A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia – Thomas Harriot 1590

Thomas Harriot was a multi-talented associate of Sir Walter Raleigh, the founder of the Roanoke colony (known as the “lost colony” because all of the colonists mysteriously disappeared). Harriot learned the Algonquin language from a pair of Croatan who had been brought back to England by an earlier expedition. Harriot spent a short time attached to the Roanoke colony learning about the Carolina natives. He wrote a short essay of his observations, including a few lines relevant to Bow vs Musket.

Harriot describes a few of the native animals of the Carolinas (which he calls Virginia), including black bears and how they are hunted:

Beares which are all of black colour. The beares of this countrey are good meat; the inhabitants in time of winter do use to take & eate manie; so also somtime did wee. They are taken commonlie in this sort. In some Ilands or places where they are, being hunted for, as soone as they have spiall of a man they presently run awaie, & then being chased they clime and get up the next tree they can, from whence with arrowes they are shot downe starke dead, or with those wounds that they may after easily be killed; we sometime shotte them downe with our caleevers [calivers, a firearm larger than a harquebus but smaller than a musket].

It is interesting that Harriot claims the bears are sometimes instantly killed by the arrows. American black bears are very roughly similar in size to a modern human.

Harriot describes the native Carolinians’ methods of war:

Their maner of warres amongst themselves is either by sudden surprising one an other most commonly about the dawning of the day, or moone light; or els by ambushes, or some suttle devises: Set battels are very rare, except if fall out where there are many trees, where eyther part may have some hope of defence, after the deliverie of every arrow, in leaping behind some or other.

If there fall out any warres between us & them; what their fight is likely to bee, we having advantages against them so many maner of waies, as by our discipline, our strange weapons and devises els; especially by ordinance great and small, it may be easily imagined; by the experience we have had in some places, the turning up of their heeles against us in running away was their best defence.

Harriot’s description of battles between archers dodging behind cover after every shot is reminiscent to Saukamappee’s description of battles among the natives of the North American plains. In those battles, archers carrying large shields faced off in two opposing lines, popping up from behind their shields to take shots. According to Saukamappee, casualties in these sorts of battles were usually low unless one side significantly outnumbered the other. Saukamappee reports that he and his confederates effectively used muskets to pick off the enemy archers as soon as they stood up.




One thought on “A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia – Thomas Harriot 1590

  1. What is interesting is that from my research the bow’s of North America generally had a draw weight of 46 pounds – ‘The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics among the New England Indians’. I guess at the range he is writing about the arrow could penetrate deeply, so I would think the position of the bear in the tree could be the reason for an instant kill.


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