|Extinct as tribe|
|Regions with significant populations|
|New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Susquehannock people, also called the Conestoga (by the English) were Iroquoian-speaking Native Americans who lived in areas adjacent to the Susquehanna River and its tributaries from the southern part of what is now New York (and the lands of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy), through the entire height of East-central and central Pennsylvania (West of the Poconos and the Delaware nations), with lands extending beyond the mouth of the Susquehanna in Maryland along the West bank of the Potomac at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. Evidence of their habitation has also been found in West Virginia, which is likely enough as the Cumberland Narrows pass, later called the Nemacolin Trail abutted their range, and was geographically likely navigable through valleys from their large settlement at Conestoga, Pennsylvania.
Names and Endonym
There is no record of the Susquehannock autonym, i.e. what they called themselves. As Europeans penetrated the interior from the coastal areas dominated by Algonquian-speaking tribes, they usually learned the names of new tribes by what the first groups called them. The Europeans adapted or transliterated these names according to their own spelling systems:
- The Huron, another Iroquoian-speaking people, called these people Andastoerrhonon, meaning "people of the blackened ridge pole", related to their building practices);
- The French adapted the Huron term and called them the Andaste (Andastes in plural);
- The Lenape/Delaware, an Algonquian people, used an ethnonym for their traditional enemy which meant "treacherous"; the Dutch and Swedes derived their term of Minquas for the people from this;
- The Powhatan-speaking peoples of coastal Virginia (also Algonquian) called the tribe the Sasquesahanough, meaning "people at the falls" or "muddy water people," due to the association of the tribe with living along the lower Susquehanna River;
- The English of Maryland and Virginia transliterated the Powhatan term, referring to the people as the Susquehannock;
- The English of Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century called them the Conestoga, derived from their village, Conestoga Town in Pennsylvania. Its name was based on the (Pennsylvania Dutch derived) term Kanastoge, meaning "place of the immersed pole."
The original population of the Susquehannock is uncertain due to lack of contact with the Europeans, whose records provide such data. The Europeans' best guesses are that the tribe numbered from 5000-7000 in 1600, were a regional power capable of holding off the Iroquois Confederacy early in the century when the Iroquois began flexing muscles in pursuit of fur trading, later effectively defeating the Seneca and Cayuga in mid-century circa 1666; while in a similar war, perhaps even decimating the Delaware who became a tributary nation from a war with the fierce Susquehannocks waged before 1640. In the later case, and through the balance of the century, the Susquehannocks were allied with the Dutch who'd happily traded them firearms for furs as early as the 1610s. The nation also fought a war declared by the Province of Maryland from 1642-50s and won it, albeit with help from their long-time allies the Dutch. But then when triumphant with a devastating war win over the Seneca and Cayuga, perhaps at the zenith of their tribal power in the 1670s, the Susquehannock mysteriously suffered an extremely rapid decline— presumably from disease and then by successive subsequent defeats by the balance of the Iroquois so their numbers may have diminished to about 300 in 1700. Scholars now believe this was largely due to the effects of new infectious diseases, as well as warfare reverses. By the American Revolution, Delaware and Susquehannocks living in the Wyoming Valley were massacred and scattered when General Washington set troops against the Indians in 1778.
The Susquehannock society was a confederacy of up to 20 smaller tribes, who occupied scattered villages along the Susquehanna River. The Susquehannock nation remained independent and not part of any confederacy into the 1600s. Ultimately, they were not strong enough to withstand the competition from colonists and other tribes in their piece of the so-called Beaver Wars of that century. About 1677 their remaining people, decimated by disease and war, merged with their former enemies and distant language kin, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Five Nations, based in New York.
Archeological materials have been found in Pennsylvania, and Maryland's Allegany County at the Barton (18AG3) and Llewellyn (18AG26) sites. West Virginia's Grant, Hampshire and Hardy counties region (Brashler 1987) possess archaeological sites having Susquehannock ceramics.
Archeologists have also found evidence of the people on the Potomac River and its tributaries. They have classified these artifacts as the "late Susquehannock sequence". A Contact Period (1550~1630) Susquehanna site, 46Hy89, is located in the Eastern Panhandle at Moorefield, West Virginia.
The English seldom visited the upper Susquehanna inland region during the early colonial period. It is likely that the Susquehannock had occupied the same territory land for several hundred years. When Captain John Smith of Jamestown met them in 1608, they had a formidable village in the lower river valley near present-day Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Captain Smith wrote of the Susquehannock, "They can make neere 600 able and mighty men, and are pallisadoed [palisaded] in their Townes to defend them from the Massawomekes their mortall enimies." He was astonished to find the Susquehannock were brokering trade with French goods. He estimated the population of their village to be 2,000, although he never visited it.
The French explorer Samuel Champlain noted the Susquehannock in his Voyages of Samuel Champlain; in 1615, he called one of their 20 villages, Carantouan. It was located on the upper Susquehanna River near present-day New York state. It rallied more than 800 warriors with two other villages, Champlain reported. Modern estimates of the total Susquehannock population, including the whole territory in 1600, range as high as 7,000 people. During the sixteenth century and carrying forward into the first decades of colonization, the Susquehannock were the most numerous people in the Susquehanna Valley.
During the early Dutch colonization of New Netherland, the Susquehannock traded furs with the Europeans. As early as 1623, they struggled to go north past the Lenape (later known as the Delaware), who occupied territory along the Delaware River, to trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam. In 1634, the Susquehannock defeated the Delaware in that area, who may have become their tributaries.
In 1638, Swedish settlers established New Sweden in the Delaware Valley near the coast. Their location near the bay enabled them to interrupt the Susquehannock fur trade with the Dutch further north along the coast.
In 1642, the English Province of Maryland declared war on the Susquehannock. With the help of the Swedes, the Susquehannock defeated the English in 1644. The Susquehannock were in an inactive state of war with Maryland until 1652. As a result, they traded almost exclusively with New Sweden to the north.
In 1652 the Susquehannock concluded a peace treaty with Maryland. In return for arms and safety on their southern flank, they ceded to Maryland large territories on both shores of the Chesapeake Bay. This decision was also related to the Beaver Wars of the late 1650s, in which the Haudenosaunee swept south and west against other tribes and territories to expand their hunting grounds for the fur trade. With the help of Maryland's arms, the Susquehannock fought off the Iroquois Confederacy for a time, and a brief peace followed.
In 1658, the Susquehannock used their influence with the Esopus to end the Esopus Wars, because that conflict interfered with their important trade with the Dutch. From 1658 to 1662, the Susquehannock were at war with the powerful Iroquois confederacy based in New York, which was seeking new hunting grounds for the fur trade. By 1661, the Maryland colonists and the Susquehannock had expanded their peace treaty into a full alliance against the Iroquois. Fifty Englishmen were assigned to the Susquehannock to guard their fort.
In 1663, the Susquehannock defeated a large Iroquois invasion force. In April 1663, the Susquehannock village on the upper Ohio River was attacked by Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga warriors of the western Iroquois. (JR: 48:7-79, NYCD 12:431).
In 1669-70, John Lederer was guided by a Susquehanna man on his journey to southwest Virginia and North Carolina (Mooney 1894:32). Paula W. Wallace writes, "In 1669 Iroquois Indians warned the French that if they tried to descend the Ohio River they would be in danger from the "Andastes." (Susquesahanocks: Wallace 1961:13).
In 1672, the Susquehannock defeated another Iroquois war party. The Iroquois appealed to the French for support because the Iroquois could not "defend themselves if the others came to attack them in their villages". Some old histories indicate that the Iroquois ultimately defeated the Susquehannock, but no record of a defeat has been found. In 1675 the Susquehannock suffered a major defeat by the Iroquois League. English colonists invited the tribe to resettle in Maryland, where they relocated across the river from Pennsylvania.
But the Susquehannock suffered from getting caught up in Bacon's Rebellion the following year. After some Doeg Indians killed some Virginians, surviving colonists crossed into Maryland and killed Susquehannock in retaliation. The Susquehannock moved to old Fort Piscataway, below present-day Washington, DC. Problems on the frontiers led to the mobilization of the militias of Maryland and Virginia and, in confusion, they surrounded the peaceful Susquehannock village. When five Susquehannock chiefs came out to negotiate, they were murdered. The Susquehannock slipped out of the fort at night and harassed settlers in Virginia and Maryland, then eventually returned to the area of the Susquehanna River.
Covenant Chain treaty
In one of its treaties with the colonies, in 1676 the Iroquois reached peace with Maryland and Virginia, and the Lenape/Delaware. They offered to shelter the Susquehannock, distant relations through the Iroquoian-language family, and sometimes allies; though in the Amerind way, sometimes rivals and enemies—as recently as ten years before the Susquehanna had thoroughly trounced the Seneca and Cayuga.
Around 1677, most of the remaining Susquehannock after the disease epidemic of the early-1670s, a pale shadow of their former tribal strength moved to New York, joining mostly with the Seneca and Onondaga nations, who also spoke Iroquoian languages. The Iroquois, who had a long tradition of adopting defeated enemies into their tribe, and Governor Edmund Andros of the Province of New York told the Susquehannock they would be welcome in New York and protected from Maryland and Virginia. Some returned to their homeland on the southern shores of the Susquehanna River, keeping their distance from the center of Iroquois power. Other groups fled to the Iroquois for shelter, and others moved to the upper Delaware River into the somewhat depopulated Delaware Nation lands (ravaged both by the Susquehannocks whom had made them tributary and the Iroquois, which had never gotten along with Algonquian speaking peoples) where they lived under the protection of New York.
After adopting the majority of the Susquehannock, the Iroquois acquired a right to most of the territory along Susquehanna River, but they never claimed below the fall line. To the southwest, the remnant Susquehannock merged with the Meherrin, and allied Nottoway or Mangoac, the Iroquoian-speaking tribes of Virginia. The new group called themselves Chiroenhaka, according to the 20th-century ethnologist James Mooney. As of 2009, researchers have found archaeological evidence of Susquehannock movement into and habitation of areas such as the Mouth of the Seneca and Pancake Island villages in present-day West Virginia, according to Bryan Ward, West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
The Susquehannock population had been devastated by the recurring warfare and high fatalities from new Eurasian infectious diseases, to which they had no immunity. About 1697, a few hundred surviving Susquehannock settled in a new village in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania called Conestoga Town. Their presence also gave rise to the name of the Conestoga River under Governor William Penn, which in turn gave the name to a famous type of wagon—which weren't built on the east side of the Alleghenies whereas hardware kits, the metal parts for which, were made there. The Indian tribe remnants lived under the protection of the provincial Pennsylvania government, but their population declined steadily. In 1763, a census counted only twenty-two people in Conestoga Town. That year the Paxton Boys, in response to Pontiac's Rebellion on the western frontier, attacked the village. The Paxton Boys slaughtered six people at Conestoga. The remaining Indians were sheltered in a Lancaster workhouse by the Commonwealth. The governor discouraged further violence, but two weeks later, the Paxton Boys killed the remaining 14 Susquehannock at the workhouse.
- Susquehannock State Park in Pennsylvania is named for the tribe.
The Susquehannocks were an Iroquoian-speaking people. Little of the Susquehannock language has been preserved. Almost the only source is a Vocabula Mahakuassica compiled by the Swedish missionary Johannes Campanius during the 1640s. Campanius's vocabulary contains only about 100 words, but it is sufficient to show that Susquehannock was a northern Iroquoian language, closely related to those of the Five Nations. Huron or Wyandot, was the language of the Susquehannock people, which is part of the Iroquoian language family
- Editor: Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., by The editors of American Heritage Magazine (1961). "The American Heritage Book of Indians". In pages 188-189. ,. American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. LCCN 61-14871.
- Henry George Hahn, Carl Behm, Towson: A Pictorial History of a Maryland Town, pgs. 12-13, Baltimore, MD: Donning Co., 1977, ISBN 0-915442-36-1
- Wallace: Indians in Pennsylvania
- "Susquehannock State Park History". Susquehannock State Park. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
- Dean R. Snow, The Archaeology of North America, Pearson, 2009
- "Susquehannock, Images from Moorefield Village Site 46Hy89", Council for West Virginia Archaeology
- Maymon, Jeffery H. and Thomas W. Davis (1998), "A Contact Period Susquehannock Site in the Upper Potomac River Drainage: Data Recovery at Site 46HY89, Moorefield, West Virginia", Abstract of paper presented at the 28th Annual Meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Cape May, New Jersey.
- Brashler, J.G. 1987. "A Middle 16th Century Susquehannock Village in Hampshire County, West Virginia," West Virginia Archeologist 39(2): 1-30.
- Jennings, p. 135
- Waldman, Native American Tribes, p. 286
- "Susquehannock State Park". Susquehannock State Park. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
- Varga, Colin (Winter 2007). "Susquehannocks: Catholics in Seventeenth Century Pennsylvania". Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine. XXXIII (1): 6–15.
- Illick, Joseph E. Colonial Pennsylvania: a History. New York: Scribner & Sons, 1976.
- Kent, Barry C. Susquehanna's Indians. Harrisburg: The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1984.
- Jennings, Francis, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire, 1984, ISBN 0-393-01719-2
- Witthoft, John, Susquehannock miscellany, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1959.
- Guss, A.L., Early Indian history on the Susquehanna: Based on rare and original documents, L.S. Hart printer (Harvard reprint), 1883.
- Eshleman, H.F., Lancaster County Indians: Annals of the Susquehannocks and Other Indian Tribes of the Susquehanna Territory from about the Year 1500 to 1763, the Date of Their Extinction. An Exhaustive and Interesting Series of Historical Papers Descriptive of Lancaster County's Indians, Express Print Company (Princeton University reprint), 1909.
- "Where are the Susquehannock?" at The Susquehannock Fire Ring
- "Susquehannock History" by Lee Sultzman
- Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Conestoga
- Susquehannock State Park