Iron crossbow quarrel
Crossbow Quarrel

A quarrel is the tip of a crossbow arrow, or bolt. A total of 24 have been recovered from early James Fort contexts. Crossbows were favored for hunting because they were powerful, noiseless, used reusable ammunition, and unlike a longbow they weren’t custom-made for the shooter’s height and didn’t require the shooter to be standing, allowing for greater range. This crown-point style quarrel is designed to batter and stun a hunted animal but not penetrate the skin or damage the fur, which was marketable. With its large, heavy head, this quarrel would not have projected too far from the hunter, so small animals like rabbit were probably the target. The name quarrel is derived from the French word “carré,” meaning “square,” because the quarrel typically has a square head. 

Finds such as this crossbow element highlight adaptation to the Virginia environment, interactions between the English and local Virginia Indian communities, and change over time in the Jamestown colony. English-made iron crossbow quarrels and longbow projectile points have only been found in contexts on the site which date to the earliest years of the fort, ca. 1607-1610. Upon arrival, the colonists did not know what their relationship would be with local Virginia Indians or what challenges their environment might present. They brought a variety of supplies including defensive weapons such as pistols and rifles and tools for hunting such as crossbows and animal traps. 

After the Powhatan attack in 1622, the Crown provided weapons, at the time stored in the Tower of London, to the Virginia Company. Much of the supplies offered were outdated, including 1000 bills, 400 bows, and 800 sheaves of arrows. However, the colonists’ increasing familiarity with Virginia Indians led the English to worry that if their technology and iron projectiles fell into the hands of Virginia Indians, already proficient with stringed weapons, another deadly conflict could occur. The bows and arrows offered by the Crown were diverted to Bermuda instead, and the colony was supplied with firearms that could serve both for hunting or defense.

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