Spurs are devices that were invented over 2,000 years ago to aid in horse-riding. They are generally U-shaped to fit around a person’s ankle, and they have a spike or rowel at the end to allow a rider to poke a horse’s haunches. Spurs can be used to get a horse to move or to punish misbehavior. Because spurs are attached to the heel of the rider, however, they have also enjoyed some periods of popularity as a fashion accessory, even for individuals who had no horse and did not ride.
Changes in spurs over time are fairly well documented thanks to portraits, historical accounts, and surviving examples. The following table summarizes some of the most typical attributes of Colonial and Early Federal spurs found in the Middle-Atlantic. Additional chronological information is included in this section of the website in the form of images, measurements, context, and site information for every Colonial and Early Federal spur available at the MAC Lab and cooperating regional repositories.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the variety of spurs increased, making their inclusion in a simplified table more problematic, and at present, no later spurs have been located in the MAC Lab’s collections. Such examples will be added to the website if available in future, however, even though post-1820 spurs are not illustrated in the table below.