Saturday, September 6, 2008

Abner Stevens -- The Other Drum Maker

Although drums by Eli Brown and family get a lot of attention, a bit north (in Pittsfield, Massachusetts) contemporary Abner Stevens was doing well making and selling drums.

Early in 1809, Abner Stevens removed the drum-making business, which, he bad for some years carried on at Hancock, to Pittsfield, where he built a shop on North street, between Fenn street and the Boston and Albany railroad. Under the militia-laws, [189] which then existed in all the states, every town had at least one military company; and the most essential of all its equipments was the drum. The captain's sword or the private's musket might be supplied by some imperfect substitute; but a drum, and a passably good one, could not be dispensed with. Mr. Stevens made a good rattling instrument, and his business could not but thrive. The war added the national government to the number of his patrons; and, being industrious and economical, he made a handsome fortune. Under the perpetual incitement of the martial music of his own manufacture, he was of course an ardent war-democrat. The History of Pittsfield, (Berkshire County,) Massachusetts, From the Year 1800 to the Year 1876 ... by Joseph E. A. Smith, C.W. Bryan & Co. Springfield, pub. 1876, p. 188, 189.

... Reuben D. Wollison married on August 1, 1852, Mary Stevens, a native of Pittsfield. Her birth took place at the corner of South and West streets, where the new Wendell House now stands, May 6, 1827. Her father, Abner Stevens, kept a general store, and he also manufactured drums, which he sent to all parts of the world. He acquired a large estate in Pittsfield which fell to his heirs. ... Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Berkshire County, Massachusets, by Rollin Hillyer Cooke, vol. II, The Lewis Publishing Co., New York, p. 421.

Specifications:

A portion of a yahoo group thread titled New drummers to hobby in yahoo group "18cMusic · 18th Century Field Musick" attributed to joewhitney1:
As for the early 19th century, here are the US Quarter Master / Purveyors specifications of February 1812 detailing the construction of US drums. I have an 1821 16x16 made by Abner Stevens, He sold drums made to these specifications to the US army:

- Diameter of the Shell from 15 ¾ to 16 Inches made of white oak with 7 Inch Cap [sic], 79 brass nails, depth from 14 ½ to 15 Inches, about 1/8 Inch thick

- Brace hoops 1 ¾ Inches deep & 3/8 Inches thick made of hicory, rounded on the top, flesh hoops 1 7/8 Inches wide & full ¼ Inches thick, made of hicory.

- Inside hoops ¼ Inchs wide full ¼ Inches thick

- Batter head Calfskin, Snare head Sheep skin, Snares made of Sheeps gut well finished.

- Cord 11 ¼ yards long well finished

- 10 Braces 6 ½ Inches long, 1 7/8 Inches wide

- Drum Carriage 1 ¼ Yards white worsted web 1 ½ Inches wide finished with leather & button.

- Drum Sticks 18 Inches long of heavy west India wood,

- Osnabrig [osnaburglinen] Cases made to draw with a Small cord of hemp or flax.

So 16x16 was probably the most popular size for the typical drum maker, and surviving Mexican War US regimental drums show 16x16 was the government standard by then. But you also had big drums still out there, like Eli Brown types.

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