The Seward family bands

This is a collection of articles about the Bloomington bands which involved our Seward ancestors. The first article appeared in the Bloomington World, 24 June 1896...


Something about the Tooters of Long Ago

The crowds that throng the sidewalks and blockade the streets with carriages to listen to the weekly concerts of the Bloomington Mechanics' Band know but little about the different stages through which the present organization has evoluted [sic]. From the time John McCrea taught the first band way back in the thirties to the present there have been several changes, especially in the personnel of the organization. As a proof that music has changed in that length of time, we are told that McCrea played a clarinet with the mouth piece upside down. How he did it, even W. H. Seward1 does not know. Bloomington has always been a musical city, and the memory of the oldest inhabitant cannot revert to the time when we did not have a band of some sort or description. It is true that those old timers did not have bespangled uniforms, a pompous drum-major nor a little darkey to hold the music, but they were nevertheless the pride of the townspeople, the heroes of political campaigns, and the envy of the juveniles.

The first band organization in Bloomington was about the year 1838 when Austin Seward,2 grandfather of the present leader, formed what was known as the "Seward Band." It was rightly named, too, for in it was his two sons, John and James, and later their brothers, Bryce3 and William. To hear William B. Seward3 recount some of the exploits of those old times would lead one to infer that even at that early date people knew how to have a good time.

The Harrison campaign of 1840 furnished all the needed opportunities for practice. This band also played at the famous Tippecanoe battle ground celebration. Among the members of this first organization were the Sewards that we have mentioned, of whom John was the leader, Johnson McCullough, Elbert Johnson, Emery Voss4 and William A. Leg [Legg?]. Uniforms were not thought of. In place of the cornet they had the bugle, and for the alto and tenor they had what was known as the Ophe Cleide horn. Also a twisted wooden concern called a serpent.

A strange coincidence is recorded in connection with this band. About 1840 Dr. T. Wylie and wife returned to Bloomington from their bridal tour. The band called at the old house on East Second Street and serenaded them. Fifty years later in the same house the doctor and wife were celebrating the golden anniversary of their wedding. In honor of the event, James Seward,3 one of the serenaders of 50 years before, came and played a solo on the same old clarinet that was blown so joyously a half century past.

The band was reorganized in 1843 with John Seward3 still its leader. In addition to most of the old players, there were David H. and Edward Maxwell,5 Marion Blair and Jesse Kersaw [Corsaw?]. The latter player was very versatile for when alone he played the violin and when in the band he did what all small boys would like to do - beat the bass drum. They had no tenor drum at that time. This band was used in marshalling troops for the Mexican war and the last thing that some of the soldiers ever heard of Bloomington was the thump of Kersaw's drum and the squeak of Seward's clarinet. This band also helped to elect Polk in 1844.

What was known as the Bloomington Silver Band was organized in 1850. James Seward,3 this time, with his E flat bugle was the leader. The new faces that took the places of some that had dropped out were Irvin and Albert Seward,3 James and Wicks Kettleman, Ed Maxwell, James Skidmore, George Voss6 and B. Harold. This organization continued until long after the Civil War and was the first band to adopt an uniform. The uniform consisted of a blue frock coat, blue trousers with gold stripes and a queer shaped hat with an immense red plume. Several members of this band went to the army as musicians. The instruments used by this band were of silver and were far superior to the instruments of any other band in this "neck of the woods," concerning which fact the members thereof were justly proud.

In about 1872 the first Mechanics' band was organized, and for the first time a Seward was not the leader, Charles Voss7 acting in this capacity. A few years later, however, William H. Seward,1 the present leader, took charge. This band continued until 1880. In the meantime, another crowd of musicians thinking there was a "good opening" in the band business formed the Empire band led by John Mack and taught by Daniel Schrader. This is the only band ever in Bloomington that failed to have a Seward in it. Some of the familiar names of the Empire band are: Alvin Hinds, William Blair - Billy played a tuba - Len Whetsell, Hillary Headley, John and James Waldron and Joe Paine, now deceased. The Empire band failed in 1881 and the Mechanics' band was appointed the receiver, receiving therefrom several of its leading players.

In 1884 and 1885 there was no organized band in Bloomington, and when music was to be had, some member of the old band went out and scared up a few of his former comrades. Our present band was established in 1886 and W. H. Seward1 again became its leader. He and Gene Adkins are the only present members who were identified with any of the old bands.

When one stops to think of what the present band has accomplished, of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that it has overcome, it certainly is a matter of congratulation to the members and of pride to the citizens. Organized ten years ago. In all that time, the only outside aid it has ever had is the sum of $50 which the city council appropriated to assist in building the band stand, in the last ten years, too, they have been put to an enormous expense, and the mere fact that in all that time they have kept together without the least sign of discord in their midst proves them to be men of courage and men who love their work.

The repertoire, if we may call it such, of the present band is something wonderful. Over 300 pieces have been mastered by them, and at the Salem fair in 1892 they played for four days and never repeated a piece. The year before, the Salem people, more economical than wise, hired a band that knew but six tunes, necessitating a repetition of each some five or six times a day. When they heard our boys for four days and never heard a piece the second time, they thought it was something out of the ordinary, to say the least.

The idea of giving weekly concerts originated four years ago, and as a testimonial of our appreciation, you have only to attempt to crowd your way along the square some Thursday evening. A social feature of the Mechanics' band is their annual outing on White river. Once a year they hie themselves to the banks of that classic stream and spend the time in telling stories, fighting mosquitoes and discoursing sweet music to the inhabitants of Martinsville. The pathway of the Mechanics' band so far has not been strewn with roses. They have had difficulties but have bravely conquered them, and we are glad for their sakes to say that the sun is at last beginning to break through the clouds that have heretofore enveloped them.

The only recompense they ask is good fortune from now on, and the WORLD wishes it for them.

The following item appeared in the 12 May 1916 issue of the Bloomington Evening World during the pageant celebrating Indiana's centennial:

Fred Seward,8 attired in a band uniform of his grandfather [Williamson Brewster Seward]3 and equipped with an ancient clarinet, will remind the audience of the serenades rendered by the Seward band and orchestra on this and all other formal occasions in Bloomington for the past century.

The following articles were transcribed from undated clippings in my grandmother's scrapbook...

BLOOMINGTON'S Community band now has been enthroned in the finest band shell in the land - a fitting honor for a worthy civic institution. Shades of the nights of old, when the "Bloomington Mechanics' Band" ump-ta-taed on a rickety old rostrum high among the trees of the old courthouse yard by the light of flickering gasoline torches!

The only competition of that famous musical organization was the old "opery house" band, composed of stage hands and handy-men and thudding drum and "sour" brass.

Long live the town band! No village, no metropolis, is complete without one. And every musician in Bloomington should consider it his duty to rally to the colors of his town band, from silver cornet to umpahing tuba for, after all, of all the civic institutions, what is more thrilling and necessary!

"Bands seem always to have been an important part of our family," related Fred Seward8 Thursday evening in introducing his paper on the history of Bloomington's community bands which he read and commented upon before 18 members of the Monroe County Historical Society in the Chamber of Commerce rooms.

Beginning with what he found to be the first record of local musical instruments - a reference in Hall's "New Purchase" to flute lessons been given in the 1830's to the speaker's great-grandfather [Austin Seward].2 Mr. Seward's paper continued to trace the Sewards' participation in local bands for nearly 100 years. Four members of the family were in the band which met Theopolis Wylie and his bride upon their arrival in Bloomington in 1838. Sewards were in the band when the organization serenaded Mr. and Mrs. Wylie upon their golden wedding anniversary and again in 19199 when Mrs. Wylie observed her one hundredth anniversary.

The paper referred to the Pinafore and other family bands which were in existence locally during the '60's and '80's. Bloomington's first community band was founded in 1886 and was known as the Bloomington Mechanics' band. That organization played for all patriotic occasions and other community "get-togethers" and instigated Thursday night band concerts. Thursday night has been band night since 1886, the speaker related.

Only solo parts were bought in those days, Seward told, due to the high cost of music. Scores for other members of the band then were written by the members or by the director. The speaker told of the band's participation in the old-time jaunts to Martinsville, of raising funds by means of a restaurant in the baggage car of Monon excursions to Chicago and of the hardships of supporting the band on public contributions which might total something like $20 a week.

Members of the band at the time of the Spanish-American war formed the Second Regiment band. While that group was away, a small band was organized by William Pace.

In 1901 or 1902, the speaker read, the Bloomington city band was formed and also boasted a "webbfoot" band of beginners to supply recruits for the city organization. The paper mentioned the participation of the Gentry show bands and members in community musical activities, and of the one-time utter dependence of the Indiana university musical groups upon city musicians for some of the university's instrumentation.

The band was at its best during campaign years, Seward told, relating how each member earned $2 for participating in a political rally.

Other members of the local society also added comments and stories concerning the activities of the local bands, telling of their then unique nickel-plated and all-metal instruments. One incident told concerned the band members' performance in putting out a fire - as many band members also were members of the volunteer fire department - and clad in white duck trousers in which they had only shortly before been playing a concert.

No doubt the "sweet strains of music" were furnished by the Seward-Saxe-Horn Band." The Seward family was famous in its day for its "horn" band. It is hard to tell what Bloomington could have done without them. Their band took a prize at a State Fair in those early days. They were always ready to play for every patriotic occasion, usually "without money and without price," and their music was always a source of delight to their audiences. They were used to playing on many college occasion, too, at the same rate of compensation. It appears the band was invited to play at the college Commencement of 1842, as an accommodation. I have under my eye an old document which indicates that the members of the band had determined to stand up for what seemed to them but common fairness. Here is the content of the document. I give it, faulty spelling and all.

Aug. 17, 1842.

Messrs. Woodburn, Stormont and Munson.

The under signed have been apointed a committee by the Bloomington Band to reply to your note of the 15th inst, the receipt of which is hereby acknolaged. you request us to play for you on the 28th of Sept. next. We would be glad to comply with your request. But believing that the trustees should renumerate us for our services on such ocations and haveing been asured by one of the trustees that we should be long ere this. We have therefore declined playing on those ocations unles we are paid for our services.

You are aware that we have been at conciderable expence in money and time in preparing ourselves to play.

Respectfully yours,
S. Seward
Wm. M. Smith
F. McCoulough"

The Band boys certainly had a just claim. The wonder is that in such a little town there was such a group of good musicians.

J. A. W.

(To be continued next week)10

The following article is, as its heading says, a paper which Fred Seward8 presented in 1940. It may be the research paper described in one of the clippings above. It was brought to our attention by Gary Wiggins, who is the chair of the board of directors of the Bloomington Community Band. Gary graciously permitted us to transcribe it and upload it to this site. Uncle Fred's typewritten version is available at the Band's site and we've tried to preserve its original appearance here, while making it slightly more legible:

Paper Read Before the Monroe County Historical Society
Jan. 11, 1940.

Fred A. Seward.

Bands seem to have been an integral part of Bloomington history. In speaking of bands in Bloomington it will be necessary for me to mention my own family very often as my ancestors all seemed interested in band music. For band history prior to 1886 I have to depend of course on hearsay mainly.

The only written record very early is contained in the book "The New Purchase" written by a Prof. Hall--a teacher in the University in the early 1830's. He relates in that book of giving flute lessons to my great-grandfather Austin Seward.

We do know that when Theophilus Wylie--President of the University--brought his bride to Bloomington in 1838, he was met at the village boundary by a band and escorted to his home. In that band were Austin Seward2 (leader) and his son James and most likely also his sons, William B., John, Albert and Irvin.3 When the couple celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1888 the band serenaded them at their home on what is now East Second Street. At that time Wm. H. Seward1 (my father) was leader of the band. [NOTE 1] James Seward was still living and played the same clarinet that he played in 1838 and played some of the same tunes. Wm. B. and Irvin Seward were still living and may have played also.

Here I want to add that the Bloomington Band serenaded Mrs. Wylie in 1912 on the occasion of her 100th birthday and she was able to receive the members and recall the other visits. The writer played with the band on that occasion making four generations of Sewards who played for Mrs. Wylie.

Irvin Seward3 was in the Union Army as a musician and the story goes that at the capture of New Orleans he was called on to write the score of a tune that the Commanding General wanted played as the troops marched into the city. It was a popular tune but the band had never played it, in fact he had written it just from hearing it whistled. [NOTE 2]

Thru the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's there were several bands in Bloomington probably, but I can learn only of one name--the Pinafore Band. During some of that time there also was a Seward Band, composed entirely of members of that family. [NOTE 3] There was also a musical organization called the Mendelssohn Society that had an orchestra with several band instruments being used.

In 1886 was organized the first Community Band that we have an authentic record of. It was called the Bloomington Mechanics Band. The roster of that band was as follows:

William H. Seward1-First Clarinet & Director
Walter Burke)Solo B Flat Cornets
W. H. Lees [?])
Scott Pauley)E Flat Cornets
Matt Fee}
Chas. Stineburg)1st B Flat Cornets
Ben Cooper)
Chas. Seward11-2nd Cornet
Gene Collins-2nd Clarinet
Howard Tourner-Flute
Sam Colpits)Altos
Andy Neill}
Alvin Hinds)
Hiram Reed)Tenors
Albert Seward3)
Jno. Harrah)
Paul Seward12)Bass
Walter Hinds)
Jno. Worrall-Drums
Gene Atkins-Drum Major

(Of these men the following are still living--January 1940--Chas. Steinburg, Paul Seward, Howard Tourner and Andy Neill.)

This band was an important part of the social and civic life of Bloomington. They played for all the patriotic celebrations, fairs and funerals and gave weekly concerts on Thursday nights. Thursday has been band night in Bloomington since 1886. [NOTE 4] Wm. H. Seward was leader of this band from 1886 to 1898. He also wrote in entirety a great deal of the music used. In the 80's sheet music was expensive so only a solo part would be bought and the members (if able) or the director wrote the supporting or harmony parts. This band in the 90's sponsored a yearly camping trip to White River near Martinsville at which a great many other business and professional men spent some time. Also for several years the band would charter a baggage car and run a restaurant in it on the numerous excursions on the Monon to Chicago. This was done to raise money for music. The entire support of the band was furnished by weekly contributions of business men during the summer concerts. At the time the writer asked as collector this amounted to $20.00 to $25.00 a week made up of sums ranging from 15 cents to 50 cents. [NOTE 5]

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898 a considerable number of the members of the band enlisted and became part of the 1st Regiment Band of Indiana. They spent most of their time at Camp Alger under the leadership of a Mr. Menzies. While they were away a small band carried on under Mr. Wm. Pace. When the war was over the Bloomington Band then enlisted in the National Guard as a Regimental Band and were issued Military uniforms. Leader was Mr. Pace. This band continued for about two years when they were mustered out and the Bloomington Band was organized in about 1902 under a Mr. Waterbury. At this time a "web-foot" or beginners class was started to supply new members for the band. Wm. H. Seward came back as teacher and Wylie Cathcart assumed the Leadership. The writer was among the boys of High School age who started at this time.

During the existence of the Gentry Shows it was the custom of the show bands to assemble in Bloomington several weeks in advance of starting time and do their practicing with the local band. Also quite a few of the show band stayed in Bloomington during the winter and assisted in the band Minstrel shows and concerts. Many Bloomington men went on the road with these bands.

Mr. Cathcart was succeeded as leader by Archie Warner, Chas. Cosner, Alva Hughes and finally Mr. Harry Crigler who has been director since 1919.

As band musicians were scarce in the early 1900's the University Band had to borrow local men for most all public appearances and for football games. At one time when the Glee Club carried a band and orchestra there was not a trombone player in school and [it] had to take along a Bloomington boy who had never been in College.

The band is now able to get experienced players from the local schools and is supported by a small property tax and by the Community Chest.


  1. At the above meeting Mr. Robt. Miller stated that he had been told by a reliable party that in 1840 a Seward Band played at a rally at Tippecanoe when Gen. Harrison and Tyler were candidates.
  2. Mr. Miller also reported that he had read of this incident in a book written by Ben Butler who was Commander at New Orleans. The tune was Picanne Butler Comes To Town. The writer had heard of the incident from Irvin Seward and of course is very glad to have it verified.
  3. A later Seward band or orchestra was composed of the family of Wm. B. Seward consisting of Wm. H., George, Mike, Paul, Kate (Mrs. Ed Hall) and May (Mrs. Alfred Beldon)12
  4. For many years these concerts were played from the top of a permanent speaking and band stand erected in the S. W. corner of the courthouse yard. Later on assistance of merchants a portable stand was used and moved in rotation to each corner of the square. The concert was transfered to the 3rd St. Park when the band shell was donated by Mr. Louis Hughes who was a member of the band for many years.
  5. This was collected weekly. The stores all stayed open around the square and hoped they would get their money back from the crowds.

The following article, which draws on information from an earlier version of this page, appeared in the October 2008 issue of Monroe County Historian, a publication of the Monroe County Historical Society:13

The Sewards and Bloomington Bands

By Penelope Mathiesen

Austin Seward, who arrived in Monroe County in 1817 and built up a thriving business as a blacksmith and toolmaker, organized Bloomington's first band about 1838. Among its members were four of his sons: John, James, Bryce, and William B.1

The Seward Band, with John as leader, played at the Tippecanoe Battle Ground celebration during William Henry Harrison's 1840 presidential campaign and performed on other patriotic and collegiate occasions, usually without compensation. When invited to play at Indiana University's 1842 commencement, band members sent a letter stating that they could no longer perform for free, due to the expense and time required to prepare themselves. In 1843, the band "was used in marshalling troops for the Mexican war and the last thing that some of the soldiers ever heard of Bloomington was the thump of [Jesse] Kersaw's drum and the squeak of [John] Seward's clarinet. This band also helped to elect Polk in 1844."2

James Seward (leader and E-flat bugle) and his younger brothers Irvin and Albert were part of Bloomington's Silver Band, organized in 1850. Several members entered the army as musicians. Irvin Seward, the eighth child of Austin Seward and Jannett "Jane" Irvin,3 served as a private in the 21st Indiana Infantry during the Civil War.4 He directed a band attached to a military unit commanded by General Benjamin Butler, who asked Seward "to write the music for a tune to be called 'Picaune [sic] Butler Comes to Town' as that is what the officer was nicknamed. Mr. Seward complied with the request, and as the General led his men into New Orleans in the capture of that city, the band blared out the tune that had been composed by Mr. Seward."5

General Butler, "known as Picayune Butler for his size," entered New Orleans with his troops on 1 May 1862.6 If Seward's composition was original, it has not been found, but the music may have been a parody of a popular minstrel tune with a similar title, "Picayune Butler's Come to Town," which appeared in songbooks as early as 18477 and evokes the excitement of a performance by John "Picayune" Butler, a black banjo virtuoso of the antebellum era...8 If Seward based his arrangement on this tune, he probably harmonized it and wrote out parts for each of his band members.

Several generations of Sewards continued to populate Bloomington bands. William H. ("Billy") Seward became the director of the Mechanics' Band, first organized in 1872. This group received a small donation from local merchants for its weekly concerts. When there were not enough parts for all the players, Billy "would write out the score for those who had not been taken care of, and this saved money for the band members." When the Mechanics' Band reorganized in 1886, Seward members included William H. (director and clarinet), Charles (cornet), Mike and Albert (tenor horn), and Paul (tuba). The Mechanics' Band "remained intact as a popular local musical unit until 1898, when most of its players became a part of the 1st Indiana regimental which saw service in the Spanish-American war." Several Mechanics' members formed the nucleus of the Bloomington Band, which "came into existence in 1902." William H. Seward was one of the directors. New personnel included Fred Seward.9

There were enough Seward musicians to form a band of their own at one time: William B., William H., George, Mike, and Paul, along with Mrs. Edward (Seward) Hall and Mrs. A. H. (Seward) Beldon. "They were in demand to play at college dances which were then held in various upstairs halls in the downtown business district of Bloomington, at a time when the Greek letter societies owned no property of their own."10

On three historic occasions, Seward musicians performed for Wylie family members. In 1838, Dr. Theophilus Wylie (a younger cousin of Andrew Wylie) and his wife, Rebecca, were serenaded by the Seward Band when they arrived in Bloomington after their bridal journey. In 1888, the couple was serenaded at their residence, Wylie House, on their 50th anniversary. James Seward, clarinetist and sole surviving member of the earlier group, played selections with which the couple had been serenaded in 1838, followed by the Mechanics' Band, which "charmed the company with sweet strains of harmony."11 In 1912, Rebecca Wylie was serenaded by the Seward Band at Wylie House on her 100th birthday.12


  1. "Something about the Tooters of Long Ago," Bloomington Evening World, 14 June 1896, retrieved 08-16-2008 from [this page]
  2. "Tooters"; scrapbook items related to the Seward family bands, retrieved 08-16-2008 from [this page]
  3. "Tooters"; family information retrieved 08-16-2008 from
  4. Art Westneat, Veterans' Records Enrollments: Monroe County, Indiana, 1886 (Bloomington: Monroe County Historical Society, 1994), p. 167;, accessed 08-23-2008. The 21st Indiana Infantry became the 1st Heavy Artillery in 1863; "Irevin Seward" was discharged with the rank of "musician."
  5. D. C. Miller, "Bloomington's Mechanics' Band in 1886," Bloomington World Telephone (14 August 1947).
  6. John V. Denson, ed., The Costs of War (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1997), p. 152; James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 420.
  7. Hans Nathan, Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962), p. 154.
  8. Ann Charters, ed., The Ragtime Songbook (New York: Oak Publications, 1965), p. 10.
  9. "Tooters"; Miller.
  10. Miller.
  11. "Golden Wedding of Prof. and Mrs. Wylie," Bloomington Telephone (9 November 1888).
  12. Miller.

Elsewhere in the same issue is an article entitled "Presidential Candidates in Bloomington 1840-1920", also by Penelope Mathiesen, which quotes an 8 Sep 1938 Bloomington Daily Telephone article:

It is claimed that 40,000 people from all over the middle west camped out at the Battle Ground at Tippecanoe when Harrison came there for a rally at the scene of one of the most famous of his Indian battles. The Seward band, which has for 100 years been composed principally of Sewards, went to that rally and two years later, when the rally was at Bloomington, the Lafayette band made a return visit. Henry Clay was the orator.

Stephen A. Douglas did his campaigning a bit differently in 1860. Arriving at Bloomington in September on the Monon train, a platform was improvised, the Seward band rallied 'round, and Douglas spoke to a throng — at 12:30 a.m. Samuel H. Buskirk, then Democratic chairman, was master-of-ceremonies and introduced Douglas, the first presidential candidate to make an extensive tour of the country for campaigning purposes...

1 William Henry ("W. H.") Seward (1857-1909) is my great-grandfather.
2 Austin Seward (1797-1872) is my great-great-great-grandfather.
3 The following sons of Austin Seward are mentioned in these articles: 4 Emery B. Voss (1815-1888) is a younger brother of another great-great-grandfather.
5 David and Edward were sons of Dr. David Hervey Maxwell, and are related to the Sewards.
6 We don't know who this man is, but there's a good chance he's a relative!
7 Probably Emery's son, Charles E. Voss (1853-?).
8 Fred Allen Seward (1886-1967) is my grandmother's little brother. He never told me anything about his musical talents!
9 This may have been a typo. See the complete text of Fred's paper. Cousin Howard Maxwell writes us, "Prof. Theophilus Adam Wylie's wife, Rebecca (Dennis) Wylie was born in 1812 according to the Wylie House website. Rebecca died in 1913 at age 101... Prof. T. A. Wylie, a cousin of I.U.'s first president, Rev. Andrew Wylie, also served as librarian, superintendent of grounds, vice president and as acting president of the university, 1851-1852. As a faculty member, he was a professor of physics." Thank you, Howard!
10 This long history of participation in bands and interest in music must be caused by something in our genes. Our rock-and-roll band leader son (Austin's g-g-g-g-grandson) was greatly impressed with the politeness of the band's letter declining the college gig! If we ever locate the continuation of the article, we'll add it to this page. We're not sure who S. Seward might be. Austin's son Samuel was only seven years old at the time. Could John or James' "J" have been mistaken for an "S"? Perhaps F. McCoulough was son-in-law Finley who was 18 when the letter was written.
11 This may be Irvin's son, Charles Irvin Seward (1869-1935).
12 The following children of W. B. Seward are mentioned: 13 Footnotes which were a part of the article appear in BLUE to distinguish them from my own footnotes, which are in RED.
This page was last updated 27 Mar 2012.