Clive A. Burden LTD. Rare Maps, Antique Atlases, Books and Decorative Prints

The Mapping of North America

Mr. Philip D. Burden​
P.O. Box 863,
Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks HP6 9HD,
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A superb example of a powder horn featuring the ‘Brittish Fort at Pittsbourg’ dated 1759. The Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh hold the G. Biler powder horn depicting the fort, but theirs lacks as much detail and is likely made by the knife of a soldier. It is hailed as one of the earliest surviving artifacts of the fort. This example bears a remarkably more accurate rendition of the destroyed French Fort Duquesne before the construction of Fort Pitt.


Powder horns are made from cow or ox horns and were found to be ideal for carrying gunpowder. They were lightweight, waterproof, plentiful, and cheap. To ensure that he received his own horn back went sent for refilling, a soldier would often mark his horn in some way to identify it. This could take the form of a mark, a name, or a more decorated form. The zenith of engraved horns is American from the 1750s through the American Revolution. Whilst some were clearly engraved in Britain, the majority were worked on in America. Stephen V. Grancsay, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, once estimated based on a study of nearly 1,200 horns, that only about 10-15% could be considered to have been engraved with maps.

In the eighteenth-century horns were carved using one of two methods. Either the use of a knife like a jackknife which most soldiers would have or a burin (graver) which is used to push through and gouge out metal or soft material. A knife would displace material to the sides leaving some raised displayed material, a graver leaves a trench in the material. The more polished work was often undertaken by gunsmiths or silversmiths. Du Mont stated that ‘the finest horns, which we term ‘professionally’ engraved were probably done by army topographical engineers, something which is reflected in the level of fine detail illustrated on this horn and quite likely amongst someone serving in the Royal Artillery. Soot or a plant dye was often rubbed over the engraved area to enable the carving to stand out more as here.

Despite the significance of the campaign against the French on the Ohio, few cartographic powder horns are found on this region. By far the majority related to the colony of New York and the approaches to Canada. To quote Grancsay ‘Horns with maps of New England and of Pennsylvania are much rarer than those with maps of New York’. The Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh holds a similar powder horn. Theirs is signed G. Biler and is cut with a knife. Its depiction of the fort is simpler than illustrated here. Grancsey’s list cites four directly relating to Fort Pitt:

no. 968 – (Archibald Woodside 1758) Fort Pitt Ohio Rivière in Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh

no. 1008 – inscribed and dated Hayo (Ohio?) Crounbit (Fort Pitt) Scharihvraff-Kvinc 1764. This horn belonged to a Pennsylvania German ranger who participated in Bouquet’s expedition against the Ohio Indians. State Historical Society Madison, Wisconsin

no. 1129 – plan of fort labelled ‘Fort Pitt’, Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh

no. 1130 – plan of fort at forks of Ohio River labelled ‘Pitsbourg’ British Royal Arms, Historical Society Western Penn, Pittsburgh

Numbers 330, 483, 758, 1112, 1113, and 1128 all have a plan of the fort amongst others. A small

number of horns are known illustrating the Forbes Road from Philadelphia to Fort Pitt.


The fork of the Ohio at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela River was always destined to be a strategic stronghold. From that point the French could restrict British expansion westward across the Allegheny Mountains. This would have enabled easy access downriver to the Mississippi and to the Great Lakes. The British merchant William Trent began a successful trading post on the location in the early 1740s. In the early 1750s the French began constructing forts upriver on the Allegheny: Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, and Machault.

In late 1753 Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia sent a young officer named George Washington to Fort Le Boeuf to ask the French to leave but he was rebuffed. Upon his return Dinwiddie sent out a force to construct Fort Prince George at the site of Trent’s post. Within two months the French with a larger force took control in April 1754 and began construction of Fort Duquesne.

Washington set out in the same month to defend Fort Prince George and came into conflict with the French at Jumonville Glen. This is considered to beginning of the French and Indian War. In 1755 the Braddock Campaign attempted to wrest control of the region with dramatic failure, ultimately leading to his death. Washington again accompanied the force.

The Forbes Expedition in 1758 was the third attempt to seize control of the strategic point on the Ohio River. As part of the preparation during the summer we know that in June, Henry Bouquet (1719-65), the highly respected second in command to General John Forbes (1707-59), wrote to Forbes in Philadelphia asking him to procure some powder horns for the expedition. Shortly afterwards Forbes wrote back stating that he was sending two wagons with 48 dozen (576) powder horns.

The contingent consisted of nearly 7,000 men. The Royal Artillery detachment present on the campaign was the 77th Regiment of Foot, under the command of Major-General James Grant (1720-1806). It is interesting to note that this regiment was raised by Archibald Montgomerie, the 11th Earl of Eglinton, otherwise known as Montgomerie’s Highlanders. Grancsay and du Mont have highlighted that some of the most elaborate map powder horns discovered were owned by him. Other notable figures on the expedition were William Byrd III (1728-88), Colonel James Burd (1725-93)

Recognising the far superior forces of the British, the French destroyed the fort and abandoned it to the British who arrived on 25 November 1758. On capturing the fort, General Forbes wrote to Prime Minister William Pitt with the heading ‘Pittsbourgh, November 27th, 1758’. This was the christening of the future city. The British would go on to rebuild a new fort under General Bouquet between 1759 and 1761.

Grancsey described the time thus: ‘The pre-Revolutionary Indian wars fought so bitterly on the Pennsylvania frontier have been called ‘the West Point from which Washington and many of his ablest generals were graduated’. During the weary years of the Revolution Fort Pitt had to reckon with the British as well as the Indians, whose periods of friendliness were never long-lived. Those who settled in the western Pennsylvania wilderness experienced danger and pioneer hardship to the full.’


Shortly after completing the construction of Fort Duquesne it was considered too small to contain all that was required to defend this strategic point. So, in 1757 they commenced construction of an additional palisade or hornwork to the east. This housed additional soldiers and officers in barracks. Brown records that ‘the reconstruction of the ruins on paper was a mighty task, and at the time, [J. C., possibly John Cleeve] Pleydell and others used what they could find among the ashes and ruins to help them guess the probable location and size of the various buildings on the post. … Pleydell made at least two sketches of Fort Duquesne, both of which are in the British Museum.’

One of these states that it was drawn from a survey undertaken by Captain Harry Gordon. The plans in the British Library are by varying hands but none describe the hornwork in any detail. In the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is an unsigned manuscript entitled ‘A Plan of Fort Duquense now call’d Pittsburgh’. It is believed to have been drawn within days of the occupation. It details the hornwork and surrounding area with an ‘Explination’ or key below. It bears a remarkable similarity to the plan shown on this horn. It is remarkable in that it appears not to be at the hand of a professional draftsman.

The horn details the buildings in the hornwork identically, especially on the north side with three buildings either side of the road to the river. These are identified on the manuscript as being three ovens on the left side and ‘Officers Lodgings’ on the right. The south side are ‘Soldiers Barracks’. The eastern battery is adorned with three cannons on the horn. The presence of the 4 ‘Smiths Shops’ on the southwest corner keyed on the manuscript by not illustrated are similarly omitted on the horn.

The adjoining path to the main fort is identified on the plan as ‘a draw bridge’. The main fort is illustrated with four bastions as all drawings indicate. However, whereas the formal plans record a fifth extending from the centre of the south side, here and in the Historical Society Manuscript if extends from the southeast corner. The four main bastions are numbered on the horn, each with a cannon and two buildings, matching that on the plan. The latter identifies those at ‘1’ as provision houses, 2 are officers guard rooms, 3 are the prison and stone house, and 4 are the soldiers guard houses. A central feature here identified as ‘W’, the plan marks with the letter c and identifies it as a well. An arrow points to North above the fort, the letter ‘F’ at the confluence is unclear. Simple cut paths appear to match those on the plan also. There is a clear correlation between the two. The whole complex is identified as ‘Brittish Fort at Pittsbourg’ and measures 19 centimetres (7.5 inches) on the horn.

The ‘Mononghela R.’ and ‘Oheyo R.’ are both marked by burin. The Allegheny River is the larger of the two branches and was considered the Ohio by many to be one and the same. Indeed, all the contemporary manuscripts identify it so. The horn is completed with the Arms of the Royal Artillery headed above by ‘Royal Artil.ry’. The Kings motto is below misspelt as ‘Dieu Mest Mondrot’, below which is the date ‘An.o 1759 Do.’ Confirming this is a large illustration of a cannon. This appears to be an early image of an Armstrong design.

This horn has been personally examined by Philip Zea and David Bosse of Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts. Experts in the field and curators of the Guthman Collection of 75 powder horns, mostly from the French and Indian War. Provenance: William H. Guthman (1924-2005), Guthman Americana, Westport, CT; Rockwell (Rocky) Gardiner (1911-86), Stamford, Connecticut; Howard Barron, High Ridge Books Inc., Catalogue 14 (1987) item 146 for $3,500; private English collection. Brown (1959) pls. 33 & 34 (plan of Fort Duquesne 1758) pp. 105-6; Bosse, David, Historic Deerfield, personal correspondence; Burke, Mike –; DAB; Du Mont (1985); Grancsay (1939); Grancsay (1945); Hannum (1991) ‘Henry Bouquet: A Study of Three Military Campaigns in North America, 1758-1764’; Moore (1967); ODNB; Stotz (1958); Trachtenberg (2003); Zea, Phil, Historic Deerfield, personal correspondence.


Brittish Fort at Pittsbourg

An engraved or scrimshawed cow horn using a knife and burin, 40 centimetres (16 inches) long with a maximum circumference of 25 cms., with a later wooden plug at the base with a screw handle secured by 10 iron pins, the spout is capped with a brass sprung cap, again suspected to be later, with two rings for a strap and was worn on the right-hand side.
Stock number: 10939


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