Powder Horn Belonging To Gunner John Lord, USN



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Powder Horn Belonging To Gunner John Lord, USN

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Powder Horn Belonging To Gunner John Lord, USN
c. 1817-1829

Content Description: 

"Though conforming generally in size to known US Navy priming horns, this example lacks several of the features common to government issued pieces. The most notable omission is the spring-loaded brass dispenser used to regulate the flow of powder from the horn to the gun’s vent- an essential safety feature. The base’s form, a bulbous, turned plug of walnut, is quite unlike any other USN of RN horn of the period. Taken together, these features suggest that Gunner Lord privately purchased the horn for his own use. This is further substantiated by the scrimshaw- no seaman would be allowed to deface government property in such a way. If this were Lord’s own horn, however, he would be free to decorate it as he pleased. He thereby not only marked the horn as his own property, but also participated in a long tradition of ornamenting powder horns with designs with militaristic themes.

Lord’s choice of motifs is indicative of his duties as gunner as well as the symbolic power of Constitution. The sailors’ penchant for naming a ship’s guns is well attested, and here we find further proof of the practice. “Big Will” evidently held special significance for Lord, but which of the guns this represents is open to conjecture. The links of chain circling the horn near its mouth are particularly intriguing. The navy did not adopt chain cables until the mid 1830s, some years after Lord’s death. Is this chain simply a pretty motif, or did it hold a deeper significance for Lord? The same may be asked of the image of Constitution engaged in battle with another frigate (probably meant to represent the Guerriere). It is no doubt a display of patriotism and pride in his ship, but also a talisman for good luck and protection. Just as Herman Melville’s veteran seamen carried “about their persons bits of ‘Old Ironsides,’ as Catholics do the wood of the true cross,” so too did John Lord avail himself of the famed frigate’s seemingly supernatural powers."

Charlestown Navy Yard Building 22, Boston, Massachusetts, 02129
Gift of Thomas Cross, 1835.1