After the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the rebellion. Among the first regiments to respond was Marblehead’s Company C of the 8th Regiment of the Massachusetts Voluntary Militia, arriving at Boston’s Faneuil Hall just days after the outbreak of hostilities.
One onlooker remembered, “The companies immediately formed in line and marched by the flank directly to Faneuil Hall, the fifes and drums playing ‘Yankee Doodle.’”
One of those soldiers drumming the patriotic tune was 36-year-old Marblehead shoemaker Samuel Roads Sr. This was his drum.
A prominent Marbleheader, Samuel Roads served sporadically throughout the Civil War. After his initial 90-day enlistment in 1861, Roads returned home and was elected to the General Court.
A year later, he resigned from the General Court to reenlist as a private in the same unit. He was quickly promoted to second lieutenant and continued as such for the duration of the war.
In between his second and third enlistments, Massachusetts Gov. John Albion Andrew appointed Roads as the recruiting agent for Marblehead.
Roads was politically active throughout his lifetime. He was a Free Soiler in the 1840s, opposing the expansion of slavery into the western territories, and an early proponent of the Republican Party.
In the 1872 presidential campaign, Roads supported the Liberal Republican Horace Greeley against the Republican incumbent and Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant. With Greeley’s defeat, Roads shifted allegiance to the Democratic Party.
Upon his death in December of 1898 at age 73, townspeople remembered Roads as “a man whom it was a pleasure to meet and a valued privilege to know intimately.”
He had a wealth of knowledge accumulated from reading on a wide-range of topics, such that “discussion with him [was] a pleasure to be sought.”
Though his son and namesake, Samuel Roads Jr., might be better known today, thanks to his compendium “History and Traditions of Marblehead,” the senior Roads also left a lasting legacy in Marblehead.
Samuel Roads Sr.’s drum is on display in the Marblehead Museum’s Civil War and Grand Army of the Republic exhibit on the second floor of the Old Town House, 1 Market Square, open by appointment and many holidays. Visit marbleheadmuseum.org for more information.
“From the Vault” is a monthly column highlighting an item from Marblehead Museum’s collection of over 60,000 artifacts. Learn more and explore at marbleheadmuseum.org. Lauren McCormack, the museum’s executive director, pens the column.