Revolutionary War Powder Horn

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

 This powder horn dates from the American Revolution and, due to its large size, was probably used on board a ship for priming the cannons with fine powder. It is inscribed with various symbols, including greenery, animals (cat, bird), a stylized person, a building, a signpost with a checkerboard sign, and hearts. These are likely more decorative than representative. It is also inscribed:

"Willm, Dawes 1780.  When This You See Think That I Be A Man of Liberty. First Then I Say, Brave Souls Be Well Aware How To Secure And Then Direct The War; Where, When and How To Land and When on Shore Keep Well Your Gaining. I Send More."

Perhaps the name inscribed on the powder horn refers to the same William Dawes(1745-1799) who rode with Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, and several other riders on the evening of April 18, 1775, to warn American colonists that the British were marching on Lexington and Concord. Dawes was a tanner who, in addition to his 1775 foray, served as a quartermaster in Central Massachusetts during the revolution. After the war he was a storekeeper.

The words in the inscription might also indicate that “Willm Dawes” was another patriot with the same name who served on board a ship in 1780, either in the navy or as a privateer. Dawes (the owner of the powder horn) is the “Man of Liberty” who offers advice on the pursuit of the conflict, especially from the perspective of someone on board a ship: “Where, When and How to Land and When on Shore Keep Well Your Gaining.”

Questions for Further Thought

  1. How do we know that this particular powder horn was probably used on board a ship?
  2. If this Dawes rode with Paul Revere why do we know so little about him and the other riders? Was it because of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere) written in 1860?
  3. What might the artwork on the powder horn signify, if anything?