Fort Pitt

Fort Pitt
Center of the ohio country universe

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

long knife described your clothes not your knife...Did I just blow your mind?

Linen shirt with real vermillion on shoulders...Bright stuff...dont do this at home

copy of Andrew Foster Buffalo horn by Alec Fourman

Spokesmodel Riley in a brown blanket coat/Capo...she looks like a Jawa from Star Wars doesnt she...gotta love the mismatched socks

Riley in the Sky Blue Capo (Sam Brady style)

SO much for more blogs in august (sorry Russ). Things here have been more hectic then normal. Sewing blanket coats, weaving like a mad man and now sewing up 17th century French stuff. Tapboard caps, baggy pants and a gilet…weirdness. The toughest part of making an early kit for me is growing the beard. Crazy weirdness….But that’s a post for a later date.
I’ve posted some pics of my latest projects. I got bored and decided to put real vermillion (yeah the stuff you shouldn’t wear) on the shoulders and chest of a white trade shirt. The spot on the chest is meant to be a mark for the Virginia riflemen to aim at (story later). This stuff is BRIGHT. Keep that in mind when your looking for paint to wear at events. I’ve also posted some pics of my sky blue capot and a brown blanket coat I made (if anyone is looking for a blanket coat drop me a line I have 4 now…I have a problem).
Ok so I’m taking a stand, I’m taking a side. The whole “long knife” thing just needs to stop. You can be a “long knife” and carry a pocket knife the name is more of an “idea” then simply a description of a piece of gear you carry. Let me explain…
Fist off lets nail down an origin of the term for Virginians. The following from the notes of the Conference of Albany 1721
“Assarigoe, The name of the governors of Virginia, which signifys a simiter or cutlass,which was given to Lord Howard,Anno 1684, from the Dutch word Hower, A Cutlas.” (Hanna,Wilderness trail page 318)
So we can see LONG before the usual suspects walked thru the canelands sporting hunting shirts and file knives the term “long knife” was being used to describe a Virginian. This name carried over to the Governors of Virginia (like the tern “onas” used for Pa governors) For example in Post’s Journal the natives he’s translating for use the phrase “Brother Assaraquoa” (Long or Big knife) for the governor of Virginia in November of 1755 (still a little before the mad rush into Kentucky)
By the 1770’s the term is applied to the men who are hunting in Indian territory. The term becomes a catchall phrase for the men in hunting shirts. Cresswell is warned in 1774 from wearing a huntng shirt as Natives see it as a mark of a Virginian (aka long knives) you can further see that how a person dresses has more of an influence on the native term for them then anything else:

“These were the name given to the whites,…
1.Mechanschican or Chanschican (long knives) This they no longer applied to the Virginians exclusively, but also to those of the people of the middle states,whom they considered as hostiley inclined towards them, particularly those who wore swords ,DIRKS, or Knives at their sides.”

2 Yengees This is the name they now exclusively applied to the people of New England,who,indeed appeared to have adopted it and were, as they still are, generally through the country called Yankees,which evidently the same name with a trifling alteration. They say they know the Yengees, and can distinguish them BY THEIR DRESS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE, and that they were considered as less cruel than the Virginians or Long knives. The proper English they call Saggenash.

3. Quakels They do not now apply this name exclusively to the members of the society of friends, but to all the white people whom they love or respect, and whom they believe to have good intentions towards them. (**Quakel is “Quaker” many natives could not pronounce the letter R this is why you’ll see the term “lum” for rum in period accounts or see Mary/Molly used for the name of the same woman)

Not only the Delawares, but all the nations round them, make use of these names, and with the same relative application. I have myself,in 1782,while at Detroit, witnessed the Chippeways. Who on meeting an American prisoner, who was walking about called out Messamochkemaan (long knife),Though he had no knife,sword,or dirk at his side.” Heckwelder “a History…”
Ok so you can wear a giant file knife and be a “long knife” or keep a clasp knife in your pocket and be a “long knife”. The term has nothing to do with how good a big knife is for fighting or how common scalpers were. The term started a long time before the first guy in a caped hunting shirt had a local smith bang out the biggest, ugliest antler handled knife made from a file. In the 18th century it really was the Clothes that made the man or at least what the people he came across in the backcountry would think of him at first glance.

And just to end on a happy note I just thought this was kewl. Probably because I have an otterskin shot pouch….but hey its my blog.
May 9, 1765
THREE POUNDS Reward. RUN away from the Subscriber, an Irish Servant Man, named William Williams, by Trade a Baker, about 5 Feet 6 Inches high, with short black Hair, and has a Stoppage in his speech when he speaks fast; had on, when he went away, a blue Broadcloth Coat and Jacket, old Leather Breeches, Ozenbrigs Shirt, and took with him a smooth bored Gun, with a Otter Skin Shot Pouch . Whoever secures said Servant, so that his Master may have him again, shall be intituled to the above Reward if out of the Province, and Forty Shillings if in it, with reasonable Charges, paid by JAMES FORSYTH, living in Conegocheague, near Chambersburgh.


  1. Hmmm.....and I thought that was just an Indian name for cavalrymen!

  2. Gist ca 1750:

    "Set out SW 8 M crossing the said Elk's Eye Creek to a town of the Ottaways, a Nation of French Indians... the old Man was very civil to me, but after I was gone to my Camp, upon his understanding I came from Virginia, he called Me the BIG KNIFE."

    Smith ca 1758:

    "The next morning I met with a prisoner at this place, by the name of Thompson, who had been taken from Virginia; he told me if the Indians would only omit disturbing the fish for one night, he could catch more fish than the whole town could make use of. I told Mr. Thompson that if he was certain he could do this, that I would use my influence with the Indians, to let the fish alone for one night. I applied to the chiefs, who agreed to my proposal, and said they were anxious to see what the GREAT KNIFE (as they called the Virginian) could do."

  3. French stuff? Ah, proof of the madness! Get thee to a Physick and be bled!

  4. "...and they said they were anxious to see what the Great Knife (as they called the Virginian) could do." Scoouuwa: James Smith's Indian Captivity Narrative (OHS, 1996) pg. 115.

    "The Indians said if it was only the red-coats they had to do with, they would soon subdue them, but they could not withstand Ashalecoa, or the Great Knife, which was the name they gave the Virginians." Smith, pg. 118.