How the Susquehannock Indians became known as the Conestoga

Would you be surprised to know that the Native American tribe known as the Susquehannocks never referred to themselves by that name?

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Naming the Susquehannocks

Although the Susquehannocks were essential figures in the early history of the European expansion in the Susquehanna River Valley, very little is known about them, not even their name.

It was Captain John Smith on his 1608 voyage up the Chesapeake Bay that first recorded the name “Sasquesahannocks” referring to the 60 Native Americans who came down the river to the Bay for trade. Smith received the name from his Algonquin-speaking guide, Tockwoghs. He said it meant “People of the Muddy River.”

Captain John Smith
Captain John Smith

However, regionally Susquehannock was not the agreed upon name. The Lenape called them “Minquas,” which translates to “treacherous,” which was an obvious reflection of the raids the Susquehannocks had made on the Lenape during the 17th century.

Birth of the Conestoga

The French had yet another name for the Susquehannocks. They called them “Andaste” or “Gandastogues,” which means “the people of the blackened ridge pole.” This is thought to be a reference to the conflicts in which the Susquehannocks were involved. Eventually, Gandastogues became Anglicized into “Conestogas,” the name which these Native Americans were known by in Lancaster County during the 18th century.

A similar theory is that the name Conestoga came from the Iroquoian word, Kanastoge, which means “place of the upright pole.”

Yet another theory is their name came from one of their few remaining villages known as Conestoga Town or locally referred to as Conestoga Indian Town.

What do you think?

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Click here to learn if the Susquehannock Indians were really the giants John Smith said they were.

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