[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles (Huron, Micmac, Assiniboine, etc.).
This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to those Nations referred to in the History of the Susquehannock.
Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments...Lee Sultzman]
Susquehanna River and its branches from the north end of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland across Pennsylvania into southern New York.
The original number is uncertain, since Europeans seldom visited their villages. The best guesses of their population are somewhere between 5,000 to 7,000 in 1600 in at least five tribal groups. By 1700 there were only 300 Susquehannock. Their rapid decline continued until the last 20 were massacred by a mob of colonists in 1763. There are, however, known descendents among the Iroquois and Delaware. The
famous Oneida sachem during the American Revolution, Skenandoa, was of Susquehanna descent as was Logan, a Mingo chief in Ohio. Another possibility is some Susquehannock are believed to have joined the Meherrin (North Carolina) during the 1670s. The Meherrin were later absorbed by the Tuscarora and migrated as a part of them to New York in 1722. Currently, there should be Susquehannock blood among the members of the Delaware, Tuscarora, Oneida, and Oklahoma Seneca.
Susquehannock appears to have been an Algonquin name meaning the "people of the Muddy River" (Susquehanna). Whatever name they used for themselves and their confederacy (if indeed there ever was one) has been lost. There are several other different names for Susquehannock which were commonly used by early Europeans. The French called them Andaste from their Huron name Andastoerrhonon. The Dutch and Swedes used the Delaware name of Minqua meaning "stealthy" or "treacherous." Eventually, they made a distinction between White Minqua (Susquehannock) and the Black Minqua who lived farther to the west and were probably part of the Erie. Variations of these were: Andastaka, Andasto, Atrakwer, Gandatogué, Mengwe, Menquay, Mincku, and Minque. The English colonists in Virginia and Maryland called them the Susquehannock, but Pennsylvanians during the 1700s preferred Conestoga derived from Kanastoge (place of the immersed pole), the name of their last village in Pennsylvania. The Powhatan in northern Virginia may have called them the Pocoughtaonack or Bocootawwanauke. Although it is likely these peoples were Susquehannock, their precise identity is uncertain.
Iroquian - reportedly similar to Huron.
The Susquehannock appear to have been a confederacy of at least five tribes with more than 20 villages. Unfortunately, the names of individual tribes and villages have been lost. Names associated with the Susquehannock are:Akhrakuaeronon (Atrakwaeronnon), Akwinoshioni, Atquanachuke, Attaock, Carantouan, Cepowig, Junita (Ihonado), Kaiquariegehaga, Ohongeoguena (Ohongeeoquena), Oscalui, Quadroque, Sasquesahanough, Sconondihago (Seconondihago or Skonedidehaga), Serosquacke, Takoulguehronnon, Tehaque, Tesinigh, Unquehiett, Usququhaga, Utchowig, Wyoming, and Wysox.
Almost completely forgotten today, the Susquehannock were one of the most formidable tribes of mid-Atlantic region at the time of European contact and dominated the large region between the Potomac River in northern Virginia to southern New York. Little is known about them, since they lived some distance inland from the coast, and Europeans did not often visit their villages before they had been destroyed by epidemic and wars with the Iroquois in 1675. The Susquehannock have been called noble and heroic. They have also been described as aggressive, warlike, imperialistic, and bitter enemies of the Iroquois. They may also have warred with the Mahican from the central Hudson Valley. When he first met the Susquehannock in 1608, Captain John Smith was especially impressed with their size, deep voices, and the variety of their weapons. Their height must have been exceptional, because the Swedes also commented on it thirty years later. The constant warfare between Iroquian-speaking tribes gave the Susquehannock a military advantage over their more peaceful Algonquin neighbors to the east and south. Using canoes for transport, Susquehannock war parties routinely attacked the Delaware tribes along the Delaware River and travelled down the Susquehanna where they terrorized the Nanticoke, Conoy, and Powhatan living on Chesapeake Bay.
The Susquehannock lived in a number of large, fortified villages (perhaps as many as 20) that stretched along the Susquehanna River and its branches across Pennsylvania into southern New York. How far west their territory extended on the western fork of the Susquehanna and the Juanita Rivers is unclear. It was, however, far enough that they were allies and trading partners of the Erie in northern Ohio and the Huron and Neutrals of southern Ontario. Little is known about their political and social organization, but it can be safely assumed that it was similar to the Iroquois who lived just north of them in upstate New York. There would have been several individual tribes. Clans were almost certainly matrilineal (descent traced through the mother), and Turtle, Fox, and Wolf have been mentioned as possible names. Like other Iroquian tribes, the Susquehannock farmed extensively. In the spring, they planted maize, beans, and squash in the fields near their villages. After this was finished, many groups moved south for the summer to temporary sites on Chesapeake Bay to fish and gather shellfish returning in the fall to harvest their crops and hunt.
Since the Susquehannock apparently had been good friends with the Huron from times long before contact, it is possible they migrated to the Susquehanna Valley from the north. The earliest village sites identified as Susquehannock were located on the upper Susquehanna River and date from about 1550, but they probably had occupied the region for at least 400 years before this. Although they inflicted a major defeat on the Mohawk shortly before 1600, wars with the Iroquois had by 1570 forced the Susquehannock south into the lower Susquehanna Valley. Hardened by years of constant warfare, they overwhelmed the Algonquin tribes along the shores of Chesapeake Bay and began extending their control southward. The first European contact with the Susquehannock was in 1608 when Captain John Smith (from Jamestown) was exploring the northern end of Chesapeake Bay. This encounter was friendly enough, but Smith was wary because of their reputation and awed by their size. His later reports described them as giants.
The Powhatan also knew the Susquehannock (whom they called cannibals) from painful experience, and when the English first settled Virginia, the Powhatan had placed their villages well-inland to protect them from Susquehannock war parties who ranged the coastline by canoes. One reason the Powhatan were not completely opposed to English settlement at first was that they provided additional protection, but the Susquehannock still attacked the Potomac (Powhatan) villages in northern Virginia during 1610. Drawn by the potential profits from furs, other Europeans came to the New World during the early 1600s. Henry Hudson explored Delaware Bay and the Hudson River in 1609 for the Dutch East India Company, and by 1614 the Dutch had established a trading post on the Hudson River and were trading with the Delaware on the lower Delaware River and Delaware Bay. From the French settlement at Quebec on the St. Lawrence River, Étienne Brulé visited the Huron villages on Georgian Bay in 1611.
During 1615 Brulé explored the area south of the Huron homeland. Crossing the Niagara River, he reached the Susquehannock villages on the upper Susquehanna River, where he discovered the Susquehannock were more than willing to ally themselves with the French and Huron in their war against the Iroquois League. Friendly relations with the Susquehannock were particularily valuable to the French, not only for purposes of trade, but because they trapped the Iroquois between two powerful enemies. Unfortunately, the new alliance alarmed Dutch traders on the Hudson River, and they actively supported the Mohawk in 1615 against the Susquehannock. Although they were relatively few in number and isolated by their inland location, the Susquehannock managed to become an important trading partner with all of the competing European powers - an achievement unmatched by any other tribe.
Also handicapped by their inland location, the Iroquois first had to contend with the powerful Mahican confederacy in order to trade with the Dutch, and it took four-years of war (1624-28) before the Mohawk emerged as the pre-eminent trading partner of the Dutch in the Hudson Valley. The Susquehannock, however, had an easier time against the numerous - but peaceful and disorganized - Delaware tribes who traded with the Dutch along the lower Delaware. Beginning in 1626, the Susquehannock attacked the Delaware and by 1630 had forced many of them either south into Delaware or across the river into New Jersey. The Dutch accepted the outcome, but when they began to trade with the Susquehannock, they were pleased to discover the Susquehannock (skilled hunters and trappers) had more (and better) furs than the Delaware. By the time the Swedes made their first settlements on the Delaware River in 1638, the Delaware were entirely subject to the Susquehannock and needed permission from the "Minqua" to sign any treaties.
Meanwhile, to the south in Virginia, the English colonists in 1625 had defeated the Powhatan, the only Algonquin confederacy strong enough to have challenged the Susquehannock. It took another war (1644-46) for the English to completely crush the Powhatan and take control of eastern Virginia, so they had little time to concern themselves about the Susquehannock. Unchallenged, the Susquehannock extended their dominion south from the Susquehanna to the Potomac River and claimed the area in between as hunting territory. They did not ask the tribes who lived there. To remain, the Patuxent and Conoy (Piscataway) on the western shore of the Chesapeake were forced to ally with the English in Virginia by 1628. This alliance was never tested, since the Susquehannock usually left the residents alone as long as they did not challenge their right to hunt when and where they pleased. The English in Virginia soon grew interested in fur trade with the Susquehannock, and William Claiborne established a trading post on Kent Island in upper Chesapeake Bay in 1631. The Susquehannock by this time were able to trade with the French in Canada (through the Huron), the Dutch on Delaware Bay, and the English in Virginia.
The friendly trade relationship with the English became increasingly strained after the settlement of Maryland by English Catholics began in 1634. For obvious reasons, the Conoy and Patuxent welcomed the new colonists, and a Jesuit mission was opened that year at their village at Piscataway. The reaction of the Susquehannock was not nearly as friendly, especially when settlements began to move steadily up the western side of Chesapeake Bay from Fort St. George on the St. Mary's River. A mutual desire to trade kept the English and Susquehannock from open warfare for a while, but steady encroachment eventually led to a series of incidents and confrontations, including wars with the Conoy and Wicomese. By 1642 the governor of Maryland had declared the Susquehannock were enemies of the colony to be shot on sight. Attempts at peace in 1644 failed, and Susquehannock trade with the English temporarily sputtered to a halt. In 1645 the Susquehannock ended their hostilities with Maryland and signed a treaty ceding their claims in Maryland between the Choptank and Patuxent Rivers.
The Susquehannock hardly noticed the brief interruption of trade with the English. In 1638 Peter Minuit, a former Dutch governor of New Amsterdam who had a new job, brought the Swedes to the lower Delaware River (claimed by the Dutch). Minuit purchased land from the Delaware and built Ft. Christina for trade and to block Dutch access to the Delaware Valley. It should be noted that the Delaware needed permission to sell, and two "Mingua" representatives attended the signing of their treaty with the Swedes. While the trade with the English slowed between 1640 and 1645, the Swedes more than made up the difference. The Susquehannock were also able to continue trade with Dutch by using the portages between the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Hudson Rivers to New Amsterdam.
Trading with all four European powers during the 1640s required that the Susquehannock produce a lot of fur. They were skilled hunters and trappers, but the huge demand kept them so busy hunting they had little time left to continue their war of conquest against the Delaware and Chesapeake Algonquin tribes. In west, however, it may have been different. One can only wonder where and how the Susquehannock got so much fur, and it is likely that, as the Susquehannock exhausted the beaver in central and western Pennsylvania, they were forced to look beyond their territory for more. Some was obtained from trade with the Erie and Shawnee, but the remainder probably came at the expense of encroachment and warfare with unknown tribes in the Ohio Valley. The Beaver Wars (1630-1700) were a period of intense intertribal warfare in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley created by competition in the fur trade. The Susquehannock were obviously a major participant, but the most important confrontation was between the Huron Confederation which traded with the French and the Iroquois League which traded with the Dutch.
At first Europeans had been reluctant to trade firearms to natives and restricted the number and amount of ammunition. This restriction dissolved as the competition increased. When English traders from Boston attempted to lure the Mohawk from the Dutch by selling firearms, the Dutch countered by providing them in unlimited amounts. Suddenly much-better armed than the Huron and their allies, the Iroquois began a major offensive, and the level of violence in the Beaver Wars escalated dramatically. In the arms race that followed, no tribe had a more advantageous position than the Susquehannock. By playing on the fears of the rival European traders, they had access to whatever weapons in any amount they wished. To say they were well-armed would be an understatement. One of the Susquehannock villages even had a cannon to defend itself, and so far as is known, they were the only Native Americans ever to use this type of heavy armament.
For as far into the past as can be determined, the Susquehannock were friends of the Huron and enemies of the Iroquois. Susquehannock alliances and trade also extended to the Erie and Neutrals, with the result that the Iroquois were surrounded by hostile tribes. Having exhausted the beaver in their homeland, the Iroquois were running out of the fur they needed to trade for Dutch firearms. Otherwise, with European epidemics decimating their villages, it was only a matter of time before they were annihilated. Their enemies, of course, were well-aware of this problem and refused permission for Iroquois hunters to pass through their territories. Faced with a blockade, the Iroquois were forced into a war where they needed to either conquer or be destroyed. They concentrated their attacks on the Huron after 1640, and by 1645 had succeeded in isolating them from the Algonkin, Montagnais, and French in the east. There was a two-year lull in the fighting following a truce that year, but in 1647 the Iroquois launched massive attacks into the Huron homeland and destroyed the Arendaronon villages.
Sensing that the situation was becoming serious, Susquehannock warriors fought as Huron allies, while their ambassadors sent to the Iroquois council flatly demanded a halt to the war. For some inexplicable reason the Huron refused further offers of help from the Susquehannock and were overrun by the Iroquois during the winter of 1648-49. The Tionontati met a similar fate a year later, and as the Iroquois absorbed 1000s of captured warriors into their ranks, the Susquehannock were in grave danger. In 1650 the western Iroquois (Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga) attacked the Neutrals, and the Susquehannock entered the war against the Iroquois. Whatever help they could have given the Neutrals was cut short when the Mohawk attacked the Susquehannock villages in 1651. With the Susquehannock unable, and the Erie unwilling to help, the Neutrals were quickly defeated. The Mohawk, however, found the well-armed Susquehannock a dangerous and stubborn foe. The war dragged on until 1656 with the Mohawk (at great cost to themselves) slowly pushing the Susquehannock down the eastern branch of the Susquehanna River.
The Susquehannock were suddenly alone. The French were powerless after Iroquois victories over the Huron and Neutrals, and the Erie soon had their own war of survival against the western Iroquois (1653-56). Hard pressed by the Mohawk, the Susquehannock tried to strengthen their ties to the Dutch in 1651 by selling them some land on the Delaware River, but the Dutch remained neutral. The Swedes continued to supply them with anything they wanted, but the Susquehannock had become involved in fighting with Virginia Puritans that had settled in northern Maryland in 1649. Not able to fight two wars at the same time, the Susquehannock in 1652 signed a treaty with Maryland ceding much of the lower Susquehanna Valley to secure peace and trade with English. Smallpox hit their villages during 1654, but this affected the Mohawk as much as the Susquehannock and slowed the fighting. For the Susquehannock, the major blow came in September, 1655 when the Dutch seized the Swedish colonies. Without their primary supplier, the Susquehannock were forced to ask the Mohawk for peace. Equally exhausted, the Mohawk agreed in 1656.
The Mohawk and their Oneida allies never fought the Susquehannock again, but peace with them did not extend to the rest of the Iroquois League. After finishing with the Erie, the western Iroquois turned their attention to their only remaining Iroquian-speaking enemy. Besides the fact the Susquehannock had aided the Neutrals, there was continuing aggravation since the Susquehannock had given refuge to small groups of Neutrals and Erie that had eluded them. This simmered and finally erupted into open warfare in 1658. Badly outnumbered, the Susquehannock drew their Shawnee trading partners into the fighting and enlisted the support of their tributary Algonquin and Siouan tribes (Delaware, Nanticoke, Conoy, Saponi, and Tutelo). The Iroquois first attacked the Susquehannock's allies: dispersing the Shawnee and scattering them to Illinois, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Then they struck the Delaware throughout the Delaware Valley during the 1660s and effectively took them out of the war. For the Susquehannock, the worst blow was a smallpox epidemic in 1661 that devastated their population to a point from which it never recovered.
Still they managed to hold on. A treaty signed with Maryland ended the lingering hostility with the English. The agreement provided firearms and ammunition, since the Maryland colonists were well-aware of the value of the Susquehannock as a buffer against the Dutch-allied Iroquois. With English help, the Susquehannock were able to turn back a major Iroquois invasion in 1663. The following year the English took New York from the Dutch, and shortly afterwards formed their own alliance with the Iroquois. Maryland, however, did not feel entirely assured by this and in 1666 renewed its treaty with the Susquehannock. Coinciding with another outbreak of smallpox in 1667, the Iroquois made peace with the French and their native allies and this allowed them to concentrate on their war with the Susquehannock. With the support of Maryland, the Susquehannock fought on in an increasing bitter struggle, but by the fall of 1669, they were down to only 300 warriors and were forced to ask the Iroquois for peace. The Iroquois response to their offer was to torture and kill the Susquehannock ambassador who brought it.
It took the Iroquois until 1675 to defeat the Susquehannock. Driven from Pennsylvania, the survivors settled on the upper Potomac River at the invitation of the Maryland's governor. Actually there was no refuge for them. The location may have been acceptable to a royal governor, but it was deeply resented by the local colonists. After several depredations (probably Iroquois), a 1,000 man army (actually an armed mob) assembled under Colonel John Washington (great-grandfather of George). In direct defiance of the orders of Virginia's governor, Washington's militia besieged the Susquehannock in an old fort on the Potomac which they had occupied to defend themselves against the Iroquois. Eventually the Susquehannock were able to assure the colonists they were peaceful and even offered six of their sachems as hostages as proof. Satisfied, the English took the hostages and left, but on the way home, they learned of other attacks in the area and killed the hostages.
The Susquehannock abandoned the fort, but launched a series of retaliatory raids on the Virginia and Maryland frontier. Most of the blame for these raids fell on the Virginians' Pamunkey and Occaneechee allies and led to their near annihilation by the colonists during Bacon's Rebellion the following year. Afterwards, the Susquehannock moved north but were attacked by Maryland militia near Columbia, Maryland where many were killed. Some managed to reach safety with the Meherrin in North Carolina, but the remaining Susquehannock had little choice but to surrender to the Iroquois in 1676. Under the circumstances, they were treated well. Under the terms of the peace agreed to, the Susquehannock were settled among the Mohawk and Oneida, became members of the Iroquois "covenant chain," and their dominion over the Delaware and other former allies was also surrendered to the League. During the years following, several Susquehannock rose to leadership as Iroquois war chiefs.
Although treated with respect, the Susquehannock were not free. In 1683 William Penn attempted to sign a treaty with them only to learn that the Susquehannock (like the Delaware) first needed Iroquois approval to sign. Subsequent dealings by the Pennsylvania government concentrated on the Iroquois and ignored the subservient tribes. By 1706 the Iroquois had relented somewhat and allowed 300 Susquehannock to return to the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania. No longer a powerful people, they became known as the Conestoga (from the name of their village). The Iroquois kept a watchful eye on them and used their homeland as a kind of supervised reservation for the displaced Algonquin and Siouan tribes (Delaware, Munsee, Nanticoke, Conoy, Tutelo, Saponi, Mahican, Shawnee, and New England Algonquin) who were allowed to settle there as members of the "covenant chain."
Quaker missionaries arrived and made many conversions among the Susquehannock. As Conestoga became a Christian village, the more traditional Susquehannock left - either returning to the Oneida in New York, or moving west to Ohio to join the Mingo. By 1763 there were only 20 members (all Christians) of this last identifiable group of the Susquehannock. They were totally peaceful, but atrocities committed by others during the Pontiac Uprising of that year outraged the white settlers in the vicinity who just wanted to kill Indians - any Indians - in revenge. Feeling this way they could have grabbed a rifle and taken to the woods to find the hostiles, but there was an easier target closer at hand. As feelings rose, fourteen Conestoga were arrested and placed in the jail at Lancaster for their own protection. A mob formed (known as the Paxton boys). They proceeded to the village at Conestoga, killed the six Susquehanna they found there, and burned the houses. Then they went to the jail, broke in, took the last fourteen Susquehannock the world would ever see ...and beat them to death!
First Nations referred to in this Susquehannock History: