Performance Programs

Sara & Maynard Johnson

Music Instruments & Music
in the Colonial Era

Music Instruments & Music in the Colonial Era

  • Fiddle, Kit, Dulcimer, Harpsichord and Pianoforte, Flutes, Pipe & Tabor, cello bass, hautboy, harp, and rarely - bassoon, clarinet, French horn
  • Dulcimer – parent of the pianoforte
      • History – Pantaleon Heibenstreit and Bartolomeo Cristofori
      • In German speaking areas by mid 18th century  a common ensemble was a violin, dulcimer, and cello-sized bass.
      • A couple of newspaper ads in the 1750s for various dulcimer instructors...
      • John Beals, “Musick Master from London”. Advertised that he taught the violin, oboe, German and Common flute, and the “Dulcimer” by note.

Gentlemen’s Instruments

  • Gentlemen in the Tuesday Club, colonial Annapolis, played violins and viola da gamba, cello, flutes, French horn, organ and harpsichord, and a bassoon. Another man played a hammer dulcimer as accompaniment to a cello, at one of the club meetings.
  • Fiddling and singing contests advertised in VA Gazette as early as 1730s. Entrants told they would be provided with “Liquor sufficient to clear their wind-Pipes...”
  • Thomas  Jefferson and Patrick Henry, the fiddlers - Jefferson’s kits,
  • Flutes - Bird songs and Bird Fancier’s Delight – the bird recorder

Ladies’ instruments

    • English guitar – 10 wire strings
      • The song Ally Croaker was written for an actress who accompanied herself “on the guitar, a new instrument
      • Sold as a "very easy instrument for young ladies", if too difficult, just “buzz the strings lightly”.
    • Keyboards – Harpsichord and pianoforte
      • Jefferson thought about getting a pianoforte but finally rejected it.
      • Jefferson had a celestine attachment made for his daughter Patsy’s harpsichord. It used bows of moving silk bands, a sort of distant cousin to the hurdy gurdy.
      • One of these early inventions was praised because it  “can be used to please women and children who otherwise do not greatly care for music - and also for the amusement of very respectable people when they are a little tipsy from a good drink.”
  • Copy books, Sheet music – Scottish music and music publishers – popular written music

Harp – Irish harpers in America

      • Michael Keane, with Governor Dobbs of North Carolina
      • Another blind harper John Keenan married a French governess, and they went to America together.
      • Sir William Johnson brought an Irish harper to play at Johnstown in the Mohawk Valley.
  • Banjo - a black instrument, its original roots in a variety of African instruments
  • As early as 1769, white banjo players performed in blackface,
  • Many slaves and free Africans played other instruments, primarily fiddle – sometimes for dances.
      • Some composed, but little written music survived
      • Pompey Ran Away and Old Plantation Girls are two examples


  • Song for a Linnet, Lord Dunmore’s Quickstep, Greensleeves and Captain MacHeath, Trumpet Minuet (Fithian and Robert Carter), Coilsfield House, Daffyd Garrygwen, Pompey Ran Away, others
  • Poem:  Music’s a crotchet, the sober think it vain.