The Hammond Silver Drum Corps — An Excursion? or the First Ancient Muster?

The Hammond Silver Drum Corps Takes a Trip to Rocky Point

The year 1953 heralded a new era of Ancient history when, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Ed Olsen and Carl Emmanuelson, the Deep River Drum Corps hosted the first ancient muster.   At the event they conceptualized, music would be the feature of the day and “no trophies, no prizes, and no unkind words” would be tolerated.   And, with 10 corps in attendance, the first Ancient muster was indeed a grand success.  But was DRAM 1953 the first of its kind?  One candidate for that honor might be the long-defunct Hammond Silver Drum Corps of Rockville, CT.  Their 1878 excursion to Rocky Point, Rhode Island was an event that offered neither prize-winning contests nor the ill will they could sometimes produce but instead featured a parade, libations, stand pieces, a commemorative button, and many other characteristics of our now well-established practice of Ancient mustering.

The Hammond Silver Drum Corps posing for newspaper reporters below St. Bernard’s Terrace in Rockville, Connecticut. Led by Rockville’s much-liked and “tallest colored man,” William Nelson (left), they are carrying their signature metal drums with silver-colored shells. Willie, leftmost in the drum line, eventually became a church organist of some renown. Detail from 1877 photo.

The Hammond Silver Drum Corps began in the late 1860s with Joe C. Hammond, a leading citizen of Rockville, Connecticut.  With Joe on fife, wife Catherine on bass drum, and their two sons on snares, the family entertained their friends and neighbors with patriotic music whenever the occasional arose.  At first they played informally, sometimes as the Elm Street Drum Corps and at least once as the Lilliputian Drum Corps, no doubt in deference to the youthful snare line consisting of 12-year-old Willie and 9-year-old Charles.  By 1876, however, Joe was busy with another group, the Veteran Field Music of Tolland County, and the Hammond Silver Drum Corps officially became a junior (“juvenile”) corps.

It was at the great Jubilee held in Rockville in 1877 that a trip to the Rocky Point was discussed.  At that time the Hammond corps consisted of 10 boys led by the well-known William Nelson.  Among their duties that day was greeting the visiting corps at the train station as they arrived to participate in the festivities.  Moodus won the prize that day for best drumming, a silk banner made by the ladies of Rockville, but the performances by all the corps, including Hammond’s, were impressive.  By day’s end, all agreed that another event should be held the following year, and the date was set for Friday, August 30, 1878, at the Rocky Point amusement park, Rhode Island’s premier tourist attraction.  The Hammond corps made plans to be there, too.

Several newspapers memorialized the Rocky Point affair, including The Rockville Journal and The Providence Evening Press. Undeterred by the 4-hour train ride to Providence, the Connecticut contingent filled 19 cars with musicians, spectators, and newspaper reporters, some of whom sported what might be considered the first “muster button” in the form of a wooden nutmeg set off with a red ribbon, “an emblem of times past,” according to one reporter.   The trip was completed by steamer, which brought them from Providence to Rocky Point.  Following a dinner of Rhode Island clams (a  Rocky Point specialty) and fueled by an enthusiastic throng of onlookers, the corps paraded to the bandstand where the festivities commenced in earnest.

The Crystal Wave was one of many steamers running passengers to and from Rocky Point during the summer season. The park buildings are seen in the background. Detail of albumin print, 1878.

The stand pieces began with the Tolland County Veterans, who received “hearty applause” for their efforts.  They were followed by the “excellent music” of Suffield’s Remington Drum Band.  Next, the Tunxis Valley Band played with “much spirit and vigor,” followed by the well-known and much-admired “gentleman drummers of Moodus,” who were “handsomely attired in red jackets barred with white.”  The Mansfield Drum Corps played “creditably,” given that they were “a country band and have not the opportunity for practice which city bands have.”  Polite encouragement returned to enthusiastic applause with the “the careful practice and confidence” exhibited by the St. James Band of Manchester.

It seems the best performances were saved for last.  The Hammond Silver Drum Corps “played with self possession and vigor, and were very heartily applauded.”  Next came the G.L. Belden [Bolden] Drum Corps of Hartford, “composed of colored youths” whose expert drummers would grow into adulthood and dominate the competition circuit.  Last but far from least was Steele’s Independent Fife and Drum Corps, also from Hartford.  We are told by the observers that this “very excellent band had some of the best performers in the State including Joseph Heck.”  Two years earlier, it was Heck, “the boss fifer of Connecticut,” who had won the coveted gold-tipped fife as “Best Fifer” at a contest held in Rockville.

The G.L. Bolden [Drum Corps, ca. 1906, a participant in the Excursion to Rocky Point some 30 years earlier. Author’s Collection.

True to a tradition that cannot be improved, the festivities concluded with—what else—a jollification.  It was reported that the music, which had kept up until the steamers arrived, continued for the entire 45-minute boat trip back to Providence.   While one reporter feared that “to those whose nerves were weak, the noise must have been very annoying” another worried not a bit.  Speaking of the Hammond Silver Drum Corps specifically, his words might have applied to all.  “The boys found admirers wherever they had listeners,” he bragged, “nor were the words of praise in any sense unworthily bestowed.

Copyright 2001, 2011 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

DRAM 2012: The Parade

The Deep River Ancient Muster was one to be proud of this year.   Only 55 corps (and 1 pipe band) — smaller than I remember it — but nonetheless they all descended upon this small CT River Valley town, as they do every third weekend in July, to enjoy two days of good music with fine friends.  Friday’s rain, which made setting up difficult and threatened the weekend’s activities, gave way on Saturday to fine, sunny weather — a welcome change from the usual midsummer heat and humidity.  And thus the festivities began.

A little background for those who may not know:  A muster is simply a weekend gathering of fife and drum corps and friends of same.  While some musters are bigger than others, they all more of less follow a prescribed structure, which may include pre-muster events held on Friday night but always include a Saturday parade through the town led by the host corps, which is followed by an afternoon of performances by each corps in attendance (“on stand”).  The last one to take the stand is a rather free-form en mass group (“F-Troop”) whose stand piece is a spontaneously chosen rousing rendition of a traditionally favored muster tune, after which it devolves into a jam session (“jollification”) lasting into the wee hours of the morn or as long as there are at least 1 fifer and 1 drummer still standing (or until the cops shut us down).  Either way, it’s all good.  Here is the parade, just before turning onto Devitt Field.



The Fyfes and Drumms of Olde Saratoga, listed as from “Upstate New York”. . . hey, you can’t get away without doing the parade — we know where you live!!!

Second Company Governor’s Footguard, New Haven, CT —  Where were you, and where did you hide all those bearskins????

Warehouse Point, I *know* I saw you, but not in the parade. . . ?

East Hampton Fifes and Drums?  Village Volunteers?  Germantown?  Marlborough?   Menotomy?  Where were you?

Our hosts, the Deep River Drum Corps, Deep River, CT, founded 1878.

Deep River Juniors. . .The Ancients believe that we ought to keep our kids ON the streets, where they belong. . .

Connecticut Blues, Durham, CT

Color guard of the Stony Creek Ancient Fife and Drum Corps (near Branford, CT). . . counted a few of the Tobacco Valley Gang in there — congrats to their Little Lawyer Jackie, who made it all the way from California!.

Bethpage Colonials, LI, NY, with friends from the Troopers, NY Ancients, and Coldenham (all of NY)

New Jersey Field Music, once home to the Duke and the Doc. . . if you don’t know who they are, ask an old-timer.

Bluff Point Quahog Diggers Band. . . none of whom are from Bluff Point, because if they were they couldn’t dig clams (aren’t any out there in the Finger Lakes. . . ), mostly from Massachusetts

The Connecticut Patriots Senior Ancients, Plainville, CT. New uniforms!

Grand Republic Fife and Drum Corps from Southbury, CT. Note the first line of fifers, balanced by a Benoit at each end. . .bookends?

Westbrook [CT] Drum Corps, founded in 1910. They have their own great muster every 4th weekend in August, don’t miss it!

Yankee Volunteers, Seekonk, MA

Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps, North Haven, founded 1888, who *almost* lost their Moeller drums some 50ish years ago. . .

No coats???? Is it *that* hot??? . . . but they did indeed don their continentals on stand, playing Sturtze’s Rudimenter.

Color Guard of the Ancient Mariners, Guilford, CT. . .missing so many of their founding members — Classy, Ott, Watrous — and so many others, but most of all Ed Olsen, without whose foresight there would be no Mariners and certainly no DRAM. . .

. . .so when I first saw him break ranks and start jumping up and down, waving his arms, and yelling, I thought it was just part of The Mariner’s Show. . . turns out he parked his car in the tow zone. . .

. . . surprised he didn’t talk himself right into a ticket for disorderly on top of the tow charges. . .nicest cop EVER!

Chester Fife and Drum Corps, Chester, CT, founded 1868. Its leader, Dan Silliman, is said to have been taught to drum by a freed slave. Playing the part of Dan Silliman, Drum Major, today is Frenchy. . . don’t ask “Frenchy who,” it’s just Frenchy.

Adamsville Ancients from Delmar, NY.

Milford Volunteers from Milford, CT, just a few weeks out from their own muster in June.

Camden Continentals, Camden NY. Have to say, missed the sweet, off-pitch sounds of our old friend, Frank N. Fife, but maybe we can coax him to make a cameo appearance come October. . .

Say what?? We’re next????

Yes you are, so beat feet, boy, and get in line! Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, founded 1860. . .

. . . playing the same drums in the same way as did their founders so many years ago.

Taggart Pipe Band, Deep River, CT. Always at DRAM. . . and Westbrook. . .

Yalesville Senior Fife and Drum Corps, Yalesville [Wallingford] CT, founded 1879.

Westbrook Juniors, Westbrook, CT

Colonial Musketeers Senior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps, Hackettstown, NJ. . looks like a few juniors are helping out, too. . . seniors??? You mean there IS life after age 18??? Who’da thunk it!

Black River Fife and Drum Corps. . . they say they’re from New England and New York, which is a nice way of saying their members come from just about anywhere. . . and how would you expect anything but “nice” from David and Kathy? Love you two!

Windsor Fife and Drum Corps, Windsor, CT. . . Fran, these kids did you proud today!

Colonial Navy of Massachusetts, Fall River, MA. Counted 2 Bill Harts and at least 1 Walt Sweet in the lines. . .

You can always tell where Jim Smith has been from the drum corps he has left behind. . . Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps, Lafayette, IN. Led admirably by Malcolm Duncan.

Sailing Masters of 1812, Essex, CT

Colonel John Chester Fife and Drum Corps from Wethersfield, CT. . . home to a pile of Masons, until they all grew up and joined the Patriots. . .

Looks like AA Sherman Field Music, Uxbridge, MA. Pay no attention to the Tobacco Valley Gang fifer who snuck in there, anything from Uxbridge means it’s unique Emerick combination of history and quality. . . miss you, Benny!

Kentish Guards, Greenwich, RI. A little out of the Valley, but in an area rich in musical history. . .heard some of that today on stand. . .

3rd Maine Infantry, Yarmouth, ME, with a little help from friend Bruce Syarto, ex-Lincoln Street School and now sunny Florida.

Marquis of Granby, Granby, CT. . . the only fife and drum corps that can say “we were founded by The Pope!”

Totoket Ancients (and friends), Branford, CT

Uniforms from the Civil War, hats from the Quaker Oat Man. . . CT Valley Fifes and Drums, Middletownish, CT.

Speaking of Jim Smith, here he is leading the Monumental City Ancients, Baltimore, MD.

Fifes and Drums of Yorktown [VA]

William Diamond Juniors Fife and Drum Corps, Lexington, MA. . . aptly named, I think!

Ah, the skillful baton-work of the one and only Billy Pierpont leading the Mattatuck Drum Band from Waterbury, CT

Lovely group, interesting uniforms, all the way from Colorado.

Have no clue. . .some type of alumni corps?

Chefs? Admirers of Young Dr. Kildare? Nope, it’s the Ameri-Clique of New Britain, CT

Looks like Sudbury Ancients to me.

From way up north by Middletown. . . yes, a state as small at CT does indeed have a “north,” it just takes less time to get there.

Vic’s Kids all grown up and keeping the spirit alive.

Another one of those northern corps, the Higganum-Haddam Fifes and Drums. . . for whom the trip to Deep River is, oh, I’d say maybe 10 minutes. . .

Don’t know who they are, but their drums look nice, don’t they?

Color guard leading the Colchester Continentals from Colchester, CT. Lots of old Marlborough in here!

Connecticut Rebels, Danbury (or thereabouts) CT.

The 4-Her’s, helped out by their Quahog friends. Not sure exactly where they are from, somewhere around Boston’s North Shore, I think.

Fifes and Drums of the Delaware Militia. Newark, DE.

What looks like a butt-view of people taking pictures is actually the approach of F-Troop. It was huge this year, extending down the road as far as one can see. . .

. . . getting closer, but they still extend down the road as far as one can see. . .

. . . if you look to the left of the speed limit sign past the trees, you can see the ambulance marking the end of F-Troop. . . if you haven’t heard “Downfall” or “Jaybird” or “Rally” played by about 500 fifers and drummers, then you simply must make it to the next DRAM, my friend!

No Foolin’ Jam, 2012

What better place to be on a sunny spring Saturday than the Hibernian Club in Albany surrounded by fifes, drums, and the fine players thereof: Image





Village Volunteers abounded, in various states of membership:





Western NY was well represented, too, by the fine fifers of Towpath Volunteers and Excelsior Brigade…




..and even some Camden Continental drummers:




More Yorkers:   Old Man Vinny with his Old Man Drum, and Old Man George, Maker of Old Man Drum. . .”Hey George!  When are ya gonna make some Old Lady Drums?”


N.B. Let it be known that someone who may or may not be associated with this blog took pity upon St. Patrick (seen here in the background attempting to cover his ears). . . just sayin'. . .in case anybody finds bright yellow earplugs stuck in his ears. . .



Everyone knows these famous Sons and Daughters:




I hear they are changing the name to the Sons, Daughters, and Granddaughters of Liberty (said namesake seen here dozing off despite a rousing Paddy O’Toole):




With the jollification in full swing:


I hear that a few years ago one of these drummers, who may or may not be a rocket scientist, traded an original Gus Moeller drum for a Cooperman and actually thought *he* got the better of the deal!


Watching fingers, a sure-fire way to learn new tunes, Ancient style.


“Excuse me, I hafta go to the bathroom!”







The Lone Drummer from Warehouse Point, proving that yes, indeed, there IS life after Robin!


In fact, Warehouse Point has never sounded better!



More Warehouse Point, and a New York Ancient, just for fun 🙂




The Troopers may be taking a year off, but not *these* Troopers:





A candidate for the Corps of Invalids and Wounded:


LOVE his Sue-sized drum, I want me one of those!



There were plenty of Peeler Product showing up in the fife line (Patricia and Sabrina, making those Firth&Pond Model Peelers sing):





Peeler Squealer, the Pretty-In-Pink model:




But the Swirly Acrylics were the hit of the day, available in Brilliant Blue, Radiant Red, Gorgeous Green, Pretty Pumpkin, Boring Black, and Hideous Gray:


Blue is my favorite, but I'm still waiting for one in Pretty Purple. . .



Ron Peeler, President of the World-Famous Peeler Fife Manufactory headquartered in beautiful downtown Moooooooooodus, ready to make a deal:


What??? Do I see one in Bordello Yellow????



A pause for refreshment. . . mmmmm, beer. . .




And don’t forget the muster meal. . . yum!




It was great to see Shippin’ George, that sumbitch:




Buy your raffle tickets here!




Raffle Goodies:




Something for everyone, even Shippin’ George:




Genuine Handcrafted Persimmon Fife destined for the Moodus 2012 Muster bonfire,  until saved by this sweet child, who promises to play Yankee Doodle on it at NoFoolin’ 2013:


"Yes, it does!


More jammin’…












"and it stopped / short / never to run again..."










Uh, no, he lies.  I can, with 100% certainty, say that that is NOT Sue:  Too much facial hair, for one thing, and definitely not enough Diet Coke, those are dead give-aways.


Thanks, Adamsville, for a wonderful day!!