Maker: Stephen Emory
Dimensions: 16”(dia) x 15”(h)
The time period of the early 1800s in America was one of expansion and war. From left-over British aggression in the Old Northwest Territory and on the seas, hostile Indian raids from all corners, the far-off wars for Texas independence, problems with Spanish Florida, to the distant Pirates of the Barbary Coast and Algiers: Americans had good reason to be “gunning-up.” While there has always been a militia presence from the very beginning of American settlement, nothing like the period that started immediately before the War of 1812 to the door-steps of the Civil War would rival the boom and popularity of the State and local militia movement: except the pomp and circumstance that accompanied it.
A militia unit’s primary responsibility was to defend their state, country and homes from invasion. However, in most areas of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, the period following the War of 1812 would find most militia units responding to emergencies, participating in holiday festivities, local festivals, political rallies, dances, and military parades. While the new norm of relative tranquility prevailed, there were still events at times in certain areas that would still require them to play a more traditional, aggressive, militaristic role.
During the first half of the 1800s, there were literally thousands of militia organizations in the United States and its territories. To be a part of such an organization was looked upon with social status and pride. It was, of course, the social competitiveness that brought about the greatest demand for fancy and ornate gear in order to out-do and dazzle the other organizations. Of all items used by each competing company or regiment, only two would convey the social, economic, and cultural status to which the majority of the members belonged: drums and flags.
During the period existing from the War of 1812 to the Civil War, most military gear, flags and drums were made for the militia. Generally, only the more wealthy and aristocratic units had the finances to bear the expense of the elegant and custom decorated drums. Many of the drums made during this period were not painted with extravagant designs, but retained a more simple approach. This is due to the extra expense of the hiring of a local painter either by the drum maker or the militia group themselves. This would also help explain the wide variety of designs present among the many surviving relics as the customer was paying extra to be different and splendid among rivals.
Formally part of the famed William Guthman Collection of Early Americana, this sturdy relic was hand-crafted and painted by Stephen Emory, of Rindge, NH. The “History of the Town of Rindge” (1875), describes “Capt. Stephen Emory” as a “farmer who made nest boxes and drums as early 1812.” Some sources only credit Emory as a drum maker from 1835-1845, but this is a somewhat short-sighted view. Stephen Emory was born in 1779 and died in 1874 at the age of 95. Although this drum has no maker’s label, it is certainly the work of Emory as he was consistent with his design and there are several labeled and identical examples available to compare with. Emory’s label generally reads: “Drums of the Best Kind and of All Sizes Made and Sold by Stephen Emory, Rindge, N.H.”
Exclusive to Emory’s drums was his personal interpretation of the U.S. Arms of the period. Hand painted on a blue field is a flying eagle bearing a shield, clutching a brace of arrows and branches beneath fifteen, six pointed stars: all in mustard, red, and blue paint. The circular blue field, presumably for infantry, is edged outwardly with red and mustard colored paint to form a sunburst motif. Deduced from the surviving body of early drums in general, it’s safe to state that drums with the sun-burst pattern are all but exclusive to the New England area. The rest of the entire shell is painted in a horizontal wood grain pattern of black and purple. Painting of the entire shell seems to be more common and general to the early period prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
The solid maple shell is joined at the scarf joint by natural glue and a single row of iron nails, reinforced by an ivory vent hole. Two thick maple counter hoops are painted to match the shell and held tight in a similar manner. The top counter hoop shows the ravages of time and hard use in a broken and somewhat scalloped fashion. Although slightly battered, these old hoops are still very solid and quite useful.
Prior to entering this collection, the Initial restoration of the drum was completed by my friend and fellow collector, Jack Lawton, of the Lawton Drum Company in Sunbury, PA. The drum was first obtained by a local antiques dealer from the Wm. Guthman Collection auction back in 2006. At that point the drum consisted of only the shell and two counter hoops. Jack fashioned two flesh hoops and tucked the skins to produce both heads and laced the drum with cotton rope. The ears were made from the leather of a century old leather railroad mail bag Jack received from his brother, a rail road enthusiast.
Further restoration by the author included gut snares and a leather snare butt, along with a leather rope washer. For the purpose for attaching the drum to a drum sling, a hand-made wrought iron ring was affixed between the ropes with a length of black leather lace. There was no evidence of a mechanical snare adjuster, but, there is a pair of crude, hand carved snare gates cut into the bottom hoop as well as a rough, hand- carved snare bed in the shell. The snares were then simply run between the shell and bottom hoop and hand pulled to tighten.
Over-all condition of the instrument is very good and produces a loud, deep tone with rattling snares. The appearance of the drum is one of prominence and presence; exemplifying the wealth and social popularity of the antebellum militia movement. One can only imagine the pomp and circumstance of a mighty militia company or regiment marching down the street with fancy flags waving to the airs of a drum corps, resplendent with colorful and booming drums beating the cadence of the day.
The social popularity and status of being part of an early version of today’s National Guard filled thousands of veterans and hopeful young boys, as well as many a prominent citizen, with a certain pride they could not find elsewhere. Regardless of the particular role played, this drum represents the sense of splendor and elegance of the competitive aspects of the antebellum militia movement as it was in its day.
From Lancaster County, PA…….Thoughts from the Shop.