Powder Horn, 1776​ • United States • horn, wood, silvered glass • PH-32

Powder Horn

Go To Object Record

Art

The carving on powder horns is one of the most recognizable early American folk art styles. The decorations are purely aesthetic – They exist to please the eye or to recall events. These designs have no function beyond perhaps identifying the owner of the horn. The engravings on this horn record the fortifications and landmarks surrounding Fort Ticonderoga during late 1776. Which places can you identify?

Click to Toggle Transcript

The carving on powder horns is one of the most recognizable early American folk art styles. The decorations are purely aesthetic – They exist to please the eye or to recall events. These designs have no function beyond perhaps identifying the owner of the horn. The engravings on this horn record the fortifications and landmarks surrounding Fort Ticonderoga during late 1776. Which places can you identify?

Manufacture

Popular notions of soldiers carving their own horns in camp are misleading. In fact, carvers often carved many horns, and although rarely signed, the work of individual carvers can often been determined across many surviving examples. These artists sold their work to other soldiers like souvenirs of their experiences on the campaigns of the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. Designs were created freehand or using simple tools like dividers. Using a sharp steel burin, like an engraver, the carver could create lines of varying depth for different effects. Ink or dye was rubbed into the carvings to accentuate them.

Click to Toggle Transcript

Popular notions of soldiers carving their own horns in camp are misleading. In fact, carvers often carved many horns, and although rarely signed, the work of individual carvers can often been determined across many surviving examples. These artists sold their work to other soldiers like souvenirs of their experiences on the campaigns of the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. Designs were created freehand or using simple tools like dividers. Using a sharp steel burin, like an engraver, the carver could create lines of varying depth for different effects. Ink or dye was rubbed into the carvings to accentuate them.

Function

Horns like this were used to carry gunpowder. Horn was an ideal material to store gunpowder since it was lightweight, dry, virtually waterproof, and inexpensive. Most colonial and state militia regulations required soldiers to carry a certain amount of powder, generally a pound, and bullets suitable for their weapons. In practice, pre-made paper cartridges were much quicker to load and fire with than loose ball and powder from a powder horn.

Click to Toggle Transcript

Horns like this were used to carry gunpowder. Horn was an ideal material to store gunpowder since it was lightweight, dry, virtually waterproof, and inexpensive. Most colonial and state militia regulations required soldiers to carry a certain amount of powder, generally a pound, and bullets suitable for their weapons. In practice, pre-made paper cartridges were much quicker to load and fire with than loose ball and powder from a powder horn.

Culture

John Riley, the owner of this horn was from Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1776 he was made a Lieutenant in Colonel Charles Burrall’s Connecticut regiment and was stationed at Mount Independence (just across Lake Champlain in what is now Vermont). He continued to serve after the regiment was disbanded in 1777 and was captured by the British in 1779. He was exchanged and remained in the Continental Army until discharged in 1783. His horn, with a detailed map of the fortress at Ticonderoga and the surrounding area, would have been a memento of the first campaign of his military career.

Click to Toggle Transcript

John Riley, the owner of this horn was from Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1776 he was made a Lieutenant in Colonel Charles Burrall’s Connecticut regiment and was stationed at Mount Independence (just across Lake Champlain in what is now Vermont). He continued to serve after the regiment was disbanded in 1777 and was captured by the British in 1779. He was exchanged and remained in the Continental Army until discharged in 1783. His horn, with a detailed map of the fortress at Ticonderoga and the surrounding area, would have been a memento of the first campaign of his military career.