The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Major Samuel Selden’s Powder Horn: A Revolutionary Map of Boston

We expect to see maps on paper, not on animal horns. Maj. Samuel Selden might have thought this as he etched a map of Boston on his powder horn, which is dated 9 March 1776. During the Revolutionary War, soldiers used animal horns to hold their gunpowder. They filled them at the larger end and funneled the powder into their weapons. Not all militiamen had their own powder horns, so men like Selden carved unique designs on them in order to claim them as their own.

Selden was a member of Connecticut's Provincial Assembly and became a major in the colony's militia during the war. He served under George Washington's direction during the siege of Boston. His powder horn depicts the sites of American fortifications as well as the positions of the Continental Army just before the British evacuated the city.

Even if we did not know Selden's background, his carvings convey his allegiances. A ship labeled "Amaraca" displays a Continental Union flag. Another flag depicts the Liberty Tree, the tree near the Boston Common where locals met to protest British rule. Alongside his name, Selden also inscribed the words: "made for the defense of liberty."

Selden's map is a pictorial map rather than one focused on the area's geography. His detailed carvings feature individual ships in the harbor and houses lining the Boston neck. Crosshatching adds depth to the water and makes his lettering stand out. In contrast, a 1775 powder horn housed at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center features a more traditional map of Boston. Instead of pictures, this map traces shorelines. Unlike Selden's, however, a British soldier carved this powder horn. He inscribed the words: "A Pox on rebels in ther crymes [their crimes]."

1775 powder horn

Photo courtesy of Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.

Just six months after Selden carved his horn, the British captured him at the Battle of Kip's Bay during their campaign to take control of New York City. The prison's conditions were poor. Less than a month later, Selden fell ill and died on 11 October 1776.

Selden's powder horn, as well as that of his British counterpart, is currently on display in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center's exhibition at the Boston Public Library. The exhibition, We Are One: Mapping America's Road from Revolution to Independence, uses maps to explore the events that led thirteen colonies to forge a new nation. We Are One demonstrates that maps, from Selden's carving to early European maps of the new nation, were central to the revolutionary process. The exhibition features maps as well as prints, paintings, and objects from the Leventhal Map Center's own collection and those of twenty partners, including the British Library and Library of Congress. Visit to explore geo-referenced maps from the exhibition.

The exhibition will be on display at the Boston Public Library through November 29, 2015. We Are One then travels to Colonial Williamsburg from February 2016 through January 2017 and to the New-York Historical Society from November 2017 through March 2018.

The Leventhal Map Center also hosts the NEH-funded American Revolution Portal database. Researchers can access maps from the Massachusetts Historical Society, British Library, Library of Congress, and other institutions in one search. Users can download images for research and classroom use. Access these resources and learn more about We Are One at

Find out more about the Society's own map collection at their upcoming exhibition: Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection, which opens on 2 October. Through 4 September, visitors to the MHS can learn more about the American Revolution with exhibition: God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill.


Image 1: Selden, Samuel, 1723-1776. [Powder horn scribed by Samuel Selden.] Lyme, Conn., 1776. 1 powder horn: ivory; 37 x 21 x 13.3 cm. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Image 2: Detail of above.

Image 3: E.B., [Powder Horn with Map of Boston and Charlestown]. [Boston], 1775. Scrimshaw horn, 14 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 26 August, 2015, 8:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

Please note that the library closes early at 3:45PM on Wednesday, 26 August.

On Tuesday, 25 August, we have a Brown Bag lunch talk taking place at noon. Join us to hear Sean Munger of the University of Oregon as he presents "Journaling the Skies: New England's Weather Diarists, 1810-1820." This talk is free and open to the public. Pack a lunch and stop by!

Also on tap this week is the History and Collections of the MHS. Stop by on Saturday, 29 August, at 10:00AM for this 90-minute, docent-led tour, and learn about the history of the Society as well as the architecture of the building and the art and collections housed within. No reservations required for individuals or small groups, but parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance, at or 617-646-0508.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 12:00 AM

He Said, She Said (Redux)

Three weeks ago, I introduced you to John Egbert Jansen and Margaret A. Wisner of Pine Bush, N.Y. Their papers form part of the Hall-Baury-Jansen family papers and include overlapping diaries for the years 1858 and 1859. One of my colleagues here at the MHS asked me what happened to John and Margaret after 1859, so I did a little more digging. 

Unfortunately, none of the rest of the diaries in the collection overlap. We have one more diary kept by Margaret in 1862, but the ink has faded so much that many of the entries are illegible. John kept five more diaries, two before his marriage to Margaret (1860, 1861) and three after (1873, 1875, 1878). So we have to rely almost entirely on him for further details. 

John’s diary entries are short and cryptic. He visited Margaret and thought of her often, and it seems his feelings were reciprocated, but something was apparently delaying their marriage. The fact that we have only one side of the story heightens the mystery and the pathos. We see John pining for Margaret, “living in hopes,” wanting to say things to her but not daring, and parting from her in “affecting” scenes, but her voice is silent. Here are some excerpts from John’s 1861 diary: 

Many wishes I have, but must not express them now, and some inferences to make from former actions. (17 Mar. 1861)

Saw some one in want of sleep as well as myself. I have to think quite little of what I’ve heard lately. (28 Apr. 1861)

The last attempt. […] Not at all afraid. (26 May 1861)

Thinking considerable as to what I must do. (1 July 1861)

Saw one in Church looking sad and lonely. Sorry for that. (24 Nov. 1861)

What the conflict was, I can only guess. There was some discord during John’s visit to the Wisners on 14 Mar. 1861: “Some apparently disappointed in hearing my oppinions of Intemperance as applied to my case.” The day before, he had written: “At home in the evening on account of shame perhaps or the want of a place to go. I dont know what it will amount to. I’ll have to stop after while I guess.” John did take the occasional drink. Did Margaret’s family disapprove? Or was it something else? All we know for sure is that harsh words were spoken, and someone was “very much put out or disgusted.” John felt the sting of “people passing remarks on and about me,” but thought he was “not so bad as I might be.”

His love for Margaret is unmistakable. He referred to her tenderly as “Maggie” and even, in one entry, as his “duckee.” Sometimes he just used a plus (“+”) sign to indicate her, as on 18 Aug. 1861: “Retired early, but could not sleep thinking of the goodness and other qualities of +.” As the year neared its end, with the prospect of their marriage still dim, John was glum: “Dark and gloomy out. Myself dull and lonely. Wonder if any one is thinking of me? Doubts arising.” But on New Year’s Eve, he clung to hope: “As the clock strikes 12 I was happy and alone and may I next New Year’s eve be the same except the alone.”

As I looked through John’s 1861 diary more carefully, I realized that Margaret was not entirely silent after all. At some point, she also read the volume and couldn’t resist adding her own sly comments after some entries. For example, on 7 Oct. 1861, John described an outing with some friends: “Bad companie but hard spoiling me as I am so innocent??” Margaret added a playful: “Poor boy.” (The question marks were also probably written by her.)

We have no diary kept by John in 1862, so we switch to Margaret’s point of view. Her diary for that year, though faded, does contain some legible entries, but their meaning is just as elusive as John’s. The couple had frequent “discussions” and “consultations.” When John visited on 12 Nov. 1862, with nothing decided, the two of them just “sat & sat hoping things would be right.” The wedding was put off at least once, and the next day John was nearly at the end of his rope: “John E. here & to tea. Quite cross when he left. To bad. To bad.”

Finally, on 17 Dec. 1862, John and Margaret were married. Margaret’s entry for that date reads: “Memorable day. Promised much, before many witnesses. Left with My husband […]” John’s later diaries describe the life of a typical New York farm family. The couple had three children: Lewis Wisner Jansen (1864-1925), Elsie (Jansen) Vernooy (1866-1949), and Lt. Col. Thomas Egbert Jansen (1869-1959).

Margaret died in 1923, and John in 1929. They, their three children, and other Jansen and Wisner family members are buried in New Prospect Cemetery in Pine Bush, N.Y.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 21 August, 2015, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a quiet week here at the Society as we leave the dog days of summer behind. On Wednesday, 19 August, we have a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Jordan Taylor of Indiana University. Taylor's talk, "News in Flux: Early American Information and Commerce in the Age of Revolution," explores how Americans' sources of news, as well as their discourses of authority and authenticity, changed over the course of the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. This talk is free and open to the public and begins at noon. 

Then, on Saturday, 22 August, join us at 10:00AM for the History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. This 90-minute, docent-led tour exposes visitors to all of the public spaces in the Society's home on Boylston street while providing information on the history of the MHS, the collection it holds, and the art and architecture in the building. The tour is free and open to the public with no reservations required for small groups or individuals. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at or 617-646-0508. 

And finally, remember to come in and see our current exhibition, "God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill." The exhibit is free and open to the public, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, but only until 4 September, so come on in and check it out before it goes away!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

This week at the Society there are two teacher workshops and a Brown Bag taking place. Maritime Massachusetts: Falmouth Stories and Sources, is a three-day program (Monday, 10 August-Wednesday 12 August) which is open to educators and history enthusiasts with a fee of $35. The workshop will begin each morning at 8:30AM and run until 3:30PM. To register or to get more information, complete this registration form, or contact the education department at or 617-646-0557. This program will take place in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

On Wednesday, 12 August, join us at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Julia James, Syracuse University. "Women in the Woods: Crime, Gender, and Community in Colonial New England, 1675-1763" draws upon various primary sources to reveal information about Native women's community roles and the intercultural relationships formed between Native and English peoples. This talk is free and open to the public.

Then, on Friday, 14 August, the Society hosts a free one-day program for teachers, co-sponsored by and the Ashbrook Center at Ashland Univesity, and with assistance from the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation. Framing America's Constitution is lead by Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Ashbrook Center Senior Fellow and Emeritus Professor at Pepperdine University. For more information, contact the MHS education department at or 617-646-0557. To register, visit to complete the online registraiton form. 

And on Saturday, 15 August, starting at 10:00AM is the History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour is free and open to the public. Parties of 8 or more, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 9 August, 2015, 12:00 AM

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