February 08, 2019

Rare Powder Horn Illuminates Little-Known Story of Gershom Prince and Other Black Soldiers of the Revolutionary War

Prince Died in the Wyoming Massacre of 1778 in Pennsylvania, One of the Bloodiest Battles of the War

The elaborately carved powder horn of Gershom Prince, a Black soldier who served and died in the Revolutionary War, is now on display at the Museum of the American Revolution. The powder horn – a cow’s horn that was used to store gunpowder – sheds light on the little-known stories of Black soldiers, both free and enslaved, who fought during the American Revolution. 

Denise Dennis and Dr. Philip Mead
Denise Dennis and Dr. Philip Mead

“Very few powder horns of Black Revolutionary War soldiers survive,” said Dr. Philip Mead, Chief Historian and Director of Curatorial Affairs. “This one is probably the only surviving powder horn of a Black solider who was killed in action. It is a moving testament to the contributions of African Americans to the freedom of this nation at its inception.”

The horn is carved with Prince’s name as well as exquisite artwork including detailed images of trees, forts, and scenes from everyday life, giving a unique glimpse into his experiences. It is on loan to the Museum from the Luzerne County Historical Society, where it was donated by Prince’s family in the 1950s and was last displayed in 2012. It will remain on display at the Museum through the end of the year.

Gershom Prince was born in Connecticut in 1733 and settled in the Wyoming Valley in what is now northeastern Pennsylvania. He carried the powder horn in two wars: the French and Indian War and, 17 years later, the Revolutionary War. During both wars, he served as a (likely free) aide to Captain Durkee of the 4th Connecticut Regiment. During the Revolutionary War, Prince survived the battles of Germantown and Brandywine, as well as the winter encampment at Valley Forge.

Gershom Prince's powder horn
Gershom Prince's powder horn
On July 3, 1778, a combined force of Iroquois and Loyalists attacked the Wyoming Valley, killing most of the outnumbered American soldiers there. Prince was among those killed. The powder horn was taken from his body after the attack and preserved.
 

On the Centennial of the Battle of Wyoming, a monument was erected on the site of the battlefield for those who lost their lives and are buried there. Inscribed on the monument is a list of names by rank. The last name listed under the rank “Privates” is “Gershom Prince, colored.” 

Historian and author Denise Dennis, a descendant of Prince’s family, is the founding president of The Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust, which preserves the 153-acre Dennis Farm in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County. The farm was settled in the 1790s by Dennis’ great-great-great-great grandfather, Prince Perkins (1750 – 1839), who served in the Revolutionary War and was freed for his service.

“Knowing stories like those of Gershom Prince and other African American Revolutionary War patriots benefits all Americans by reminding us of our shared heritage,” said Dennis. “Their stories tell Americans that even during a time when most Black people were held in slavery, there were African American sons of liberty who fought for the nation’s independence as well as for their own freedom and that of their enslaved brethren.”

The Museum’s exhibits feature a rich tapestry of experiences of those who were a part of the Revolutionary generation, including women, native people, and free and enslaved people of African descent. Through artifacts, digital interactives, recreated historical scenes, and theater experiences, the Museum brings to life the stories of the diverse range of people who created a nation.

About Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution explores the dramatic, surprising story of the American Revolution through its unmatched collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, and works of art. Immersive galleries, powerful theater experiences, and digital touchscreens bring to life the diverse array of people who created a new nation against incredible odds. Visitors gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in the ongoing promise of the American Revolution. Located just steps away from Independence Hall, the Museum serves as a portal to the region’s many Revolutionary sites, sparking interest, providing context, and encouraging exploration. The Museum, which opened on April 19, 2017, is a private, non-profit, and non-partisan organization. For more information, visit www.AmRevMuseum.org or call 877.740.1776.