Shedding powder on Battle of Crysler’s Farm


MORRISBURG–Local historian John Carruthers, who specializes in the reproduction of black powder muskets, has produced a unique piece to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and in particular, the Battle of Crysler’s Farm.

In keeping with the time of the battle, Carruthers, in collaboration with good friend Sheldon Beverage, has produced a beautiful black powder horn that would have been used by the soldiers of the day (both the British and American).

Over the 38 years that Carruthers has been reproducing muskets, he has had occasion to make powder horns, but this one to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 has become a work of art. Engraved on its exterior is John’s name, the Crysler Farm battle date, a 1756 replica map of the intended American route from Sacketts Harbor down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, the Coat of Arms of King George III, a salute to the Mohawk Indians who fought side-by-side with British regulars, and a replica of the 1895 Monument for Crysler’s Farm.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the War, John with his wife Mary have included the powder horn, a replica musket, a cutlass and a documented collection of U.S. musket balls and buckshot and other War of 1812 memorabilia in an exhibit they have displayed at various War of 1812 celebrations over the past year and a half.

“Mary and I put on displays six times last year, and will have done another nine this year which will include  the Iroquois-Matilda Lions Club Commemoration coming up in Iroquois, on November 9.

The production of the powder horn was an intensive labour of love, with Carruthers putting in some 80 hours preparing, sanding, polishing and carving the horn and Beverage, whose engraving career was with the Royal Canadian Mint, adding another 80 hours for the engraving.

Carruthers explains that his work was with rasps and files, “to keep taking it down until it was smooth.” Sand paper and fine steel wool gave it the final sheen. In addition, Carruthers produced the plug (for the butt end) out of cherry wood and used a fiddle key at the small end. He explains that when powder horns were used, the plugs would have been sealed with beeswax to keep the horn watertight, and the small end plug was often a fiddle key.

While Carruthers talks about his work on the powder horn, he can’t say enough about the quality of engraving produced by Beverage. In the Coat of Arms, “Sheldon even included the thistle and the rose. The process involved little scratches, that were then darkened with India ink to accent the engraving details. His work is beautiful. It just amazed me.”

Carruthers says that although the main function of the power horn, “was to carry black power for their muskets, some horns were quite elaborate. They usually had a map, and their names.”

Carruthers has a small collection of powder horns. He has one made from a cow’s horn that came from the Toyes Hill area that would probably have belonged to a working man, and another, older one that “hung in Alex English’s store. We think it belonged to a Weagant, and that it might have been used in the War of 1812.”

Highlighting his collection is a 200 year old horn, complete with a British Stamp. “It was used for priming canons, and it too could have been used in the War of 1812.”

Also popular in Carruthers’ display is his collection of musket balls and buckshot he and his family collected in the water along the St. Lawrence shoreline west of Crysler Marina in the early 1970’s.

Carruthers was first made aware of the balls and buckshot by some duck hunters who had pulled their boats to shore west of the Marina and noticed these round objects in the water. “They told me they had found a couple of balls they thought were ball bearings of some sort. I asked them if they were rusty and when they said no, they were more grey and had a crusty texture, that had me thinking. Lead oxidizes, so over 200 years a grey crust would have formed over them. You could scrape it off down to the lead, but I have left the crust.”

In 1977, the musket balls and buckshot were examined by Lee F. Murray, then Chief Curator of the Canadian War Museum at the National Museum of Man.

In Mr. Murray’s opinion, “what he has found are U.S. musket balls and buckshot. I believe that to be the case because the location where he finds them is what was, at the time of the battle [Crysler’s Farm], the bush on the U.S. right flank from which the main U.S. force on the east side of the gully was attacked by Canadian and Indian skirmishes. The calibre of the balls, which Carruthers tells me varies from 0.64 inches to 0.69 inches suggests that they are of U.S. origin. The buckshot too suggests U.S. origin for they were known to load 2-3 buckshot with each musket ball.”

Carruthers says he has enjoyed sharing his collections and knowledge at the various events held to commemorate the anniversary of the War of 1812, and he is looking forward to the upcoming celebration in Iroquois, on November 9.

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