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John Lord’s Powder Horn

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This powder horn was owned by John Lord, who served as gunner on USS Constitution from 1824 to 1828. Lord joined the United States Navy on November 4, 1812 and fought in the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla. In 1818, he served as a gunner on USS-Franklin, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line. He joined USS Constitution in 1824, just before the ship embarked on a cruise to the Mediterranean. It is possible Lord purchased and decorated this powder horn prior to his service on Constitution. The horn’s characteristics suggest that Lord privately purchased it for his own use and marked the horn as his own property with inscriptions and ornamentation.

During the War of 1812, powder horns were used to carry the finer gun powder used to prime the long guns and howitzers. Though conforming generally in size to known U.S. Navy priming horns, Lord’s horn 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, a bulbous, turned plug of walnut, is also unlike any other U.S. Navy or Royal Navy horn of the period.

The horn is extensively decorated with militaristic themes unique to Lord. His choice of motifs for the horn’s decoration is indicative of his duties as a gunner, as well as the symbolic power of Constitution. Inscribed beneath an image of a ship’s gun are the words “Big Will,” likely the name given to a gun that held special significance for Lord. The image of Constitution engaged in battle with another frigate (probably meant to represent HMS Guerriere) is no doubt a display of patriotism and pride in his ship. It is unclear what the links of chain circling the horn near its mouth are meant to represent. The Navy did not adopt chain cables until the mid-1830s, after Lord’s death in 1829. It may have simply been a decorative motif, or held a deeper significance for Lord.


Date Created

Wood, Horn, Rope, Metal

[H]3 1/2 in. [W]5 3/4 in.

Catalog Number

Credit Line
USS Constitution Museum Collection. Mr. Thomas Cross Gift.

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