hand down by his side with his index finger extended.  However, it didn’t LOOK like his index finger; it looked like good old Noah had a [description withheld but I think you can figure it out].  Again, the way I heard it was Mr. Ziolkowski was pissed at the fine citizenry of the charming town of West Hartford (as I am MOST of the time), and to get them back for all of their complaining and whining, he redesigned the arm and finger of the statue just a bit.”

Here I must interrupt, having heard a similar story many times from Ed Olsen.   There is no question that an insult was perceived, but “Korczak was too much of an artist,” according to Olsen (and I agree), to compromise his work in such a manner.   In any event,

The fine citizenry of the charming burg of West Hartford (well,  a group of babes, at any rate) decided to do something about it.  By the cover of night, they snuck into the center (no Radio Shack and no Max’s or Grant’s back then) and armed with only their wits, stealth, and a ball peen hammer, they whacked (so to speak) off Mr. Webster’s appendaged appendage—never, may I add, to be replaced!”

The blogger continues:

“If you don’t believe this is true, all you have to do is get in your car and drive from Memorial to Main (of course, you can’t do that now because they are working on Blue Back [another story for another day]) and see for yourself.

Blue Back Square, a sprawling commercial complex located around the corner from “West Hartford’s prim town hall,” caused more controversy than Ziolkowski ever did.  Its name commemorates Webster’s “blue-back speller,” a schoolbook he authored in 1783 that was customarily bound in inexpensive blue-papered boards.   Construction began in 2003, its completion delayed, however, by several years of lawsuits and political wrangling.

Happily, West Hartford has made peace with both the Square and their mammoth Noah.  Blue Back opened in 2008, the same year that Noah’s finger was replaced.  (It wasn’t there but a few weeks, though, before some prankster put a condom on it.)

(For another perspective, see the review of Connecticut’s Fife and Drum Tradition in Notes, Journal of the American Library Association, Volume 69, Number 3, March 2013, pp. 547-551 by Raoul F. Camus.)

Ruth Ross Ziolkowski died on May 21, 2014, at the age of 87.

Copyright 2011, August 2012 HistoryoftheAncientsDotOrg, All Rights Reserved.