THE JACOB DRITT POWDER HORN
Christian B. Keller, PhD., Carlisle, Pennsylvania
This article is dedicated to the memory of Wayne Tritt, whose research and dedication, in part, allowed me to recognize the historical significance of the Jacob Dritt horn.
General Jacob Dritt is probably one of the best documented of all the Tritt/Dritt early ancestors. Volume I of Tritt Family History includes a sizeable chapter devoted solely to this seminal figure in our family's history, and, thanks to the research of Richard and Wayne Tritt, among others, our knowledge of Jacob seems to increase by the year. Pennsylvania state and York County archival records have helped us piece together the history of his life and exploits to the point that we know a great deal about him, the house he bought, and the local area in which he lived.
What has remained somewhat fuzzy up to this point is Jacob's role in the Revolutionary War. We know he served as captain in a battalion raised in York County in the summer of 1776 to answer George Washington's request for a "Flying Camp" of Militia. Flying Camps, organized throughout the war especially in the middle colonies, were like emergency militia units, raised by the states in response to a specific appeal for troops, and could be quickly dispatched to points of military crisis. Most of the Pennsylvania portion of this particular Flying Camp was captured in November 1776 at Fort Washington on the Hudson River (a post that guarded the approaches to New York City). Immediately imprisoned by the British, Jacob was fortunate to survive his captivity and was successfully exchanged. At this point his story becomes difficult to trace and our research leaves much open to conjecture. When exactly was he exchanged, and where did he go afterwards? What did he do for the rest of the war?
These are difficult questions to answer conclusively without meticulous research in state and local archives and the National Archives. Yet we have two general sets of clues, one group emanating from the powder horn itself and the other from some cursory research online. First, we know that subsequent Pennsylvania- and Maryland-based Flying Camps were created in the later years of the Revolutionary War. We also know that a "German Battalion," composed exclusively of German-speaking Marylanders and Pennsylvanians (four companies of each), was raised to be part of the original 1776 Flying Camp and existed as an autonomous unit under various larger commands until January 1781. Lastly, we know that Jacob was appointed after the war as a Major General of Pennsylvania Militia, a very significant and honorable post during a time in American history when militia membership was considered part of a man's civic duty. One would not rise to this post without some sort of substantial prior military service as well as an impeccable standing in local society.
The second group of clues are literally on the powder horn itself. The horn, which I discovered and bought in a Gettysburg antique shop in the fall of 2010, is clearly inscribed with the words, "Jacob Dritt- his horn." It also has various other etchings, presumably of a city (New York? Philadelphia? York?), a church, a Pennsylvania German "Distelfink" bird, and the words Brandywine, Valley Forge, and Yorktown." Are we to believe that Jacob participated in these famous campaigns, so integral to American victory in the War for Independence? Other decorated powder horns from the era also bear the names of the battles their owners fought in and most have been historically verified, so it is fair to presume that Jacob (or whoever inscribed the horn) was not attempting deliberate falsehood. Yet, based on the work conducted for Volume I of Tritt Family History, it is almost certain Jacob was released from captivity by the British sometime in 1777. The intriguing question is when, and upon that date, and further historical research, hinges our future understanding of Jacob Dritt's significance in the Revolutionary War. The battle of Brandywine occurred on September 11, 1777, the ordeal at Valley Forge lasted from the late fall of 1777 to the spring of 1778, and the Yorktown campaign was fought from late September through mid-October of 1781. It is therefore entirely possible, depending on Jacob's date of release and his physical condition, that he participated in the campaigns listed on the horn. The German Battalion definitely served in all three campaigns (at Yorktown it was formally absorbed into another unit but its constituent soldiers remained) and other Pennsylvania-based Flying Camps were present at two of them. Knowing that Jacob originally enlisted in the York County battalion of the first Flying Camp, it is likely he would have re-enlisted in a similar unit later on in the war rather than join a regular contingent of the Continental Army. However, regardless of the unit he fought under, that he continued to serve the cause of American independence is highly probable. How could he have achieved the lofty position he held in the postwar militia if he had only served for a very brief period in 1776 that ended in capture?
It appears likely that Jacob Dritt did indeed participate in these three climactic campaigns of the Revolutionary War, but further hard evidence drawn from the historical record is necessary to confirm this thesis. If proven true, then our ancestor was truly one of the leading early citizens not only of Pennsylvania west of the Susquehanna River, but also of the early United States overall.
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