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Susquehannock Tribe History and Facts

The Susquehannock tribe was a Native American tribe that lived near the Susquehanna River in what’s now the southern part of New York. While they lived near the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy they were never part of it. 

Their lands spread through Pennsylvania and the upper Delaware River and even extended into Maryland. 

Early History

Susquehannock TribeThe Susquehannock are believed to come from around the Ohio River and migrated east past the Appalachian mountains and joined another tribe prior to European Colonization

At the time of Christopher Columbus, the Susquehannock were the most populous Native American tribe in the Northeast. Due to how stable and numerous their population was it is believed that the Susquehannock had been living in their homeland for 1,000 years.

European Contact

The Susquehannock tribe would make contact with the French first, but the date they made that contact is unknown. John Smith of Jamestown met the Susquehannock in 1608 and noted that they were trading French goods.

Smith estimated that the Susquehannock village had a population of 2,000. He also located various capital towns and documented them:

Capital towns were named by John Smith as:

  • Sasquesahanough (on the east side of the Susquehanna near Conewago Falls),
  • Attaock (on the west side of the Susquehanna likely in present-day York County, Pennsylvania),
  • Quadroque (in present-day Northumberland County, Pennsylvania),
  • Tesinigh (on the east bank of the Susquehanna in present-day Lancaster County, Pennsylvania),
  • Utchowig, and
  • Cepowig (likely in present-day York County, Pennsylvania “on the east side of the mainstream of Willowbye’s river”).

The French explorer Samuel de Champlain noted the Susquehannock in his Voyages of Samuel Champlain. Writing of a 1615 incident, he described a Susquehannock town, Carantouan, as “provided with more than eight hundred warriors, and strongly fortified, . . . [with] high and strong palisades well bound and joined together, the quarters being constructed in a similar fashion.”

Carantouan was located on the upper Susquehanna River near present-day Waverly, Tioga County, New York. Spanish Hill may be the site of Carantouan.

The Mid to Late 1600s

The actual population of the Susquehannock is unknown due to the lack of European contact. However, they much have had enough military prowess to hold off the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who had been asserting their power throughout the region.

Before that time, it was the inland Susquehannock who had allied themselves to Dutch and Swedish traders (1600 & 1610) and Swedish settlers in New Sweden around-1640 who had a monopoly on European flintlock firearms, increasing the tribe’s power. These firearms were carefully not traded to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy or the Lenape until the defeat of the Dutch. 

Prior to 1640, the Susquehannock peoples may have decimated bands of the Lenape in the greater central Delaware Valley region, including raids in force across the Delaware River into what is now central New Jersey. Due to these Susquehannock raids, the Lenape had become a tributary nation of the Susquehannock following a war with the fierce Susquehannock before 1640.

The Susquehannock (whose population had been greatly killed off by the time the British tried to assert any significant control over the Susquehannock Homeland) had early on allied with the Swedes, who traded Dutch firearms for Susquehannock furs as early as the 1610s.

At this point in time, the Susquehannock were generally opposed to the policies of the new European managers of the 13 colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Consequently, the Susquehannock defended themselves from attack in a war declared by the colony/Province of Maryland from 1642-50 and won it, with help from their long-time allies the Swedes.

During the mid-17th Century, the Susquehannock found that the English fur traders would trade European firearms, which the Susquehannock greatly desired, for Susquehannock possessed beaver skins. Due to the trade deals that the Susquehannock were getting from the English fur traders, the Iroquois Confederacy began warring against other Nations in the region in order to monopolize the richest fur-bearing streams.

When the Iroquois Confederacy attempted to impose their will upon the Susquehannock circa 1666, the Susquehannock achieved a great victory against the combined forces of the Seneca nation and Cayuga nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, severely damaging the southern populations of both these western Iroquois Confederacy Nations.

Susquehannock authority reached a zenith in the early 1670s, after which the Susquehannock suffered an extremely rapid population and authority decline in the mid-1670s, – presumably from infectious diseases such as smallpox, which also decimated other Native American groups such as the Mohawk and other Iroquois language-speaking Nations.

By 1678, drastically weakened by their losses, the Susquehannock were overwhelmed by the Iroquois Confederacy, though some small groups are believed to have fled west via the gaps of the Allegheny into the land which was beyond European Colonial influence including into the Ohio Country, possibly becoming absorbed by the Shawnee.

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, who occupied territory along the Delaware River, to trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam. In 1634, the Susquehannock defeated the Lenape 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 colony of Maryland declared war on the Susquehannock. With the help of the Swedes, the Susquehannock defeated the English colony of Maryland in 1644. Maryland was in an intermittent state of war with the Susquehannock until 1652. As a result, the Susquehannock traded almost exclusively with New Sweden to the north.

Maryland Alliance

In 1652, six chiefs of 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 ended the Esopus Wars with the Lenape to focus on their trade relations with the Dutch. This trade put them into conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy who wished to control most of the fur trade in the New World. 

In 1663, the Susquehannock defeated a large Iroquois Confederacy 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.

In 1669–70, John Lederer was guided by a Susquehannock man on his journey to southwest Virginia colony and North Carolina colony.

In 1672, the Susquehannock defeated another Iroquois Confederacy war party, but three years later the Iroquois would deliver a significant blow to the Susquehannock tribe. After their defeat, the English colonists offered the Susquehannock to resettle in Maryland.

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 the colony of Maryland and killed Susquehannock in retaliation.

A group of Susquehannock moved to a site now known as Susquehannock Fort on Piscataway Creek, below present-day Washington, DC. Problems on the frontiers led to the mobilization of the militias of the colony of Maryland and the colony of Virginia.

In confusion, the colonial militias of Maryland and Virginia surrounded the peaceful Susquehannock village. When five Susquehannock Chiefs came out of their village to negotiate with the colonial militias of Maryland and Virginia, the colonial militias murdered the five Susquehannock Chiefs. The Susquehannock left their own village at night and harassed colonists in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland.

The Susquehannock from this village eventually returned to the area of the Susquehanna River.

Conclusion

The Susquehannock tribe would never rebound and by the time of the American Revolutionary War, they had all but merged with other tribes. 

Many had been absorbed by the Iroquois tribes nearby and the few that stayed autonomous eventually merged into the United States. 

The once populous Indian tribe had been reduced to very little due to disease and expansion. 

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