Long knives

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Not to be confused with the Nazi purge known as the Night of the Long Knives.

Long knives or big knives was a term used by the Iroquois and later by American Indians of the Ohio Country to designate British colonists of Virginia, in contradistinction to those of New York and Pennsylvania. It is a literal translation of the treaty name that the Iroquois first bestowed on Virginia Governor Lord Howard in 1684, Assarigoe (variously spelled Assaregoa, Assaragoa, Asharigoua), meaning "cutlass" in Onondaga. This word was chosen as a pun on Howard's name, which sounds like Dutch hower meaning "cutlass" (similar to the Iroquois' choice of the name Onas, or quill pen, for the Pennsylvania Governors, beginning with William Penn.)

The name "long knives" is also thought to refer to the swords carried by colonial military officers.

George Rogers Clark spoke of himself and men as "Big Knives," or Virginians, in his speeches to the Indians in 1778 after the capture of Illinois. In the latter part of the American Revolutionary War, down to and during the War of 1812, the term was used to designate Americans.


  • Dictionary of American History by James Truslow Adams, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940.