Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Drummer and Fifer Lewis Bright, 47th Regiment of Foot

Each British infantry regiment included in its ranks a number of drummers and fifers. We refrain from calling these men "musicians" because many regiments also had a band of music whose members were called musicians (often these men were private soldiers who also played an instrument, but that's another story). 

Before the war began, the established strength of each of the regiment's ten companies included one drummer. Soon after hostilities began, regimental strength was increased and a second drummer was added to each company - but this role often went unfilled; many regiments continued to field with only one drummer in each company. The established strength also included two fifers for the entire regiment. On the muster rolls these men are listed as part of the grenadier company. Regiments could have more fifers, but the government allowed for only two. Because additional fifers were not on the establishment, they don't appear on the muster rolls - meaning that we have no way of knowing whether they existed or not. 

We tend to think of drummers and fifers as boys too young to serve as private soldiers. Some certainly were, but boys grow up and many drummers and fifers remained in this role for long military careers. It was also quite common for men to enlist at typical adult ages and begin serving as drummers or fifers. An example is Lewis Bright, born in Gloucestershire, on 25 December 1747. 

We know nothing of Bright's early life, but when the drums beat for recruits to fight a new war in America he answered the call. At the age of 27 he enlisted with a recruiting party belonging to the 47th Regiment of Foot. The 47th had been in America since 1773 and saw serve in New Jersey and New York before joining the Boston garrison. By the time Lewis Bright and other recruits were ready to embark for America in the summer of 1776, however, the 47th Regiment had been sent to Canada. 

Recruits for the army in Canada arrived too late in 1776 to join their regiments immediately; the harsh winter climate made it too difficult to go from Quebec, the usual Canadian port of arrival, to the various garrisons where the army spent the winter (the 47th was distributed among posts at St. Luce, Recollet, St. Geneviere and St. Lawrent). The recruits finally joined their regiments in the summer of 1777. 

Lewis Bright first appears on the 47th's rolls as a drummer. Almost 30 years old, he was soon sailing south on Lake Champlain as part of the expedition under General Burgoyne. It was not long before he had a taste of combat at the battle of Hubbardton on 7 July 1777. Although drummers are sometimes considered non-combatants, Bright was clearly in the thick of the fighting: he was wounded three times. 

His wounds did not put him out of service. He continued south with the army towards Albany. In September one of the officers in his company, Lieutenant Poole England, was ordered by General Burgoyne to take dispatches from the front lines back to Fort Ticonderoga. He took drummer Bright with him, entrusting Bright to carry the papers. On 18 September they reached the north end of Lake George, one of a series of posts established to maintain a supply line from Fort Ticonderoga to the Hudson River. Here they were captured. 

Lt. England, being an officer, was granted a parole that allowed him to return to Canada, but a drummer was not entitled to such an indulgence. Still carrying the precious military correspondence, Lewis Bright took matters into his own hands. He managed to overpower and kill the sentry who had been placed guard over him, made his escape and delivered the dispatches to the commander of the Fort Ticonderoga garrison. 

The bulk of the 47th Regiment was not so fortunate, being among the troops surrendered at Saratoga in October. Two companies of the regiment were not present at that capitulation and returned to Canada. He remained in the Canada-based army for the remainder of the war, appearing on the muster rolls sometimes as a drummer and sometimes as a fifer. In October 1782 the 47th Regiment soldiers in Canada were drafted into the 8th Regiment of Foot garrisoning Fort Niagara. 

When the war ended, men who had enlisted after it commenced were entitled to be discharged if they wished. Lewis Bright took this option and accepted his discharge in June 1784, having served 8 years in the army. He remained in Canada. In 1786 at the age of 38 he married a woman 20 years his junior. They settled in York (present-day Toronto), seat of the government of Upper Canada; during the ensuing years the couple had eight sons and eight daughters. In 1796 he joined a military corps called the Royal Canadian Volunteers, serving with them for the next six years. When the city was attacked by American forces during the War of 1812, Bright brought his own musket and ammunition to join the defenders. 

That same year, the 64-year-old war veteran was appointed as a messenger to the Legislative Council, a post that earned a steady salary. He diligently fulfilled this role until 1840 when, at 94 years of age, he petitioned the legislature to grant his retirement, which they accepted and granted him a generous pension. When Lewis Bright died on 11 November 1842, he had been the oldest resident of Upper Canada.


  1. Great article, thanks for posting it! I reenact the 47th Foot of 1781. It's always interesting to read about the lives of ordinary soldiers.

  2. thanks for this article. Lewis bright was my ggg grandfather. my family search had dead ended at ann bright,his daughter who married james padfield in 1827 in york upper canada. thanks again

    1. I am also descended from him, can take his history back further through Bitton, gloucester, England. Would like to contact others researching.