Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger



About the Fifes and Drums

With the onset of war in 1775, Virginia began to train an army to defend against a British invasion. Fifers and drummers were an important part of the 18th-century military. Just as Virginia enlisted soldiers and stockpiled arms and ammunition, it also trained fifers and drummers to work with soldiers in the field. In the 18th century, fifers and drummers tended to be boys ages 10 to 18. Today, in modern Williamsburg, members of the Fifes and Drums are boys and girls ages 10 to 18. Learn more about the historic and the modern Fifes and Drums in this interactive learning site that includes images, audio clips, video, and other multimedia, as well as in-depth information on the instruments, uniforms, and current players.

Primary Source of the Month

Eisenbrandt Fife (top)
Eisenbrandt Fife (bottom)
circa 1811
Courtesy of Andrew Parker

During the War of 1812, some American fifers – probably a large number of them – were equipped with fifes made by Heinrich Christian Eisenbrandt (b. 1790, Gottengen, d. 1860), a young German immigrant who at age 18 had fled his native Germany and the wars raging there. The straight, narrow bore and the thin-walled, tapered body with upper body swell found on Eisenbrandt fifes were typical of American fife design. 

Colonial Idol EFT
The Next Electronic Field Trip
is Colonial Idol
December 13, 2012

Watch the finalists perform and vote for your favorite at!

Teaching News

Resources from PBS LearningMedia

This collection of lesson plans with integrated video and multimedia is arranged by subject area and grade level. It compiles learning tools from your students' favorite PBS shows, as well as content from the National Archives, Library of Congress, PBS NewsHour, and American Experience. Sign up for free to explore the site and download standards-aligned materials.

America: The Pocket Guide

Want a new way for you and your students to explore American history and civics? This tiny guide introduces you to a very big idea: no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you believe, you are American if you believe in the idea of America. At the heart of America is a great debate over our shared democratic values: law and ethics, freedom and equality, diversity and unity, common wealth and private wealth. These values are all equally important but constantly in tension. America: The Pocket Guide describes these values and shows how the tensions between them have shaped and continue to shape our history. Want a class set? Bulk discounts are available. Email for more information.

Colonial Williamsburg CONNECT

June Podcasts

The Idea of America
The Idea of America
A digital American history program that inspires and prepares high school students for active citizenship, developed by Colonial Williamsburg and distributed by Pearson Education.

Downloadable American History
Lesson Plans from ABC-CLIO
and Colonial Williamsburg


Teacher Community

Teaching Strategy: Communicating by Fifes and Drums

Do you and your students know the role musicians played in the American Revolution? Fifers and drummers would relay their commanders’ battle orders, communicate daily routines, and provide a discipline system for the troops in the Continental Army as well as militias. They were the battlefield timekeepers and communicators. In this lesson, students learn the importance of fife and drum players during colonial history, as well as some terms associated with battle orders and daily routines. Then they try playing different commands on fifes and drums using household objects.

Colonial Williamsburg Teaching Resources for Your Classroom

2012–2013 Teaching Resources Catalog

Colonial Williamsburg offers a variety of quality American history instructional materials, including:

  • Life in the Continental Army Lesson Unit
  • Soldier's Haversack Hands-on History Kit
  • Songs for a Revolution Lesson Unit and CD

Check out our specials, including 50% off lesson units!

Kids Zone: History, Games & Fun

Quotation of the Month

"Some persons have an idea that the post of a fifer or a drummer is a very easy one. . . .A fifer or drummer has to fill the orders issued and he may be detached in time of war in twenty different directions in a month. . . .the musician occupies a more dangerous post than any officer in the detachment, save the commander. . . .In a word, the whole duty of a musician is therefore not only a laborious one, but one of the greatest hazard and danger."

—Sammy Dewees, a Continental Army fifer, 11th PA, 1777–1783, from his book A History of the Life and Services of Captain Samuel Dewees, a Native of Pennsylvania, and Soldier of the Revolutionary and Last Wars (also Reminiscences of the Revolutionary Struggle). Baltimore: Printed by Robert Neilson, No. 6, South Charles Street, 1844. pgs 225–242.

Facebook Logo
Colonial Williamsburg for Teachers

2010 Distance Learning Award
21st Century Award
for Best Practices in Distance Learning,
United States Distance Learning Association, 2010

2011 AEP Finalist
Distinguished Achievement Award Finalist 2011
Association of Educational Publishers

The Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip Series is supported in part
by the William and Gretchen Kimball Young Patriots Fund.

If you would like to subscribe to the Teacher Gazette, please send an email to with the subject heading "subscribe."

If you would like to be removed from future Teacher Gazette mailings, please send an email to with the subject heading "unsubscribe."