Benjamin Lawton

Newport's Official City Drummer

Benjamin Lawton was born in Newport, on November 16, 1751. He was the son of George Lawton and Hannah Bidder.

George Lawton was born in Newport in 1714 and died in Newport, in 1765, when Benjamin was a teenager. He died of small pox. Hannah Bidder would die in 1785.

U.S. Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930 (

Before the Revolutionary War (and after,) Lawton worked as a shoemaker in Newport. He was married three times and had 19 children, only 7 surviving to adulthood. 

His first wife was a widow, Abigail Denham Price, a widow. His second wife was Rachel Cahoone, and after her death in 1795 he married her sister Rhoda Cahoon one year later. Rhode would die in 1820.


The War

In the summer of 1775, Benjamin Lawton joined up as a drummer with the company commanded by Captain John Earl. The unit was stationed on the island just north of Newport. Their job was to watch the British ships, including the H.M.S. Rose, and shadow them up and down the river, harassing them when possible. He was involved in a skirmish with British troops in Prudence Island. 

Read about Lawton’s service in his own words in his pension file.

The City Drummer

As early as 1783, Benjamin Lawton would be elected the City Drummer of Newport. 

Newport Mercury, June 7, 1783

It is a position he would hold until at least 1794!

Newport Mercury, June 10, 1794

While a number of resources list his death as 1835, we found his obituary, and it was in an 1837 paper.

Newport Mercury, April 8, 1837

One of Lawton’s sons, Samuel H. would serve in the War of 1812 as a drummer, following in his father’s footsteps.

Pension File, Samuel H. Lawton (National Archives)

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