Dating powder horns

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In mid-June 1758, George Washington, busy supplying his provincial troops for the upcoming expedition against Fort Duquesne, suggested to Col.Henry Bouquet that powder horns might be “ordered to be made at Philadelphia, & sent from thence.”[i] Less than a week later, Brigadier General John Forbes, in Philadelphia at the time, told Bouquet that he was sending 28 dozen powder horns to Carlisle to be “disposed of as you shall direct,” and would have another 20 dozen ready for shipment by the end of the week.[ii] As vessels laden with British goods occasionally carried powder horns to Philadelphia, it is not certain where Forbes’ horns were made, though Washington’s comments suggest that he thought local craftsmen capable of doing the work.Powder horns were also used for the priming of large naval guns, and in blasting operations; apparently sometimes the horn shape was merely a convenient form of funnel in such cases, and was open at both ends and not used as a container.In America, a number of period horns dating from the French and Indian wars throughout the American Revolution and beyond have been preserved in private and other collections.For example, on April 19, 1775, in Lexington and Concord, paper cartridges were routinely used by many civilians on the opening day of the American Revolutionary War.Similarly, the British soldiers there carried cartridge boxes holding 36 paper cartridges.

While large-scale production became the hallmark of the eastern counties of Pennsylvania, the southern highlands produced innumerable variations indicative of scattered workshops catering to smaller communities, as well as those passing through.

One of only a handful with inscriptions, it helps to establish a chronology for the many undated examples, like the horn below it.

A powder horn was a container for gunpowder, and was generally created from cow, ox or buffalo horn.

There were other methods, including small cloth bags containing the correct amount of powder for a single shot, that might be carried on a bandolier (again requiring a container for a supply for refilling).

An important safety concern was that when reloading a muzzle-loading gun soon after a shot there might be small pieces of wadding burning in the muzzle, which would cause the new load of powder to ignite as a flash.

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