THE SUSQUEHANNOCK

Susquehannock (also known as Conestoga) were an Iroquoian-speaking people. This fact may indicate they were at odds with the Algonquian-speaking Lënape (Delaware people) to the east. Little of the Conestoga language has been preserved in print. The chief source is a Vocabula Mahakuassica compiled by the Swedish missionary Johannes Campanius during the 1640s. Campanius' vocabulary contains about 100 words and is sufficient to show that the Conestoga language is a Northern Iroquoian language, closely related to those of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Nations (Five Nations).

According to recorded histories, the Susquehannock told Europeans that they originally came from a large river valley to the west. Europeans who wrote this down seemed to assume that the Mississippi River was meant, however, no Iroquoian people have ever been found in the Archaeological records of the region. Iroquoian peoples were, however, believed to have held a much larger region of Ohio at some point between the 13th & 16th centuries, when European colonization began. They also, however, claimed to have joined with other peoples once east of the Appalachian Mountains to form their nation. Studying the linguistics of recorded examples of the Conestoga language, it appears to have been closely related to that of the Onondaga.

Capt. John Smith / Jamestown

Captain John Smith, the governor of the struggling English colony of Jamestown and the first recorded European to extensively explore the Chesapeake Bay, met with 60 'Sasquesahannocks' in 1608. He said they surrounded the explorers "...with skins, bows, arrows, targets, beads, swords and tobacco pipes" as presents. Smith was surprised to learn that they were already familiar with Europeans, even dealing in French goods. He wrote that "such great and well-proportioned men are seldom seen" and they "seemed as giants... their language sounded as "a great voice in a vault or cave, as an echo." Smith later further reported that the natives were "surrounded by a nutritious diet, working hard but not broken by toil."

During the decade of 1680, no Susquehannock village existed in Lancaster or York county. It was at this time many joined a Seneca group near a contemporary Indian village in Maryland. It's not clear why they moved there but they were already familiar with territory to the south. Some accounts suggest they were invited by the Maryland government as a means to separate them from the Iroquoian control on the fur trade. But, about 1690, they returned to the Washington Boro area and established 'Conestoga Town.' In 1701, William Penn visited them here, signing a peace treaty. Penn described this agreement as the English and Indian as "one body with two parts." 'Conestoga' is believed to mean, place of the immersed pole.

William Penn 

Blue Rock Heritage Center

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