The staff weapon known as the bill developed from the medieval billhook, an agricultural tool used to prune trees and slash brush. It was a popular weapon in 16th-century England and was typically issued by small local fighting forces. The increased reliance of European armies on protective body armor, coupled with the development of firearms, caused the bill to fall into disuse by the time of the Jamestown settlement.
Following the Virginia Indian attack in 1622 that killed more than 300 colonists, King James I supplied Jamestown with 500 bills from the royal armory that were “unfit for any moderne service” in England. While obsolete for the European battlefield, the bill was still useful for the guerilla warfare the colonists engaged in with the Virginia Indians.