Safe Harbor Mini-Adventure (2023): Susquehannocks

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Location: Find the informational sign about the Susquehannock Native Americans near the guard booth at the bridge crossing the Conestoga. 39°55’33.2″N 76°23’02.8″W.

History Brief: Chesapeake Bay explorer John Smith was the first European to meet the Susquehannocks in 1608. Smith described them as giants! Interestingly enough, they had only arrived in the Susquehanna Valley 50 years prior but soon became active fur traders with the Europeans. Through genocide and disease, the Susquehanna saw their numbers plummet until there were only 20. Eventually, they became known as the Conestoga, and in 1763, a group of vigilantes known as the Paxton Boys massacred what remained of the tribe. The Susquehannock as a people and their language are considered extinct.

Clue: Record the year that the Five Nations broke the power of the Susquehannocks.

Rest of the Story: 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.

On his 1608 voyage up the Chesapeake Bay, Captain John Smith 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.

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 by which these Native Americans were known 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, locally referred to as Conestoga Indian Town.

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