The Demise Of The Susquehannock
At some time between 1400 and 1600AD the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes inhabiting what is today western New York State united in the Iroquois Confederacy. It should be noted that the name Iroquois is not the people's own name for themselves. They called themselves the Haudenosaunee, which would translate into English as people of the longhouse. The name Iroquois was actually coined by French traders who heard the Huron refer to their enemy as the Iriakoiw which was their name for "rattlesnake". Since the history was written by the Euro-Americans, the name that was often used in referring to the "people of the longhouse" was Iroquois rather than the more correct Haudenosaunee. Certain tradition places the founding of the Haudenosaunee / Iroquois Confederacy between the years 1560 and 1570. Some scholars have determined that it was formed centuries earlier, circa 1170. Despite the animosity between the Haudenosaunee and the Huron (variously, Wendat), the creation of the so-called Five Nations is attributed to Deganawida, an Huron mystic and his Mohawk disciple, Ayonhwathah variously, Hiawatha. The Huron tribe belonged to the Iroquoian linguistic group, and although the confederation of the five Iroquois nations was the product of the legendary Huron mystic, the Huron tribe never joined the Iroquois Confederacy.
A series of alliances and wars between the Europeans and Indians ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Susquehannock tribe and the emergence of the Iroquois Confederacy of the Five Nations as the dominant culture in this region. The Dutch started a sequence of events that would plunge the Indian tribes into war. Soon after their arrival circa 1614 in the present-day Albany region, the Dutch constructed Fort Nassau as a trading post. The settlement was surrounded by nearly 1,600 Mahican Indians, with whom the Dutch made a trade agreement in 1618. The Dutch were interested primarily in trading with the Indians for beaver pelts. In 1626 the Mohawk tribe, for whatever reason now unknown, launched a war against the Mahicans. The Dutch sent a small force of men to give aid to the Mahicans. They were defeated and entered into a truce agreement with the Mohawks. Two years later the Mohawks again attacked and defeated the Mahican tribe, but the attack was not meant for the annihilation of the Mahican tribe. Rather, the Mohawks wanted control of the profitable Dutch trade. The Dutch carried on trade with both tribes for three decades. The Dutch incited much violence among the neighboring tribes through their arrogant attitude toward all Indians. The Dutch were not interested in carrying on any type of relations with the Indians other than trade. As the saying goes, "war makes strange bedfellows". The Dutch sought diplomatic assistance from the Susquehannock tribe to the south to intervene in the Esopus War (i.e. a struggle between the Dutch and the Esopus, a Hudson River tribe). In order to gain favor with the Dutch, with whom they too were trading beaver pelts, the Susquehannocks joined in an alliance with their previous enemy, the Mohawks to attempt to pressure the Esopus tribe into negotiating a peace agreement with the Dutch.
At the time of the Mohawk and Susquehannock alliance, the Iroquois Confederacy was, by no means, the most powerful tribal unit in the northeast. The Iroquois "Longhouse", a metaphorical name for the lands occupied by the Five Nations, which stretched across present-day New York State, was surrounded by enemies. The Mahicans were to the east. The Susquehannocks were to the south. The Neutrals and Eries, each of which were more powerful than the Five Nations, were to the south and west. To the north were the Hurons and the Petuns. The Hurons held a monopoly on the trade with the French in the region of the Great Lakes while the Susquehannocks and Mahicans were trading with the Dutch. The Iroquois Confederacy aligned themselves with the Dutch traders to the east at Albany, but the eastern hunting grounds were being depleted of their beavers. The Iroquois Confederacy, if it hoped to survive, had to guard itself agaiinst destruction by the othertribes and also break into the French trading market to the west.
The Iroquois attempted to obtain commercial treaties with the Hurons, but the French blocked their attempts. Since the Hurons were allied to the French, the Five Nations engaged in raiding and other guerilla activites against them. In one particularly ferocious battle a war party of about one hundred Iroquois engaged a party of nearly three hundred Hurons and Algonquin warriors. All but four or five of the Iroquois were slain or captured - only to be eventually tortured to death. The Iroquois resorted to piracy against the French and successfully hindered the activities of the French to the point that the French found a trade agreement more favorable than the losses they were experiencing. In 1645 the French and their Huron allies negotiated a peace treaty with the Iroquois.
The French/Huron Iroquois treaty was put to the test during the following summer. A Huron fleet of eighty canoes traveled to Montreal laden down with furs. The Iroquois were not included in the trade. Angered at the slight given them, the Mohawks sent war belts to the Seneca and Onondaga tribes. At about the same time, in 1647, the Hurons made a war alliance with the Susquehannocks. The Susquehannocks were convinced to act as the intermediaries between the Huron and the Five Nations. A series of unsuccessful negotiations followed. The Hurons did not stop there. They discovered that the Iroquois Confederacy was not acting with a single motivation. The aggressive Mohawks zealously guarded their rights to the Dutch trade and the Onondagas, Oneidas and Cayugas were jealous of their Mohawk cousins. The Senecas, as the westernmost tribe, were engaged in some trade with the French and Hurons and were not inclined to make war upon them. In an effort to split the Iroquois Confederacy an Huron delegation went to the Cayuga and Onondaga tribes to attempt to gain peace treaties with them separately. Situated in the center of the "Longhouse", the Cayuga and Onondaga tribes would effectively separate the Five Nations geographically and emotionally. The Huron plan did not succeed and the Iroquois Confederacy held their ground.
During the summer of 1648 the Mohawks attempted to block a Huron trading fleet from passing through the Mohawk lands. The Hurons suceeded in passing through the blockade at a high loss in Mohawk lives. The Mohawks and Senecas retaliated by striking into the Huron lands. At least a thousand warriors made their way to the Huron town of St. Ignace. At dawn on 16 March, 1649 the Iroquois attacked the town, captured or killed most of the inhabitants and set the town on fire. The neighboring town of St. Louis was also attacked and set afire the following day. The Iroquois continued on a raiding spree through the Huron lands. The Hurons fled before them toward the Tionantati (i.e. Tobacco) Indians who inhabited the western shores of Lake Ontario. The Iroquois attacked the settlement of St. Marie which was defended by forty Frenchmen and nearly 300 Huron. The Iroquois, while losing only one hundred of their own, killed all but twenty of the defending warriors and Frenchmen and then retreated back toward the east. A party of nearly seven hundred Hurons pursued the Iroquois, but becoming demoralized, failed to engage them in battle. Instead, they returned to their homeland to find at least fifteen settlements abandoned and the other Hurons fleeing. Some of the Hurons sought adoption into the Iroquois tribes while others became absorbed into the tribes of the Neutrals and Tobaccos. In effect, by the end of March, 1649 the Huron nation was destroyed.
Over the next two years the Iroquois embarked on concerted attacks against the Tobaccos and then the Neutrals. The name of the Neutral Nation was given by the French to a tribe which attempted to remain unaligned during the Iroquois/Huron warfare. The initial attack on the Neutrals was made against a town of three to four thousand inhabitants. That attack and a subsequent attack on a second village extinguished the tribe, leaving only about eight hundred of what had been only fifty years previous a tribe of nearly ten thousand. The survivors were adopted into the Seneca tribe. The Eries were the next nation to be conquered by the Iroquois. By 1656 the Eries were defeated and the Iroquois Confederacy held the position of the dominant nation through the northeast region. It should be noted that the Iroquois succeeded at decimating whole tribes not by might but by intelligent maneuvering. They would strike and destroy the tribe's main village and force the survivors to either scatter throughout the land or be adopted into the Iroquois nation. The powerful Iroquois Confederacy next set its sights on the Susquehannocks.
The Susquehannocks were affected by the destruction of the Huron tribe. They lost a powerful ally. They made up for that loss, though, by entering into an alliance with the English in the Delaware River valley. A treaty was negotiated circa 1652 between the English settlers of the Maryland Colony and the Susquehannocks. The treaty ended a ten year war between the two peoples. The colony of Maryland had declared war on the Susquehannocks on 13 September, 1642. The reason for the declaration of war is believed to have been aimed at halting incursions into Maryland territory by the Susquehannocks. The region was inhabited by the tribes of the Patuxents, Piscataways and Yoamacoes who were friendly to the Maryland colonists. After a single victory by the Susquehannocks in the summer of 1644, the war fizzled out and was practically forgotten as the attention of just about everyone in the region was focused on the Beaver Wars (as the French/Huron Iroquois War was known). The treaty of 1652 freed the Susquehannocks from having to worry about agitation from the English colonists.
In 1660 a war party of Oneida Indians killed five Piscataways simply for being friends with the Susquehannocks and the colonists of Maryland. The authorities in Maryland declared war on the Five Nations. Their motives might haave been more than simply thedefense of the Piscataway tribe. They wanted to force the Dutch out of the Delaware Valley. The Iroquois, as allies to the Dutch, were the target of Maryland's anger. The Iroquois, in turn, aimed their anger at the Susquehannocks because of their recent alliance with the colony of Maryland. As the new kids on the block, the Iroquois wanted nothing more than to rid the region of the Susquehannocks, the resident warrior nation.
The Iroquois made their move against the Susquehannocks in the year 1663. A force of nearly eight hundred Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga warriors made an attack on the Susquehannock's principle village of Sasquesahanough, but were repulsed. The Iroquois found the palisaded village defended by Susquehannocks and Delawares armed with weapons and ammunition supplied by the colonists of New Sweden. The Delaware tribe and the Shawnee tribe soon thereafter sided with the Susquehannocks despite the tribes' differing linguistic traditions and military viewpoints. (It should be remembered that the Susquehannocks were much more inclined toward warfare than the Delaware.) For roughly twelve years the war dragged on. The Susquehannocks had the upper hand throughout the war. Following the repulse of the Iroquois invasion in 1663 the Susquehannocks conducted numerous raids into the Seneca lands to the north.
The outcome of any conflict is dependent upon any number of things. The Susquehannock, though generally victorious over the Iroquois Confederacy, were being attacked by another enemy: smallpox. Then in 1674, possibly with the intention of eventually gaining control over the lands of the Susquehannocks, the Maryland authorities stopped supplying the Susquehannocks with weapons and ammunition. They also negotiated a separate peace treaty with the Senecas. The Iroquois then succeeded in pushing the Susquehannock out of the central regions of present-day Pennsylvania and into the Potomac River area.
In the summer of 1675 an incident occurred which sparked what has become known as The Indian War of 1675/6. A group of Nanticoke Indians had a misunderstanding with a Virginia colonist named Thomas Mathew over the failure of Mathew to pay for goods they had traded to him. The Indians stole some of Mathew's hogs and the white settlers responded by killing some of the Indians. The Indians repaid the settlers by killing three of them. The Nanticoke tribe resided in the territory claimed by Maryland, so a group of about thirty Virginian militia crossed over the provincial boundary and surrounded and attacked a Nanticoke settlement. An Indian cabin within the settlement was surrounded and when the Indians emerged the Virginian militiamen initiated a fight. In the melee that followed eleven Nanticokes were killed. The militiamen then shot and killed fourteen other Indians who had emerged from another nearby cabin when they were aroused by the sounds of fighting. Suddenly the leader of the militia realized that the Indians who had come out of the second cabin were not Nanticokes, but Susquehannocks. The error could not be rectified in time. The Susquehannocks, Nanticokes and a few other allied tribes residing throughout Maryland and Virginia began to raid the surrounding region.
The governor of the Virginia Colony called upon Colonel John Washington and Major Isaac Allerton to conduct an investigation into the cause of the Indian unrest. Washington, the great-grandfather of the president, was instructed simply to investigate the matter and use force to punish the Indians only if just cause could be found. Apparently the militia officers misconstrued the orders for their own interests and immediately raised a militia. Seven hundred and fifty men marched from the Virginia colony toward a Susquehannock settlement which the Maryland authorities identified as their main village in the region. The Virginian men were joined by two hundred and fifty cavalry troops from Maryland under the command of Major Thomas Trueman.
The provincial force of nearly one thousand men surrounded the village at the junction of the Piscataway Creek and the Potomac River. The palisaded village was inhabited by about one hundred Indian warriors and their families. The chiefs of the tribe were invited out for a counsel. They emerged from the safety of the village under a flag of truce and, following an exchange of angry words, were led away and killed. The Susquehannocks held the village against the onslaught of the militia for more than six weeks. After that period of time the Indian warriors and their families were able to escape from the surrounded village. A period of general raiding and murdering was undertaken by the Indians. Thirty-six white settlers were killed and then the Susquehannocks sent a message to Virginia's Governor Berkeley which stated that, with approximately ten Englishmen killed for each of their chiefs who were murdered, they were ready to negotiate a peace treaty. The offer was rejected and the war continued.
Not all of the colonists were in agreement with the governor's policy of handling the Indian War. A group of colonists formed a vigilante militia led by Nathaniel Bacon. Bacon led his group to enlist the aid of the Occaneechi tribe in May, 1676. The Occaneechi agreed to fight the Susquehannocks and promptly engaged the Susquehannocks in war. Bacon's new allies returned from their first raid with a number of Susquehannock prisoners and some furs. When Bacon attempted to take possession of the furs and proposed making slaves of the prisoners, many of whom were actually from the Manikin tribe, the Occaneechi warriors were outraged. Because they refused to give up their captives or the furs, Bacon's men attacked the Indians.
While Nathaniel Bacon was waging his own private war in the Virginian province, New York's Governor Edmund Andros made a proposal to the Susquehannock sachems that they take refuge in New York lands. A few of the tribe took the New York governor up on his proposal and quietly moved northward. But not all them wanted to move back into the region held by the Iroquois Mohawks. The Susquehannocks who remained within the bounds of the Maryland colony entreated with the authorities to make a peace treaty. At first it appeared that the Maryland authorities would accept the proposal, but the Piscataway and Mattawoman tribes wanted to see the Susquehannocks defeated and they convinced the Maryland authorities to deny the peace treaty. All the while, Governor Andros continued to attempt to remove the Susquehannocks into his province.
In March of 1677 a conference was held at Shackamaxon, which was located within what is today Philadelphia. A treaty was signed which provided that the Susquehannocks remove from the Delaware Valley and become adopted into the Iroquois Confederacy. Many of them accepted this proposal while twenty-six families chose to remain in the Delaware Valley to be adopted into the Delaware tribe. The Susquehannock tribe, per se, was effectively nonexistant from that point in time. The Iroquois exploited the Susquehannocks' hatred for the tribes such as the Piscataway and Mattawomans by including them in their wars against those tribes.
A group of Susquehannocks who had remained in the Delaware Valley eventually, in the mid-1700s, came to be known by the name of the Conestoga Mission Indians. They were converted to the Christian faith and lived peaceably in the vicinity of Lancaster County until the Paxton Riots brought about their end. Frontier Indian/ settler problems were contributing to a general prejudice against any and all Indians. A group of about seventy-five Paxton residents were frustrated by the Quaker-dominated Pennsylvania Assembly's lack of interest in engaging in an all-out war against the Indians within its provincial boundaries and decided to take matters into their own hands. They attacked the village of the Conestoga Mission Indians and killed six members of the tribe. In order to shield the remaining fourteen members of the tribe against the vigilante mentality of the Paxton settlers, the people of Lancaster offered them refuge in their county jail. The Paxton Boys, as the vigilantes became known, broke into the jail on 27 December 1763 and massacred all fourteen of the Indians, which included a few children. The massacred Conestoga tribe is generally considered to have been the last of the Susquehannock nation.