Sunday, December 13, 2009

More on the First Corps of Cadets and the 1834 Drum by H. Prentiss (Boston), Painting by Charles Hubbard.

Readers of this blog will recall an earlier post concerning a most beautifully painted 1834 drum by H. Prentiss of Boston, painted by American landscape artist and sign painter Charles Hubbard, "Historic Drum of the First Corps of Cadets, Massachusetts", this blog, March 19, 2008.

In this post, information from an old version of the Town of Winchester's official website was provided to us by Terry Cornett who restored the drum to playable condition, is republished to give us some insight into the military unit that commissioned and used the drum, as well as a famous progenetor, Col. William P. Winchester.

Terry Cornett wrote:

My first encounter with the “Prentiss Drum,” was in January of 2006, when I was contacted by Mrs. Kim McDowell, who was the owner. She and her husband ran Eagle Trading Company in Cottondale, Florida[, an antique shop].

When she first contacted me, she was attempting to restore the drum herself and needed rope and leather tuning ears to complete the task. I ordered “Eli Brown” style leather ears from Cooperman Fife and Drum Company, as well as 50 feet of Cooperman’s 4-strand linen cordage.

In July 2006, she contacted me [again], saying [that] she was unable to re-assemble the drum and asked if she could ship it to me for completion. I eagerly accepted the charge.

The drum arrived disassembled and I took inventory of the parts supplied and informed Mrs. McDowell as to what was required to restore the drum. Only one hoop was included, so I ordered a blank from Cooperman, which I would eventually shape and glue to fit the drum. I failed to measure accurately and the final drum now has a narrower hoop on the top head. I attempted to match the paint color with the bottom hoop.

The bottom hoop was broken in two, and required repair. I sandwiched a thin piece of brass (I believe) between the hoop plies and secured the two ends with screws. I then shaped wooden inserts to fill the gaps of lost wood. These can be seen in the accompanying photographs.

Unfortunately, the heads had been off the drum so long, the flesh hoops had warped to the point the heads looked like potato chips. The original skins were extremely thin, and attempts to remove them from the old flesh hoops and re-tuck on new hoops proved futile. I ordered new calfskin and new flesh hoops (unglued, so I could properly size them to the shell and counterhoops.

I repaired and reshaped the bearing edges, gluing and filling as necessary.

The drum did not have snares of any kind; but it was obvious, from observing the hoop, that snares were an original item. I utilized some old catgut and fashioned leather butt-plates to secure them. Mechanical snare strainers were not very common when this drum was made [1834]. Snares were often simply “clamped” in place by the counterhoops.

When I start reassembling the drum, I notice the McDowells had “antiqued” the leather ears by placing them in hot fireplace ashes. In fact, one had its leather tie burned in two. Luckily, I had them purchase 10 ears; but the drum only need 9.

The McDowells had always wanted to resell the drum but [thought that] the drum would not bring a good price unless it was complete. I went one step further and made a “player” out of it. I sent photos of the drum to the McDowells and they [thought] the rope was too white, so I replaced it with Hungarian hemp.


In 2008, I saw Ellis Mirsky’s FieldDrums blog and there was the drum I had restored. From the photograph, I could tell that the top hoop was the same as when I made it. *** [A]pparently the drum had changed hands a few times in the last couple of years. ***

I have attached photos I took upon arrival, during repairs and its completion. I regret I did not take more detailed photos. I am also including a document I sent the McDowells, which I copied from the Internet and highlighted a section about the Corps of Cadets.



Who was the man for whom the Town of Winchester was named? Before being approached by the incorporation committee, Col. Winchester had no known association with the area, though he may have been known by reputation, he and his family having been prosperous and socially prominent for many generations.

William Winchester was a descendant of John Winchester of Kent Co., England, who left England with his wife Hannah and arrived in Boston in 1835, later living in Hingham and Brookline. John Winchester was apparently a successful farmer and a prominent citizen, being a surveyor and constable. His son John, from whom the Colonel descended, was also a prominent citizen of Brookline, being a signer of the 1704 petition to incorporate Muddy River as Brookline and becoming its first representative to the General Court. Other descendants also prospered. In the fifth generation, Edmund Winchester, father of our Colonel, was born in 1772 in Newton where his father was a rich farmer. He moved to Boston as a young man and married in 1796. When his father died in 1798, Edmund inherited the largest portion of his estate.

Becoming a merchant, Edmund Winchester espoused a profession which made him a wealthy man and part of the social elite in the young Republican nation. He was founder and senior partner of the firm of E. A. and W. Winchester(5) of Boston, wholesale merchants, and soap manufacturers. Eventually Edmund’s sons William and Stephen also came into the firm. In Boston business directories of the 1840s, E. A. and W. Winchester is listed under the categories “Salt Provisions Wholesale” and “Soap and Candle Manufacturers.” During Edmund’s time, a major customer was the U.S. Navy which contracted with the Winchester firm for its supplies for 30 years or more. At the dissolution of the firm in 1866, according to descendant Fanny Winchester Hotchkiss who wrote a family history, it was “one of the oldest and heaviest firms in Boston.”(6) Civically minded like his forbears, Edmund was elected a representative of the Massachusetts Legislature (1820-1822) and was a director of the Merchants National Bank of Boston (1833-1837).

William, Edmund Winchester’s eldest surviving son, was born on Nov. 9, 1801 in Boston. In 1823, he adopted the middle name Parsons by an act of the Legislature to distinguish himself from another William Winchester in Boston. Upon his father’s death in 1839, William Winchester succeeded his father as head of the firm. According to the family historian, “William P. Winchester was a prominent merchant, well known in Boston for his business ability and public spirit, also for his excellent judgment and great foresight in mercantile affairs. His untiring industry, firmness and self-reliance enabled him for many years to carry out with great success a large and important business, and at his death in 1850 was one of the wealthiest men in Boston, his estate being valued at upwards of half a million dollars, a large fortune for that period. He possessed more than a common share of natural shrewdness.”(7)

Married to the heiress Eliza Gill Bradlee, only daughter of Thomas and Mary Bradlee of Boston, William P. Winchester lived in Boston. Unlike some of his forbears, he did not get involved in politics. “Had he desired, [he] might have sought an official or political career, but...had no inclination and too much integrity to employ his wealth for the purchase of political favor.”(8) However, he did hold corporate posts, as a director of the Boston Exchange Company and a director of the Merchants Bank of Boston.

Col. Winchester was a very social man. “Unbounded in hospitality, he entertained in magnificent style. He was a warm-hearted, open-handed gentleman, generous and exceedingly popular.”(9) He was also man of culture. “He was an accomplished scholar in French, Spanish, and Italian and was also a discriminating judge and a liberal patron of the fine arts, enthusiastically fond of music, to which he gave munificent support,” and had a “love for painting.”(10) He no doubt shared his love of music with his uncle Amasa, who was one of the founders, trustees, and presidents of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society.

One of Winchester’s known passions was yachting. This sport was quite the fashion for the merchant class of Winchester’s generation. William Winchester joined the yachting crowd when he bought the Mermaid from shipping magnate Benjamin C. Clark in 1836. In 1839 he launched the Northern Light, reportedly the longest and fastest yacht along the North Shore. It was painted several times by Fitz Hugh Lane, Robert Salmon, and others. “A crimson stripe slashed across the gleaming ebony of her topsides, her bends were varnished bright, and Northern Light’s crew of amateurs was uniformed by her convivial owner in white trousers, red shirts, and straw hats encircled by red bands with flowing ends that were stitched with her name in gold.

The standard ration before and aft the mast was a brandy punch of no uncertain character, called ‘bimbo.’”(11) Bimbo was made from a quart of brandy, six lemons, sugar, and a quart of water. “Its name and fame figured in a popular ditty that was often sung on Northern Light,” according to the Boston Globe (June 21, 1935).

Newspaper photo of Northern Light painting with inserts of Col. Winchester (left) and Louis Winde

“Possessed of much personal charm and endowed with an hospitable heart, Col Winchester’s delight was to take his friends down the harbor, first in the little schooner Mermaid, which he owned long enough to whet his sporting appetite for a larger and faster craft.” He also entered Northern Light in races at Newport, Nahant, and perhaps other places. According to one source, Winchester sold Northern Light late in 1849; according to another it was sold after his death in 1850. Either way, four men bought her and fitted her out for the California gold fields. She was lost in 1850 while trying to negotiate the Straits of Magellan en route to California.

Another of his social activities, the one from which he received his military title, was the First Corps of Cadets. This group originated as early as 1726 as the bodyguard to the royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts under the name Independent Company of Cadets. A cadet then meant not a student in a military college but a gentleman who entered the army without a commission to learn the military profession. Prospective cadets had to be nominated by a member and had to be able to afford to purchase their own uniforms and pay dues for the upkeep of the company.

The corps’ most famous commander was John Hancock who joined in 1766 and became commander in 1772. He, however, did not get along with the royal governor, Lt. Gen. Sir Thomas Gage, who dismissed Hancock. This outraged the cadets, whose custom was to elect their own officers, and they disbanded in August 1774. Two years later they reorganized and took part in various campaigns of the Revolution. In 1786, the group was reorganized with the name First Corps of Cadets (12) and was accorded the honor of continuing to serve as the governor’s official bodyguard. It was given the insignia and colors it still has, a sunburst star with the motto Monstrat Viam (“it shows the way”).

Between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the heyday of the volunteer militia movement, the Boston corps served a mostly ceremonial function, particularly as an escort for very important persons, such as President Washington and Gen. Lafayette, when they visited Boston. The Boston Cadets frequently changed their uniforms to be the most splendidly clad unit in Boston. Because of the expense, only wealthy young men could afford to join, and the corps was very much a social club.

Winchester was elected a “fine member” of the corps in Feb. 1831. “Fine members” participated in all social activities of the corps but were excused from military duties on payment of an assessment or fine. They were required to have uniforms and were expected to turn out for parade. According to Corps records, Winchester was absent from the annual inspections in July of 1832 and 1833, but there is no further mention of him until 1842. That August some Maryland cadets visited, and there was a levee at his house at Franklin Place–i.e., a party with wine, music, dancing, etc.

Then, when he enlisted as an active member that October, he was immediately and unanimously elected Lt. Colonel (the rank of all the corps’ commanders). According to the Cadets’ museum, he probably bought his colonelcy, a common practice in the militia companies of the period which he could well afford. According to the treasurer’s report of May 1843, he gave the cadets a gift of $1,075 (purpose unknown, though probably a payment for something). He commanded the Cadets from October 1842 to August 1844. As an indication of how pressing his military duties were, Winchester took a grand tour of Europe in 1843, during the second half of his command years.(13) On the eve of his furlough, July 4, 1843, he invited cadets to accompany him on a fishing expedition on board Northern Light. The records indicate he was back from France by July 2, 1844, and he resigned on Aug. 5.

Since the corps was a ceremonial and socially elite body, it may be supposed that Winchester’s European tour was a success for the corps as well as Winchester himself, for he wore his uniform and bore his title to the centers and courts of Europe.

According to his diary, he was twice presented to King Louis Philippe. On the first occasion, “I was in a new Cadet uniform and introduced as Lieut. Col. Winchester, ‘Commander of the Body Guard of the Governor of Massachusetts.’ The King asked me what Corps I commanded, and I replied as above–he then said ‘it was a post of great honor.’ I said, in reply, ‘I appreciate it as such, Your Majesty.’”

On the second occasion, a grand reception at the Palace, he wrote, “The Duke of Nemours asked me, as follows–’What uniform is it, sir, that you wear?’ I replied, “The uniform of the Independent Corps of Cadets of Boston, the Body Guard of the Governor of Massachusetts,’ he immediately replied–’It is a splendid uniform, sir.’ I bowed to the Duke for the compliment, thanking His Highness for his good opinion of it and retired much gratified.”(14)

The cadets, of whom there were about 66 in the unit as of January 1843, must have liked their commander. They presented him with a silver pitcher and salver on the eve of his departure for his European trip. The corps commissioned a piece of music, Winchester’s Quick Step, “respectfully dedicated” to him and performed in a parade in January 1843 and again on his return from France in July 1844.(15) Though evidently a likable man, there is an indication that Col. Winchester could actually have been a terror at times. An intriguing note on the back of his Cadets membership card says, “Beat a Boston Editor nearly to death for lampooning his daughter’s wedding festival.”

About 1848-49, Winchester had built a grand summer home in Watertown, surrounded by beautiful grounds which extended to the Charles River so that he could sail his yacht to his own home.

photo by Peter Engeldrum

Shortly afterward, at the age of 49, the Colonel died unexpectedly. He was interred in the family tomb at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge.

photo by Peter Engeldrum

As noted above, the family had some correspondence with and gave gifts to the Town of Winchester but apparently had no other association with the town. However, two grandchildren of the colonel’s brother Stephen were born in Winchester, and, though the family apparently did not stay in town, the colonel’s great-nephew, Henry Winchester Cunningham donated a copy of a family history he compiled to the Winchester library.

1) George Cooke, “Waterfield,” The Winchester Record. A revised copy of his map has been printed in Henry Smith Chapman, History of Winchester Massachusetts, revised edition, Winchester, 1975.
2) Chapman, p. 162
3) Quoted in Chapman, p. 163.
4) The Hoyt portrait was done posthumously. Another posthumous portrait, this one of the Colonel in uniform by W. W. Churchill, hangs at the Cadets Museum in Boston.
5) The E, A, and W, stand presumably for the brothers Edmund, Amasa, and William.
6) Fanny Winchester Hotchkiss, Winchester Notes, New Haven, Conn.: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co., 1912.
7) Ibid., p. 111.
8) Ibid.
9) Ibid., p. 112.
10) Ibid., pp. 111-112.
11) Joseph Garland, Boston’s North Shore. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.
12) The corps’ name changed several times. During William Winchester’s era it was known as the Independent Corps of Cadets.
13) Since the Colonel died in 1850, further history of the Corps is outside the scope of this history; however, it should be mentioned that the group did more than show off splendid uniforms on parade. The cadets served in the Civil War and all succeeding conflicts, except the Spanish-American War. In the 20th century it became part of the National Guard. Reorganized and redesignated many more times, it served as infantry, engineers, antiaircraft artillery, cavalry, armor, infantry again, and signal, and, after World War I, the Corps became a battalion of military police. In 1996 it consolidated with the Military Police as the Headquarters Detachment, 211th Military Police Battalion.
14) The location of the diary is unknown, if indeed it still exists. These excerpts were copied from the diary, and the typescript is in the collection at the Cadets Museum in Boston.
15) The composer of the quickstep was Adam Kurek, composer and band leader.


  1. I have some information on Northern Light, his Yacht, if you care to respond.


  2. You should have credited Dr. Ellen Knight, Reference Archivist for the Town of Winchester, as the author of the Winchester biography, originally posted on the Town of Winchester Website.

    1. Thank you for that information which is now part of the blog as a comment from an anonymous commenter. The intention of our use of italics in the text was to specifically deny original authorship, and acknowledge that the information was imported from elsewhere. Happy to have the attribution information.

      As we write in the right-hand column of the blog:

      For the lawyers out there, this is not a scholarly journal. It's an amateur collection of information about field drums, a subject given precious little attention. On the theory that the "fair use" doctrine of copyright law allows such use for non-commercial educational purposes, we've taken photographs and text freely and without express permission from various sources on the Internet. Whenever possible, work created by others is set in italics so as to distinguish it from original writing. However, if at times we fail to do so, there is no intent to take credit for someone else's work. It is merely the result of a lack of perfection, something which we readily admit. Photographs and italicized text should be considered attributed to the sources identified near them, even if not expressly so stated. If you believe that anything written here is incorrect or if you can add to our learning, please feel free to email us. We guarantee a prompt and courteous reply as well as express attribution for any information or photographs provided.
      "I have gon, and rid, and wrote, and sought and search'd with my own and friends' Eyes, to make what Discoveries I could therein. * * * I stand ready with a pencel in one hand, and a Spunge in the other, to add, alter, insert, expunge, enlarge, and delete, according to better information. And if these my pains shall be found worthy to passe a second Impression, my faults I will confess with shame, and amend with thankfulnesse, to such as will contribute clearer Intellence unto me." Fuller's "Worthies of England," 1662. Increase Blake of Boston, His Ancestors and Descendants, etc., Blake, Francis E., Boston, Mass., 1898, Press of David Clapp & Son.


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