Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Southern Powder Horns...scrimshaw and carving?

Mayo Island Horn, c. 1774 [1]
     Powderhorns of confirmed southern colonial provenance seem to be rare, and rather plain, or of the banded type (need to get Scott and Cathy Sibley's latest book on this style).  Most extant horns with carving/scrimshaw appear to be of New England/New York provenance (i.e. the Crosby Horn [Dutchess Co, NY] or Cranston Horn [East Greenwich, RI].  This is not to say that the art was not practiced in the Southern Colonies, perhaps time will tell if this was more common than formerly believed.

     From the Colonial Williamsburg collection:

     "Engraved powder horn with faceted & carved spout, embellished with a reinforcing ring set slightly back from the tip. The whole of the horn goes from a dark cream color to a darker greenish color as it nears the spout. Its rounded soft wood base plug is retained by 5 cast brass tacks (one of which is missing) and has a rectangular patched repair, with a tiny brass wire loop, is inlet into the center of the plug. Engraving shallowly executed, a problem compounded by subsequent wear...This horn was created either by or for a George Deval of Mayo Island in the spring of 1774. Since the only locatable Mayo Island is in the James River at Richmond, this piece is an extremely rare example of a pre-Revolutionary War Virginia powder horn.
Engraved on the horn is a scene of large masted ships and manned rowing craft filling the waterway around a hilly town, likely representing Richmond. Other decorative engravings include geometric designs, trees and a bird. In a band spanning the lower portion of the horn is the inscription "George Deval His Powder Horn Come From Isld. Mayo May 20, 1774."[2]

Sharod Powder Horn, c.1726, possible Virginia provenance[3]
    "Powder horn with honey-colored patina depicting a large, brick, double walled fortification and buildings of detailed, neatly laid brick construction; "THOMAS SHAROD HIS HORN 1726 / AUGUST Ye 7 / JORGES FORT / 1726" engraved in block letters; a large British flag on a tall pole waves above the fort; also depicted are a decorated canoe with two Indians paddling, uniformed soldiers (some with muskets, others with polearms, one holding a British flag, and two toasting one another), birds, fish, deer, plants, trees, and the face of an Indian; the flat plug appears to be hard pine and has a small, brass drawer pull screwed into the center for the carrying strap; plug was originally secured by four wood pegs, but three have been replaced by modern small nails; recessed portion begins 5" from the tip of the spout, which is raised 1-1/2" long, for the carrying strap; scalloping at the beginning of the recessed portion."[4]

    Two horns does not a "Southern School of Horners-make", nor am I recommending that everyone go out and scribe their horns and declare it sans-farbesque (historical term for devoid of farbiness-yes my personal horn is scrimshawed all over with no historical example for my persona...I should change that).  It is interesting how new information is coming to light as more privately owned artifacts make their way to public collections, existing collections are digitized and more powerful search engines than Google are available through collegiate libraries.  I suspect the increase in new information will cause consternation, accusations of heresy, angry emotocons and name-calling on living history message boards (The Copernicus Effect)! 


[1] Attributed to George Deval, Acc. No. 2011-4, Colonial Williamsburg Collection,, accessed 6 Feb 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Attributed to , Acc. No. 1997-229, Colonial Williamsburg Collection,, accessed 6 Feb 13.

[4] Ibid.


  1. I am enjoying your blog! Here is another example of a Southern horn, although engraved, there is no scrimshaw. This buffalo horn is probably post Rev War, but is definately of War of 1812 vintage.

    1. Nice! It is interesting that the horn says Tennessee. Facinating because it may have been taken on hunt on the buffalo road from Ohio through the cane to points south. I would return the compliment, Great blog-