Joseph S. Peckham

The Aquidneck Encampment March, composed by J.S. Peckham in 1888

Joseph Sanford Peckham was born in Newport in 1848. He was the son of William, a house carpenter, and Caroline, both also born in Newport. He is listed in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Census files. 

1850 United States Census - Newport, Rhode Island
1860 United States Census - Newport, Rhode Island

In 1875, at the age of 26 his occupation is listed as “Upholster” with no mention of music in his life. At this time, he is still living at home with his parents and 5 siblings.

1875 Rhode Island Census - Newport

On July 25, 1874, he married Eliza Goffe. They would have three children, first living on Third Street, then moving to Poplar Street, both in the Point. His son, Leslie, would become a music teacher in Newport later in life.

1880 United States Census - Newport, Rhode Island
1885 Newport Directory
1900 United States Census - Newport, Rhode Island

His Life as a Composer and Navy Musician

“Gold Bugs” McKinley March was composed in 1896.

Peckham enlisted in the Navy on August 16, 1881. He first served with the band aboard the Training Ship New Hampshire until it departed Newport in 1890. The New Hampshire Band would perform regularly in the city.

The U.S.S. New Hampshire in Newport - from the Providence Public Library Digital Archives
Newport Mercury, May 5, 1883

His career in the Navy would last until 1903. He would serve about the U.S.S. Richmond (1890 – 1894) and the U.S.S. Constellation (1894 – 1903.) He was forced to retire from the Navy due to a stroke in 1903. In his pension file, you can see the official cause of his stroke…

“cause by overexertion in blowing a musical instrument.”

Joseph Peckham was a composer who wrote more than 30 marches as well as other music for band and orchestra. His music was performed throughout the country, long after his death.

Here we have some programs listed in newspapers from 1893 to 1915, as far away as California.

The Newport Artillery March, composed in 1882.

The Naval Apprentices March, composed in 1889.

His first stroke left him with “partial paralysis of speech and right side of face” (Pension File – National Archives) and his second stroke less than a year later would leave him without speech and motion. Peckham would suffer a third stroke on November 27, 1904 and pass away later that day. He is buried in the Island Cemetery, Newport Rhode Island with wife Eliza, who died in 1933.

Newport Mercury, December 3, 1904

City Life

Joseph Peckham also was active in Newport, serving as the choir director at Channing Memorial Church. 

Newport Mercury, November 3, 1883

His Legacy

While Peckham’s has largely disappeared from concert programs, it has from time to time been performed. The first instance of this was the performance of his “Our Fallen Heroes” by the “President’s Own” United States Marine Corps Band during the funeral procession of President John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1963. Click here for an article about the music used during his funeral.

Our Fallen Heroes, Funeral March, composed in 1894.

A number of marches by Peckham were included in the Heritage of the March series, included in Volume 61, recorded by the United States Naval Academy Band.

The Library of Congress had 40 marches in microfilm which we acquired and have begun editing. Sadly, not all of the marches have enough parts to bring back to life, but most do! 

His marches are now being played again! 

The Rhode Island Wind Ensemble, Robert Franzblau, conductor
May 15, 2022

The Seacoast Wind Ensemble, Mark Stickney, conductor
May, 2022

Right of the Line March, composed in 1891.

Historic Music is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Help support our mission to preserve Newport's rich musical heritage today!

P.O. Box 539
Newport, RI 02840

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