Les Compagnies Franches – from the 1680’s to 1763
The original Compagnies Franches de la Marine (Independent Companies of the Marine) were French Soldiers sent to the French colonies in the 1680’s. During the 1700’s, French troops were sent fron Quebec to the French strongholds in North America, including Fort Quiatenon on the Wabash, located just a few miles from the present day Lafayette Indiana. The French presence in North America would last until their holdings passed into British hands at the end of the French and Indian War. Nearly 300 years later a group of young men and women living in Lafayette, Indiana decided to pattern their newly-formed fife and drum corps after the original Compagnies Franches.
With the historic French Fort Ouiatenon just outside of their home base in Lafayette, the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps thought it a worthwhile challenge to recreate the sights and sounds of the French Troops who had long ago been stationed at Fort Ouiatenon. This undertaking proved to be even more difficult than originally anticipated. Part of the challenge stemmed from the fact that there was no group in the United gates similar to the one the Tippecanoe Corps envisioned. There were fifie and drum corps in this country, but they were all located on the East Coast and therefore, not a convenient resource for learning the 18th century style of music. More importantly, they all patterned themselves after colonial American or British military units. Since there was no organization recreating a French colonial military unit, there was no easy path to follow for locating appropriate music, uniforms, and marching maneuvers. Therefore, the members of the the Tippecanoe Corps were faced with a dilemma similar to those of this country’s early pioneers – when there was no path to follow, a new trail had to be blazed. And blaze a new trail they did.
In response to this challenge, the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps has had much success in its efforts to recreate Les Compagnies Franches de la Marine. Authentic uniforms were reproduced, a considerable library of colonial French music was collected, and marching and drill maneuvers mastered. Hard work and dedication to high quality in every sphere of the Corps’ operations has earned it an international reputation for musical excellence and historical authenticity. The Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps has served as an inspiration and advisor to several Midwestern fife and drum corps which were founded in the years following the first performances by the Tippecanoe Ancients. Two records and several CDs of early French military music have been produced bring with them excellent musical reviews and requests as far away as Portugal and England for this unique brand of historical music. Not limiting itself to representing the military and musical aspects of Les Compagnies Franches, the Corps has created authentic 18th century military encampment which enables spectators to view the day-to-day routine of the French soldiers. Audiences throughout the Midwest, New England, and parts of Canada have consistently expressed an appreciation of Tippecanoe’s efforts to preserve the colonial French chapter of America’s history. Countless onlookers have admitted that they were hardly aware that the United States had a French heritage. The members of the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps can be proud that they have not only provided hundreds of thousands of people with an enjoyable form of musical entertainment, but that they have also been very successful in educating Americans about a part of their history which is too oft forgotten.
The challenge of recreating Les Compagnies Franches de la Marines and the Corps’ dedication to promoting an increased knowledge of America’s French history seemed to have an ironic – and yet appropriate – sign of success when the special 1976 bicentennial edition of Newsweek magazine featrued a member of the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps wearing a (red, white, and blue) authentic French military uniform with the caption OUR AMERICA running along the two-page photograph. Indeed, the soldies of the original Compangies Franches, as well as the members of the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps, are among the many who have made their mark on Our America.