Long journey home

Powder horn missing since 1949, found in a Longmeadow dump, now returned to PVMA 254 years after it was made

DEERFIELD — When James Richardson was growing up in 1950s Longmeadow, he loved scouring through the town dump with his friends for unusual items. One of those forays turned up a piece of history: an intricately carved French and Indian War-era powder horn. He kept it over the decades, not knowing it had been stolen from a Deerfield museum.

Now, Richardson, 77, has donated that piece of history back to the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s Memorial Hall Museum, from which it was taken around 1949. The powder horn was originally owned by Jonathan Smead, a Greenfield resident and militia soldier.

“There was this big trunk full of stuff that was on fire, and some stuff had spilled out of it onto the ground, so I started kicking around in the burning leaves, and I kicked out the horn,” Richardson told The Recorder, of finding the artifact. “It was pretty exciting. The horn was a little sooty, but not burnt.”

Richardson, an anthropologist and a collector of old military and historical items, said he held on to the horn, once nearly losing it when he sold off 95 percent of his collection to help pay for his honeymoon in 1961. Luckily, he said, he held onto a few of his favorite powder horns, including Smead’s.

When he again thought of selling the horn, he brought it to a well-known appraiser and learned that it had been the property of the Memorial Hall Museum at some point, and he decided to return it to its proper home.

“Ethically and morally, I felt like it had left this collection and should be returned,” said Richardson, who is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and the curator emeritus of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “Luckily it was found by someone who was interested in that stuff.”

In March, the Memorial Hall Museum’s curator, Suzanne Flynt, received a call from Richardson, who asked her what she could tell him about the horn. She told him that it had been stolen from the museum many years ago, and determined that was the same horn by comparing it to an old drawing that a local artist Rufus Grider had made of it before it went missing.

“I was shocked,” said Flynt. “What are the chances of having one of these horns that was stolen over 65 years ago come back to the museum?”

When the horn was stolen in 1949, Flynt said, the museum had been closed for a few years due to the outbreak of World War II. She said the museum had no curator and lacked a good security system at that time. Prior to that, it had been at the museum since 1880.

“Today, the museum is a much different place. We have a professional staff and a much more sophisticated security system,” said Flynt.

She said the museum has a collection of about 12 other powder horns, but that none of them come anywhere close to matching the intricacy of the engravings on the Smead horn. She said the horn was made at the British fort of Crown Point, where Smead had been serving with one of the militias that were likely involved in building the structure under the supervision of Lord Jeffrey Amherst.

“(Amherst) would have been rounding up men to go and build the fort and Smead would have been there. That he was there in July of 1760 means that he was involved,” said Flynt.

The etchings on the horn include Smead’s name, the date that he commissioned the carvings, and various images of deer, mermaids, ships and fish.

“The artistry on the horn is magnificent. It must have been done by an artist-soldier who had a lot of experience doing this sort of thing and was serving in the militia with John Smead. This person clearly knew how to engrave,” Flynt said.

According to Flynt, Smead lived in the Deerfield Meadows area of Greenfield and was an elected town official as early as 1756. Her records show that he was paid a bounty in 1742 for killing a wolf. Eight years after serving at Crown Point, she said, he married Rosanna Patterson of Colrain, and they had 12 children.

“The Smeads are an old Greenfield family,” she said.

The museum also possesses Smead’s bone-headed cane, which will be exhibited alongside the powder horn.

She said the horn will be put on display today in a sealed case with a security alarm, exactly 254 years after it was engraved. She said that she hopes the horn will complement not only the Memorial Hall Museum but neighboring Historic Deerfield museum’s extensive powder horn collection as well.

“If you’re really into powder horns, this is the place to come,” Flynt said. “It’s really amazing to get a locally owned horn with a Deerfield connection to compliment the horns in the other collections.”

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