Powder horns were necessary personal possessions in Colonial America. Engraving them became popular because soldiers experienced prolonged periods of waiting, as much of their time on an expedition would be spent sitting in a fort or around a campfire. Powder horns were ideally carved with gravers, although sometimes with needles or even slowly with small knives. When the engraver was happy with what he had done, he would rub the horn with grease, wax, or ash in order to make the engravings pop against the light colour of the horn. Horns typically featured their owner’s name and, if the owner was illiterate or largely so, only their initials. They might also have had an educated fellow soldier engrave their name for them. War expeditions would have likely been seen as one of the most significant moments in men’s lives, and the horn would be a source of pride. Engraved powder horns were considered a great trophy and souvenir of service in the French and Indian, or Seven Years’ War by British officers and troops. Map engravings were particularly desirable, and the Mohawk and River Valleys examples are not uncommon, as they were of key importance to the early colonies. With much of the interior impassable or under Indian control, the water-level routes to the north up the Hudson River to the French-held territories, or West along the Mohawk to Lakes Oneida and Ontario, were considerably safer and quicker. In some cases a cottage industry developed where itinerant engravers would make horns for newly arrived soldiers from Britain, or for those heading home after a campaign.
This present powder horn bears the owner’s name ‘John Coulter’, and the engraver, ‘Sam Davis’. While the connection of Coulter to the Kennedy family is currently unknown, by family repute the horn was owned by Archibald Kennedy, 11th Earl of Cassilis, a Captain in the Royal Navy based in New York. He returned to Scotland in 1792 upon inheriting the Culzean Estate in Ayrshire. The addition of the unmarked silver cap bearing the Kennedy of Cassilis coat-of-arms indicates the status assigned to it, while the date of September 5, 1760 on the plug collar is significant in the timeline of the French and Indian War. It is the day prior to the Siege of Montreal, where the French were beaten by the British forces, leading to the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of French rule in North America.
Interestingly, three similar powder horns were in the collection of the 11th Earl of Eglinton, also from Ayrshire, and were acquired while the Earl was serving with the British Army in America in the 1750s and 1760s.
AUCTION | Five Centuries: Furniture, Paintings & Works of Art from 1600 | Wednesday 4th September at 10am
VIEWING | Saturday 31st August & Sunday 1st September 12pm-4pm | Monday 2nd & Tuesday 3rd September 10am-5pm | Morning of the sale from 9am
LOCATION | 33 Broughton Place, Edinburgh