Dec. 5, 2023

The Powder Horn Map

The Powder Horn Map

Edward Cogswell was never meant to appear in Worlds Turned Upside Down.

The drummer, who enlisted in Captain Canfield’s Company of the 4th Connecticut Regiment on March 31, 1758, was a soldier I’d never heard of when I sat down to write the script for Episode 3: “The Triumph” earlier this year. But just as a good rug really ties a room together, Cogswell and the powder horn he carried in the northern borderlands of New York during the Seven Years’ War helped draw together elements of a complicated story in unexpected ways.

In the third episode, we wanted to accomplish several things: explain the shift in Britain’s North American strategy following William Pitt’s emergence as the de facto prime minister in 1757; explore how and why British subjects enlisted in the regular army or provincial forces; and reveal how the choices made by Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois), Lenape (Delaware), and other Indigenous people made it possible for the British to conquer New France in 1760.  

Early in the script-writing process, it became clear that focusing on the campaigns of 1758 – and more specifically the disastrous British assault on Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) on July 8th of that year – would allow us to make the best use of contributions from our wonderful experts.

As you’ll hear in the episode, historians Fred Anderson, Matthew Dziennik, Julie Flavell, and Michael Newton provide great insight into what motivated British-born officers and soldiers like George Augustus, 3rd Viscount Howe or the men of the 42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot to serve in the Seven Years’ War. Lord Howe was killed during a skirmish with a French advanced guard two days before the battle, and soldiers from the 42nd Regiment managed to reach the fort’s walls on July 8th before the French drove them back, making the Battle of Fort Carillon a nexus point in our story.

But identifying a provincial regiment or solider who was at Fort Carillon, one that would enable us to leverage our contributors’ expertise proved, more challenging. Listeners of the episode will know that Professor Anderson offers a concise explanation of how the process of recruiting men into provincial forces was vastly different than the regular army’s approach. We could have left it at that, and simply mentioned one of the provincial regiments or companies at the Battle of Fort Carillon, or we could have returned to an individual we had already mentioned in the episode, but that felt profoundly unsatisfying.

Any historian who has spent countless hours sifting through archival manuscript collections or scrolling through digitized materials to find that one piece of evidence that will tie a story together knows well the euphoria of discovery, and the frustration of continued defeat.

Sometimes, however, you just get plain lucky.

During a late summer RRCHNM team meeting, I happened to mention that Worlds Turned Upside Down would begin in the early 1750s, just before the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War.

Not an hour later, one of my colleagues wrote to me on Slack noting that their ancestor, Edward Cogswell, had enlisted as a drummer in a Connecticut regiment during the war.

Remarkably, Cogswell was likely at the Battle of Fort Carillon in July 1758. His enlistment in the 4th Connecticut Regiment just a few months prior would become the example that we paired with Professor Anderson’s explanation of provincial recruitment.

But then, to my utter astonishment, my colleague reported that their family had in its possession Cogswell’s powder horn, and would I like to see pictures of it?

(Cogswell's powder horn with the George II's royal coat of arms)

Powder horns are just what you might suspect: hollowed out oxen or cow horns that were used to carry gunpowder in the eighteenth century. I’d never really given powder horns much thought before, but one look at the pictures of Cogswell’s made it clear just how wrong I’ve been to ignore them.

As museum specialist Rose Durand notes in a fascinating Museum of the City of New York blog post, carving images and maps on powder horns became a popular way for soldiers in North America to pass the time during the Seven Years’ War. While their primary purpose was to carry gunpowder, Durand argues that the horns “became even more important as their owners engraved them, revealing fascinating personal, historical, and geographical information.”

(Depiction of New York City and the Hudson River)

As I say in the episode, “these horns are like cylindrical maps, with etchings that record journeys through space and time.” And as you’ll hear, Cogswell’s horn tells us much about his own sense of place in the British Empire, and his travels through the northern theatre of the Seven Years’ War in 1758. 

Cogswell’s powder horn is a relic of the most important war in American history, a war that reshaped the British Empire in North America in unintended ways.

It took our script, and hopefully our audiences, in unexpected directions as well.  

(Cogswell's name engraved on his horn)