Flintlock Pistol; Powder Horn
Brass, Steel, and Wood; Horn
Metcalf Bowler; Stamp Act Congress; Revolutionary War Firearms
Late 18th Century
Mrs. Irving Seaman, 1937
As the Colonies formed their own political systems and adapted to realities in the New World, a drift away from British culture and values had begun. Although this shift did not yield outright disdain for Britain, it forced the Colonies to become more acutely aware of their position and unique needs as colonies within an Empire. When American colonists felt that Britain’s policies misrepresented their needs, discontent arose. One of the first major disagreements with Britain in this respect occurred when Parliament passed the Stamp Act tax in 1765.
Colonial America’s response was a meeting of officials from nine colonies: the Stamp Act Congress. These men produced a resolution reaffirming loyalty to Britain but severely denouncing what they saw as an infringement upon their rights as British citizens. The subsequent decade’s events plunged America into Revolution.
This week’s artifact ambassador is a powder horn and pistol that likely witnessed the Revolution from the hands of one of the influential men from this Congress. Metcalf Bowler (1724-1789) represented Rhode Island at the Stamp Act Congress. Bowler—himself an early supporter of action against Britain—risked much to bolster the cause of the Revolution, first as the speaker of the house in the rebellious Rhode Island Colonial Assembly and subsequently on Rhode Island’s Supreme Court. In 1773 he especially drew British ire when his court refused to prosecute the burning of the HMS Gaspee, but fined its captain instead.
Bowler continued to lead Rhode Island despite risking execution as a traitor to the Crown. However, at one point, the British threat became too much, and he is said to have briefly given in to Loyalist demands in order to save his home. Despite this period of concession, Bowler supported the cause until the successful termination of America’s gamble for independence.
Following the Revolution, Bowler kept America’s overall interests in mind as he applied his efforts toward building a sustainable American economic system. This resulted in a treatise on agricultural prospects which George Washington lauded as “a mark of attention which merits my warmest acknowledgments…[agriculture] is a subject highly worthy of attention…It is the only source from which we can at present draw any real or permanent advantage; and…must be a great (if not the sole) means of our attaining to that…respectability and importance which we ought to hold in the world” (Washington to Bowler, Aug. 19, 1786, Washington Papers).
It is unknown when our ambassador came into Bowler’s possession. Wilkinson flintlocks are generally dated from 1780 through the early 19th century. However, this piece strongly resembles earlier styles made by Henry Nock—Wilkinson’s mentor—early in the Revolution. What is certain is that this ambassador represents the life of a man who personified America’s quest for a new kind of freedom through a revolt against Britain.
Our story continues with the next artifact ambassador!