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"The President's Own"


A History of the United States Marine Band by Col. John R. Bourgeois (Ret)

Marine music dates back to the colonial period in Philadelphia, where in 1775 recruiters along with fifers and drummers "drummed up" the first enlistees for the Continental Marines. The drums, emblazoned with a coiled rattlesnake and the motto "Don't Tread on Me," caught the eye of Benjamin Franklin; and later the design was used on the first American battle flag.

From 1775 to 1783 these drummers and fifers served afloat and participated in the naval engagements of the Revolution. They also served ashore with the Army at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Penobscot Bay. The end of the Revolution in 1783 marked nearly the end of everything military in our country. From then until 1797 the only Marines were those serving on the few vessels that some of the states maintained. When the United States Navy was born in 1797 with the launching of three frigates Marine fifers and drummers served on them.

The United States Marine Band, known as "The President's Own," traces its origins to 11 July 1798, when President John Adams signed an Act of Congress that created a corps of Marines and authorized "...a drum major, a fife major, and thirty-two drums and fifes." Some of the thirty-two drummers and fifers of the new Marine Corps were sent out on recruiting duty; some fell in battle on board American warships in the French Naval War from 1798 to 1801.

In 1798 Marine Corps Commandant Major Barrows assessed every officer of the Corps ten dollars (a second Lieutenant earned twenty-five dollars a month) for acquiring suitable musicians. These musicians were instrumentalists other than drummers and fifers and were the true ancestors of today's Marine Band.

Two years later the national Capital moved from Philadelphia to Washington and the Corps moved with it. Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Burrows showed his regard for his "musics" by taking them with him personally. They arrived in the middle of July 1800 and on the 31st pitched their tents on a "beautiful hill overlooking the Potomac"-the site today adjoins the State Department near Georgetown.

The first documented concert by the Marine Band in Washington City was on 21 August 1800 under the direction of Drum Major William Farr. There is no record of what instruments were played by the band on this date, but on 31 August Commandant Burrows wrote Lieutenant Edward Hall in New York to "procure and send with all convenient dispatch the articles hereafter mentioned-

"2 French horns, 2 C Clarinets, 1 Bassoon, 1 Bass Drum, 2 feet & 1/2 long and 2 feet in diameter. Let some reeds be sent for the Clarinets and Bassoon. You must endeavor to have them selected by a judge of musical instruments."
By December the inventory consisted of two oboes, two clarinets, two French horns, a bassoon and a drum. For several months efforts to secure a bass drum were unsuccessful.

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