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Distribution of the Susquehannock language

The Susquehannock people were natives of areas adjacent to the Susquehanna River and its tributaries from the southern part of what is now New York, through Pennsylvania, to the mouth of the Susquehanna in Maryland[1] at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. Archeologically on the Potomac River and its tributaries, the late Susquehannock sequence appear in Pennsylvania, Maryland's Allegany County at the Barton (18AG3) and Llewellyn (18AG26) sites and West Virginia's Grant, Hampshire and Hardy counties region (Brashler 1987) possess archaeological sites having Susquehannock Ceramics. A Contact Period Susquehanna site (1550~1630), 46Hy89[2], is located in the Eastern Panhandle at Moorefield, West Virginia (Brashler 1987[3]). These people were called:

  • Andastes by the French (from the Huron name Andastoerrhonon, meaning "people of the blackened ridge pole[4]),
  • Minquas by the Dutch and Swedes (using the Lenape/Delaware name meaning "treacherous"),
  • Susquehannocks by the English of Maryland and Virginia (using the Algonquian name meaning "people of the muddy river", and
  • Conestogas by the English of Pennsylvania (from Kanastoge, meaning "place of the immersed pole", the name of the Susquehanna village in Pennsylvania).

There is no record of what the Susquehannocks called themselves.



Susquehannock artifacts on display in the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

The true nature of their society, whether a single tribe in a single village, or a confederacy of smaller tribes occupying scattered villages, may never be known. Europeans seldom visited this inland region during the early colonial period. It is likely that the Susquehannocks had occupied the same land for several hundred years. They had a formidable village in the lower river valley near present-day Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when Captain John Smith of Jamestown met them in 1608. Captain Smith wrote of the Susquehannock, "They can make neere 600 able and mighty men, and are pallisadoed in their Townes to defend them from the Massawomekes their mortall enimies." He was astonished to find the Susquehannocks were brokering trade with French goods. He estimated the population of their village to be two thousand, although he never visited it. Susquehannocks is mentioned in the "Voyages of Samuel Champlain" for 1615 as he calls one of their some 20 villages "Carantouan" located on the upper Susquehanna River near New York. It rallied more than 800 warriors with two other villages, Champlain reports. Modern estimates of their population, including the whole territory in 1600, range as high as seven thousand.

Subtribes are but little known; they included the Akhrakouaeronon. The French name Andaste, from Andastoerrhonon, may refer to another subtribe. Possible related tribes include the Scahentoarrhonon, Onojutta-Haga and the Tehotitachsae.

During the period of Dutch control of New Netherland, the Susquehannock traded furs with the Dutch. As early as 1626, they were struggling to get past the tribes of the Delaware to trade with the Dutch at Manhattan. In 1634, they were at war with the Delawares over access to the Dutch. The Delawares were defeated and may have become tributaries. In 1638, Swedish settlers established New Sweden at a location designed to intercept the Susquehannock trade with the Dutch.

In 1642, the English Province of Maryland declared war on the Susquehannocks. With the help of the Swedes, the Susquehannock defeated the English in 1644. The Susquehannocks were in an inactive state of war with Maryland until 1652. As a result, they traded almost exclusively with New Sweden. In 1652 they 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.

In 1658, the Susquehannocks used their influence with the Esopus to end the Esopus Wars because the conflict interfered with the important trade with the Dutch. From 1658 to 1662, the Susquehannocks were at war with the Iroquois. By 1661, Maryland's treaty of peace was expanded to a full alliance between the Maryland colonists and the Susquehannocks against the Iroquois. Besides goods and arms, fifty Englishmen were assigned to the Susquehannocks to guard their fort. In 1663, a large Iroquois invasion force was defeated at the home fort of the Susquehannocks.

In 1672, the Susquehannocks defeated an 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". Peter Wu = the man. Some old histories indicate that the Iroquois defeated the Susquehannocks, but no record of a defeat has been found.[5]

In 1675, the Susquehannocks were invited by colonists to Maryland, where they relocated because of pressure from the Iroquois. They became embroiled in Bacon's Rebellion the following year.[6] After some Doeg Indians killed some Virginians, Virginians crossed into Maryland and killed some Susquehannocks. Virginia militia in alliance with Maryland militia surrounded the Susquehannock village on the Potomac. The Susquehannock held out for six weeks.

Virginia's governor was overthrown by Nathaniel Bacon, who promised to exterminate the Susquehannock. Instead he attacked some friendly Occaneechees.

Governor Edmund Andros of the Province of New York told the Susquehannock they would be welcome in New York and that he would protect them from Maryland and Virginia. The Mohawk Nation invited them to move to New York as guests. Some moved to their homeland on the Susquehanna River, some fled to the Iroquois for shelter, and others moved to the upper Delaware River under the protection of New York. In 1677, the Shackamaxon Treaty was signed between the Susquehannock and New York. In 1677, New York ordered the Susquehannock to be expelled from the Delaware Valley. The Iroquois as adopters of a majority of the Susquehannock acquired a right to most of the Susquehanna River, but they never claimed below the falls.

Over the next hundred years, the Susquehannock population was devastated by the ravages of disease and warfare. The remaining Susquehannock, numbering only a few hundred, settled in a new village in Lancaster County called Conestoga Town. They lived under the protection of the provincial government of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth. Their population declined steadily, with only twenty-two people counted in Conestoga Town in 1763. That year the Paxton Boys, in response to Pontiac's Rebellion on the western frontier, attacked the village and murdered all twenty people they found.


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.


  1. ^ Towson: A Pictorial History of a Maryland Town, pgs. 12-13, Henry George Hahn, Carl Behm, 1977, Donning Co. , ISBN 0915442361
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Brashler, J.G. 1987. "A Middle 16th Century Susquehannock Village in Hampshire County"; West Virginia, West Virginia Archeologist 39(2): 1-30.
  4. ^ Wallace: Indians in Pennsylvania
  5. ^ Jennings, p. 135
  6. ^ Waldman. Native American Tribes. p. 286


  • 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, 1984, ISBN 0393017192

External links



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