Music at the Archives – John Philip Sousa

Today’s guest blogger is Trevor Plante, a supervisory archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 

Following up on two recent blog posts from our office by Juliette Arai and Mark Mollan I thought it would be a great opportunity to blog about one of my favorite Marine Corps documents that I often show Marines when we have them here for tours.

The Navy and Marine Corps had a great program during the 19th Century – great for parents anyway. You could literally sign your children over to the military. Authorized by an act approved March 2, 1837 “An Act to provide for the enlistment of boys for the naval service…”

The act allowed boys to enlist, with the consent of their parents or guardians, as long as they were not younger than thirteen years old or over eighteen years of age. The apprentice boy program was eventually expanded to include the Marine Corps. Boys between the ages of 11 and 18 could enlist in the Marine Corps, with the consent of their parents or guardians, and had to serve until they were 21 years old unless they were discharged sooner.

Sousa served as an apprentice musician in the Marine Band from this first enlistment until he was 20 years old with the exception of a period of six months. His rank during his service appears as ”boy” in the Marine Corps Muster Rolls found in Record Group 127.

After his discharge from the Marine Corps, Sousa continued conducting as well as playing the violin and touring with several traveling theater orchestras. On Oct. 1, 1880, Sousa became the 17th Leader of the Marine Corps Band. He served as the director of the Marine Band for 12 years before resigning to form his own civilian band in 1892.