Drummers at Fort George during the War of 1812
Fort George is a classic field fortification of the Napoleonic period. It was garrisoned and maintained as the headquarters of the Centre Division for Crown forces stationed in Upper Canada. Fort George was also the headquarters of the 41st Regiment of Foot at the beginning of the War of 1812.
The infantry battalion was the basic organizational unit of the British regiments that served in Upper Canada. Battalions were usually made up of around five hundred men. Regiments were also divided into ten companies. Each company had one hundred men (paper strength). There were four companies of the 41st Regiment at Fort George at the outbreak of hostilities in 1812. Not all of the drummers were at Fort George. Some followed their companies to remote locations. For example, Drummer William Molesworth was stationed at Fort Malden. Each company was assigned two drummers except for the Grenadier Company who had three. The Light Infantry Company drummers also carried bugles. The total strength of fifes and drums including the Drum Major stood at twenty-two in the regiment. The following is a list of the fifes and drums accounting for a full compliment taken from the Regimental Pay List for September 1811:
Royal Newfoundland Regimental Music at Fort Niagara© Parks Canada
Drum Major Thomas Cummins
Considering the number of officers at Fort George, it's role as a headquarters and the precise nature of army regulations, it is fair to say that the quality of the signals and music was highly scrutinised. In the General Regulations and Orders for the Army from 1811 it states that the Music and the Drums should be frequently practised together, in order that when relieving each other in the Quick March, the time may not differ in the smallest degree, but the Cadence, according to Regulation, be uniformly and uninterruptedly preserved. Fifers and drummers were required to practice five hundred paces from camp for one hour a day. Playing or signalling at inappropriate times could result in punishment. Every detail was attended to right down to the body position while practicing. The following is an excerpt taken from The Art of Playing the Fife by Drum Major Samuel Potter of the Coldstream Guards circa 1815.
"Be careful in keeping the Fife parallel, and the Elbows nearly square: and not to rest the Arms against the sides, when practising from Books, or Papers. The bottom of which (if Convenient) should be put the height of the Boy from the Ground, so that he must hold his Head up to the Notes, which will be the means of opening his Chest and keeping him upright hereafter; which is an ornament to a Fifer. And not to be allowed to sit across a bench, or on the ground, with their Books before them as it prevents them from drawing their Breath freely, and makes them stoop, which being habitual when young makes them round Shoulder'd."
On October 28th, 1815 Colonel Sir E.K. Belson inspected the Regiment and he remarked,
"Unanimity is reported to prevail in the corps, and the officers, according to their station, afford the commanding officer the support he is entitled to require. The privates compose a clean and good body of men. The accoutrements (guns, packs, etc.) Are good in general; some have been received from the ordinance store in Quebec, are not regimental, and have a buckle instead of a plate. The drummers are perfect in their beats. There is no band."
There is some information about individual 41st drummers at Fort George. Jeremiah Elkes joined the 41st as a drummer on the 29th of August 1811 and was referred to as a labourer in enlistment papers. He was five feet eight inches with brown hair and hazel eyes with a fair complexion [these features were noted in case of desertion]. He was born in Edinburgh and joined the regiment at age thirteen. According to his discharge papers it appears he remained a drummer for ten years before entering the ranks as a private for his remaining twenty two years. He served in the East Indies, North America and the Burmese War. He was present at the taking of [Fort] Niagara, Fort Erie, Black Rock and Buffalo as well as Lundy's Lane. In his entire service he was only wounded twice during the Burmese campaign although he was worn out from length of service.' when discharged. While serving he was sentenced for repeated drunkenness' on the nineteenth of October 1821. During discharge proceedings the regimental board were of the opinion that his character is indifferent and that it appears that he had not learned to read or write.
The following is an account of William Molesworth, another drummer in the 41st researched by his fourth great-grandson Tod L. Molesworth. William Molesworth was born and baptised in Birmingham, England April 5, 1779. He was five foot and three inches with brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. He was a nailor by trade maintaining the nails (teeth) on carding machines used for preparing wool or cotton for weaving. William's father died in 1784 when he was only five years old. He had two older sisters Sarah and Rebecca and a third sister who passed away in her first year.
He enlisted in the Perthshire Highland Fencibles raised in 1794 at the age of fourteen. He stayed with them until he ended up in Rathkeale, County Limerick, Ireland where he enlisted in the 41st Regiment of Foot on Christmas Day 1798. Six days later in January 1799 he was taken on strength into Captain Holt Mackenzie's Light Infantry company serving his regiment for the next 18 years and one hundred and forty five days. Another drummer was recruited that day named John Bishop. Like William he was from Birmingham England and served with William as the other light infantry drummer. He was killed at Fort Stephenson August 2, 1813.
William embarked for Quebec from Cork Ireland August 17 1799 on the Asia'. He and his shipmates nearly all died of sickness when a child with smallpox was smuggled on board. There were also bouts of typhoid fever, which accounted for almost two hundred deaths within the regiments first year in Canada. The regiment arrived in Quebec City October 20th 1799 and was posted at Montreal and Halifax. While in Halifax he was posted with Lieutenant William Evans in what appears to be a recruiting party.
Molesworth married Eleanor Fleury in Ireland or Canada. They had their first child while posted in Kingston in 1802. William remained until 1805 when he turned twenty-six years old. At age twenty-six he was posted at Fort Malden in Amherstburg with the Eighth Company from 1805 to 1809 and again from 1811 to 1813. During that period he had three more children. Sarah 1806, Emmanuel 1809 and Margaret 1811. He remained at Fort Malden until its capture in 1813.
William is mentioned in the local merchant Thomas Vercheres' memoirs of the action at Maguaga. He writes, On Tuesday evening, August 7th , a vigorous alarm was sounded, the drummer who patrolled the streets beating the call to arms. I was at dinner with the gentlemen who were staying with me, and I hurried out to ask the drummer what he meant by his racket. His name was Molesworth, of the Forty-first Regiment. He replied that Major Muir was about to cross the river to Brownstown with several companies of soldiers and a large number of Indians to intercept the Americans coming from River Raisin to Detroit with provisions for their army.
William participated in the capture of Fort Detroit in 1812 and received prize money. He also participated in the Battle of the River Raisin 1813 and likely at the siege of Fort Stephenson and Fort Meigs. William was lucky enough not to participate in Battle of Lake Erie and with the collapse of the supply routes to western posts, he became joined the retreat up the Thames which culminated in the Battle of Moraviantown, or the Thames, where the famous Tecumseh was killed, and most of the 41st Regiment captured. Drummer Molesworth was able to escape and make his way to British forces at Burlington Heights.
The 41st merged with its 2nd Battalion when they arrived in Burlington. William was transferred to the 4th Company and remained with them for the duration of the war. In 1813 and 1814 he was at the battle of Fort Niagara, Black Rock, Lundy's Lane, Conjocta Creek and Battle of Fort Erie. At the end of the war he had to leave his family in Canada and was stationed in France and Belgium after the Battle of Waterloo. Posted in Paris, he was encamped at Bois-de-Boulogne and was inspected by the Duke of Wellington.
Molesworth left Paris with the 41st Regiment on November 2 1816 and the company moved its headquarters to Naas Ireland on May 13 1817. William was discharged on June 24, 1817 with his address listed as Canada'. In 1824 William received 100 acres in Drummond Township, Lanark County, Ontario for his service to the Crown. It is believed that William died c. 1844.