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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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Chapter III. — Sequel of the History of the Susquehannocks.


At the era of the settlement of Jamestown, the Susquehannocks claimed the country lying between the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers — an area comprising the entire western margin of Maryland. This was their hunting-ground, and marked the boundary line between their jurisdiction and that of the Powhatanic forest kingdom. Whatever were the local names of the bands occupying the banks of the several intermediate rivers, they were merely subordinate to the reigning tribe, primarily located on the shores of the Susquehanna. Subsequently they transferred their council fire, down the western shore to the Patuxent, in a position less open to the incessant inroads of the Iroquois.

The lower class of adventurers and settlers who emigrated to Virginia and Maryland at this early period, was composed of persons who were liable to become embroiled with the Indians, whose character they invariably misjudged, and whose lives they held to be valueless. By these persons the natives were regarded only as the medium, through whom they could pursue a profitable traffic in skins and furs, which was unrestrained and free to every one who chose to engage in it, or possessed the requisite capital. Unfortunately for the Indians, they could not restrain their appetite for ardent spirits; and, consequently, it should excite no surprise that a tribe, thus pressed on one hand, by a powerful and infuriated enemy, and on the other enticed by temptation to indulgence, should rapidly decline.

The effects of commerce with the whites on the condition of the aboriginal tribes of Maryland, located on the shores skirting the open waters of the Chesapeake, alternately stimulating and relaxing their energies, were of such a baneful character, as necessarily to destroy their power and importance within fifty years after the landing of Calvert. Without any strong political organization, or any permanent union among themselves, ever anxious to obtain the benefits of commerce and trade, and wanting the firm moral purpose to resist the resulting evil effects, they were placed in precisely the same position as the coast tribes of Virginia, who wasted away with a degree of rapidity which surprised her statesmen. 124 They exchanged their furs and fish, the only

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available product of their forests and streams, for the means of indulgence; and when this resource failed, they sold their lands to obtain the same destructive stimulants. Whether gunpowder, which annihilated the animals, performed its work more effectually than alcohol, which thinned the ranks of the Indians, may well be doubted. Jealous of their tribal sovereignty, the Susquehannocks added, by intestine wars, to the natural deaths produced by decay and intemperance, and when, like the other tribes, they began to assert their rights and sovereignty, and resist the encroachments of Europeans, they had already diminished so much in population, that they lacked the ability to maintain their ground. They were outwitted in diplomacy by a civilized nation, and if they did not disappear before the steady progress of arts, industry, and genius, among the colonists, they were enervated during peace, and conquered in war.

One cause operated powerfully to hasten the downfall of the Susquehannocks; the neglect, or mismanagement of their relations with the settlers of Virginia. The Virginians, on the southern banks of the Potomac, for some reason, believed the Susquehannocks to have been guilty of committing depredations and foul murders on their frontiers. In 1675, some of the inhabitants of the most northerly county of Virginia, while on their way to attend church, on a Sabbath-day, found the nearly lifeless body of a settler lying across the threshold of his own door, and an Indian, lying dead on the ground near him. The white was mortally wounded, but lived long enough to inform them that the Indians came from the Maryland shore.

The sensation produced by this outrage was extreme. Two spirited officers of the militia, Mason and Brent, accompanied by thirty men, promptly pursued the murderers. Ascending the valley of the Potomac some twenty miles, they crossed its channel to the Maryland shore, where they found two Indian paths. Dividing their force, Mason took one trail, and Brent the other. A short pursuit, by each party, terminated in the discovery of two Indian wigwams. Brant having accused one of the occupants of the lodge which he found, as the murderer, he tremblingly denied the fact, and attempted to escape, but was shot down by a pistol-ball, which lodged in his back. The other inmates then fired, and made a spring for the door of the wigwam; but the unerring rifle laid ten of the number dead on the spot. Meantime Mason had arrived at the other lodge, the Indians in which, hearing the firing at the first lodge, hastened to effect their escape. Fourteen of them were shot, when one of the survivors, having rushed up to Mason, and declared that they were Susquehannocks, and friends, the firing was instantly stopped.

The Susquehannocks subsequently accused the Senecas of having committed the murders in Virginia. Whoever the perpetrators really were is unknown; but other massacres immediately followed on those borders, which so excited the people of Maryland as well as of Virginia, that they united in mustering 1000 men to march against the Susquehannocks. This force was placed under the command of Colonel John

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Washington. 125 Meanwhile the Susquehannocks had taken possession of an old abandoned fort, which, having been used by the whites in previous wars, was singularly well calculated for defence. It was encompassed by ample earthen walls, containing a gate and surrounded by a ditch, the counterscarp of the latter being planted with trees, closely wattled, which presented an impenetrable curtain.

The Maryland and Virginia forces appeared before this fort on the 23d of September. Conferences were held, in which the Indians, although boldly accused of the murders, as confidently denied their complicity, notwithstanding three of the bloody deeds had been identified as their acts. They agreed to deliver Harignera, and five others of their principal chiefs, to the English, as hostages for the security of their frontiers. The morning after the consummation of this treaty, one Captain John Allen, a leader of the Maryland rangers, having reported the circumstance of the murder of Randolph Hanson, among the recent outrages, was sent with a guard, to ascertain whether it had been the work of Indians. It so occurred that, during the final conference for the conclusion of the treaty, by the terms of which the six chiefs had been delivered over to the custody of the military, Allen returned from this examination, bringing with him the mangled remains of the victims, the appearance of which left no doubt that they had been foully murdered by the Indians. The whole camp was instantly a scene of excitement; every one imagining he saw his nearest friend, or some loved one in the cruel gripe of savages. Five of the hostages, comprising the leading sachems and wise men of the Susquehannocks, were immediately condemned to death, and were accordingly executed. During the night the Indians secretly, dexterously, and silently evacuated the fort, and fled, taking with them all their women and children. The warriors of this party attacked, with savage fury, the white residents on the frontiers of Virginia, killing many, and committing numerous depredations; in which forays they themselves were finally exterminated, or became scattered among other bands.

This was not, however, the severest blow that the Susquehannocks received. It appears, from the relation of Evans, 126 that a body of troops, led by a Marylander, attacked thern at a position east of the Susquehanna, about three miles below Wright's Ferry, now known as Columbia, killing several hundred men. It is proved by Colden, from data produced at the treaty of Lancaster, negotiated in 1744, that they formed a part of the Canostogas, an original Oneida tribe, and that they were finally conveyed to the territory of that nation in western New York. Oneida tradition ascribes the birth and origin of the celebrated chief Shenandoa, to Canostoga, whence, in early life, he came to Oneida castle.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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