18th Century American Powder Horn

From our October 2012 Antiques Sale:

Lot 205.  An 18th Century Highland Militiaman’s American & Canadian Engraved New York Map Powder Horn, depicting a map of strategically important forts, settlements and rivers during the early stages of the French Indian War. Circa 1756. Length: 26cm, Width: 7cm narrowing to 4cm

Estimate: £2000-3000

SOLD for £7,000


An exceptionally engraved original powder horn carved along its spiral form with a domed wooden plug at wider end with a remnant of a metal carrying ring in the centre of the plug and brass carrying ring at the neck of it’s narrower end. Missing its original spout. In good condition with a beautiful yellow to amber patina. Richly engraved with forts, lakes, rivers, towns, ships and animals including more than 30 forts and place names from New York to Quebec. The dark engraving can be clearly read and some place names such as Fort Johnson and G Flats have a more orange hue where they may once have been enhanced with a red dye.

The skillfully carved horn is illustrated with 19 fort hieroglyphs of square design with bastions on each corner. The forts’ names and other locations are carved in capitals between parallel lines. Generally, a ‘V’ is used instead of a ‘U’ in the text. Larger towns are finely depicted with many houses and churches. At its base New York has a wind-mill and in the water around Long Island (L+ISLAND) sails a large square-rigged three masted gun ship bearing Union Jacks and three smaller vessels. Another vessel is depicted on Lake George at the tip. Across the middle of the horn are charmingly carved birds in trees and animals, annotated as a WOOLF, BVCK and BAHR. At the base of the horn, nestling amongst some buildings, are the initials ‘S T’ which could be the carver’s initials.
At 90° above the depiction of New York is a very unusual motto, inscribed in an arc: COVRRAGE CONDVCT & ARMVR. Within the semi circle of the arc is a lion or judging from its stripes, a tiger, beneath which is an inverted heart. Flanking the heart are two Highland soldiers in Scottish bonnets and kilts. The left carries a musket, the right a sword. An upright heart tops the arc of the motto.

The map although very distorted in scale, starts with Long Island (L+ISLAND) then New York, continues around the base of the horn and then moves up its centre showing the Hudson River and various settlements and forts along its course. Amboy, then Albany are shown as large settlements before it forks at a point known as Half Moon (H M) Taking the right hand, north easterly course of the river, we see a fort at Stillwater (S WATER) then further up, Fort Saratoga (SARATOG) then up to Fort Edward and Fort Ann to the north east. Cross country slightly north west of Fort Edward, is a fort hieroglyph and H.WBROK, research indicates this to be a stockaded blockhouse known as Half Way Brook, which was half way between Ft Edward and Fort George.
Lake George (L GEORG) with a ship and a fort hieroglyph, circle part of the top rim of the horn above Half Way Brook.
Returning to the left fork from Half Moon, we travel up the Mohawk River, passing Schenectady (SCHESCANDY) Fort JOHNSON, Fort HVNTER, Fort HENDRIK and HARKEMAN. The river forks north east and we see the settlement of German Flatts (G FLATS) with buildings and a church.
Looking West from Forts Hunter, Hendrik & Harkeman we see one of the most historically important and interesting aspects of the map – a depiction of the Oneida Carry. From this part of the map we can date it accurately to 1756. The Oneida Carry was a strategically important portage path between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. Re-launching into Wood Creek, boats would navigate downstream to Oneida Lake, the Oswago River, and ultimately Lake Ontario at Oswego. Lake Ontario was the gateway to all the Great Lakes stretching another thousand miles inland so the carry was a part of the major water route between New York City and Canada.
During the early part of the French Indian war, the British attempted to refortify the Oneida Carry. In May 1756 fort Newport & Fort Wood Creek were constructed and then in August destroyed by the British (in anticipation of a French attack after the capture of Fort Oswago)
Control of the Oneida carry was not re-established by the British until the construction of Fort Stanwix in 1758. Such was the strategic importance of Fort Stanwix to the Oneida Carry during the French Indian War that we would expect to see its inclusion on this map, its omission leads us to believe that the powder horn was carved before its construction in August 1758 but after the construction of Ft Newport in May 1756.

This powder horn clearly shows Wood Creek (although without a fort), Fort Newport (FORT NEW PORT), Oswago with a fort hieroglyph, Lake Ontario (ANTARO) and Lake Oneida (ANNIDE+L). Puzzlingly, it shows a ‘Ft DOGODY’ which we cannot identify and a ‘Bt FORT’. We suspect this to be an 18th century typo, so to speak, on the part of the carver, as the location would indicate Ft Bull, which was destroyed in March 1756
Turning the horn around and reading from the narrow end, Canada is engraved between the Hudson and Mohawk River sections of the map. Two unidentified forts flank the metal carrying ring and another (SHAMPL?) above and to the right. Slightly further up the horn and to the left, Montreal is shown with a large fort hieroglyph as MONTREL. Surrounded by water with an ‘L’ for lake at its tip and St PETERS on the east coast of the lake, the water course continues to Quebec (QVBEC) with a large fort. The Ils d’Orléans (ORLINS) is charmingly drawn with tiny buildings. The Canadian map ends above Half Moon on the Hudson River.
PROVENANCE: Given by family repute to Neill MacPhail of Salen, Isle of Mull by the Chieftain MacLean of Loch Buie in about 1800. Owned to the present day by the MacPhail family.
It is well documented that many highland regiments were raised in order to fight in America during the French Indian War. The MacLean clan had two very notable members who fought in this war, both named Allan and who were both officers in the Royal Americans or 62nd later 60th Foot. Sir Allan MacLean was the 22nd Clan MacLean Chief, Allan MacLean of Torloisk was a career soldier who served under Wolfe at the taking of Quebec and whose exploits in the French Indian War are also well documented.
The MacLeans of Loch Buie are another sept of the MacLean clan but all have strong family connections. Both the 18th and 19th Chiefs of Loch Buie fought in America but at a later date in the revolutionary war. One can merely speculate as to how this horn came to be owned by one of the Chieftains of Loch Buie, but as the horn is beautifully illustrated with Highland soldiers in traditional Scottish dress it does imply that its original owner was a Highlander.
An extremely rare item, in wonderful condition, depicting a pivotal and fascinating period of early American history.