Carried by Necessity, Carved by Whimsy

Written by: Carrie Blough, DAR Museum Associate Registrar/Assistant Curator
November 14, 2017

Among the thousands of items in the DAR Museum’s collection are more than 20 powder horns from early America.  These gunpowder containers were made from cow horns and carried by soldiers, settlers and Native Americans in 18th century America, both during war and at home.  Some powder horns are intricately carved while others are plain, and we have many examples of both. The collection includes carved horns from the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, and even one from King George’s War (1744-1748). Some of the horns are not engraved; they are practical, utilitarian containers to hold black powder.  The intricately carved horns are both objects of art, and utilitarian items.  The carvings include everything from maps of campaigns, to engraved mermaids, animals and forts.  They serve as records of the owner’s engagements in war, and as evidence of the carver’s whimsical imagination.

One of the engraved powder horns in the DAR Museum’s collection is a map horn that belonged to John E. Mifflin, and was carved by the engraver John Fox on March 23, 1764. Little is known of Mifflin, but the carver is known for several Pennsylvania horns that he engraved which were associated with the Forbes Road, an important route into the backcountry of western Pennsylvania.  Fox may have served under Colonel Henry Bouquet with the Royal Americans, an infantry regiment of the British Army established to defend the colonies during the French and Indian War.  According to Bouquet’s own papers, Fox may have deserted just 2 months after he carved the John Mifflin horn.

Mifflin’s horn is elaborately carved and engraved and includes the owner’s name, date, and the carver’s name.  In addition to the map of towns and forts between New Jersey and Lake Erie engraved on Mifflin’s horn, Fox carved the Forbes Road from Philadelphia to Fort Pitt.  It also prominently features the British coat of arms.

Recently the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania borrowed the Mifflin horn for inclusion in their current special exhibit, From Maps to Mermaids: Carved Powder Horns in Early America.  This exhibit includes more than 40 rare powder horns and flasks. Alan Gutchess, Director, and Michael Burke, Exhibit Specialist, gathered the powder horns and other associated items from museums and collectors to highlight these necessary tools that were so common in our country’s early history.

The Mifflin horn is an important inclusion in the exhibit because it prominently features Fort Pitt. The exhibit at Fort Pitt Museum will be on view until October 2018. For more information on the exhibit visit http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/exhibits/carved-powder-horns-early-america or better yet, stop by the museum on your next visit to Pittsburgh. It is located next to the Fort Pitt Blockhouse which has been preserved by the Fort Pitt Society of the DAR.

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