Fish in the family Sciaenidae include drum and croaker, named for the drumming or croaking sounds produced by their swim bladders. Bones from red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), black drum (Pogonias cromis), and Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) have been identified in Jamestown faunal material, primarily from the First and Second Wells. Drum are found in coastal marine waters and can be caught from the shoreline, particularly during the autumn when they congregate near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Black drum are the larger of the two species, but both black and red drum can weigh 50 or more pounds and are considered good fish for eating. Thomas Glover recorded drum in Virginia in the seventeenth century: “There is another sort which the English call a Drum; many of which are two foot and a half or three foot long. This is likewise a very good fish, and there is great plenty of them.”
The teeth of the drum are arranged into plates that are useful for crushing and grinding the shells of shellfish and crabs. The pharyngeal plates are located behind the last set of gill arches, effectively giving the fish a second set of jaws. This odd looking dental arrangement is quite common among fish, but is particularly distinct in drum because of the shells of their preferred prey.
In addition to being a good source of food, drum were believed to have medicinal properties as well during the Colonial period. A jelly-like substance found in the fish’s head was thought to be beneficial to women in childbirth when dried, powdered, and taken mixed into a broth.