Who were the Susquehannocks? (French called them Andastes) 

This is a presentation that I did in 2014 for the NYS Archaeology Association and also published an article about in the Ancient American Magazine concerning the origin of the Susquehannocks.

Susquehannock on Smith map 1608

A brief summary:

When most people think of the Native Americans that lived in NY/PA  they usually think of the Iroquois. But the truth is that the Iroquois didn't live in our region until relatively recently. People have lived in our region for around 15,000 years actually, and the Iroquois only show up about 1350 - 1450AD, and did not live in our region until a few hundred years later. This area was actually controlled by the Susquehannocks in early historic times - people who some say were the only people that the Iroquois feared - and they didn't give up their control of our region to the Iroquois until the late 1600's. When they left his region, they moved down the Susquehanna and would end up in the Lancaster region of PA as their last stronghold before being wiped out in Contestoga, PA in 1763. Many accounts say they were very warlike and were larger than average people and historic records show that they were responsible for winning many battles against the Iroquois and wiping out many smaller Native American groups along the Susquehanna.

Here is an article by John Gilmar Shea (late 1800's) concerning these people, their many names, and a little history...

The first historic records by Europeans in our area indicate that the Susquehannocks were the nation made up of several villages that ruled this area from around Big Flats to Nichols/NY on the northern end and throughout Bradford County, PA and down the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake Bay.In all researchers claim that the Susquehannocks were made up 5 - 6 tribes spread out amongst approximately 20 villages along the Susquehanna river. General John S. Clark, a surveyor from Auburn NY claimed that their most northerly of the villages was Carantouan (Spanish Hill) - and they were the people of the nation of Carantouan who met the first white explorer, Etienne Brule at Spanish Hill in 1615.  Evidence of them can be found throughout our area.

The earliest burials known of of the Susquehannocks was uncovered in the Valley when a family had a drainage ditch dug for their first indoor plumbing on Main Street in Athens in 1882. You may have heard of the wife in particular as she was Louise Welles Murray and she founded the Tioga Point Museum in Athens years later(1895) in hopes to figure out who those people who were buried in her back yard were! You can read an article that I wrote about this in the SRAC Journal here.

The Susquehannocks were here before the Iroquois and after/during the Algonquin occupation of our area. They are very different from the Iroquois and Algonquin but seem to have language dialect and artifacts like arrowheads that are clearly more Iroquoian. They are a mysterious brood to say the least not only in their huge size but also in their incredible artistry with copper and bone than any other local culture. As a result how they came to "pop up" in the Valley is still being researched, whether they migrated here, evolved out of other cultures here, or whatever....we know for a fact that the Susquehannocks BEGAN the shadow of Spanish Hill.
Other artifacts from the Murray Garden site

This pottery has stumped even the State Archaeologists for years:

To read an article that I wrote and actually presented at the 2014 NYS Archaeology Conference concerning this strange pottery with faces - click here.

Captain John Smith

The Susquehannock name:
The name Susquehannock is derived from the word Sasquesahanough, a descriptive term used by Captain John Smith's Algonquian interpreter to mean People at the Falls, or People of the Muddy River in 1608.  Two other names that were used to refer to them were "Andaste" (particularly by the French) or "Minqua," "Minques," or "Minckas" by the Dutch, but there seems to be many other names used as well.

Click here to read an article about the different names that were used to describe these people and how they lived.

Their Size :

Captain John Smith described the size of the Susquehannocks as follows:  "60 of those Susquehannocks came to the discoverers [Smith's party] with skins, bows, arrows, targets, beads, swords, and tobacco pipes for presents. Such great and well proportioned men are seldom seen, for they seemed like giants to the English, yea and to the neighbors [other Indians]..."

Their larger size has been confirmed many times, for example:

Marshall Joseph Becker
~Pennsylvania Archaeologist, Volume 61  No. 2  September 1991
The Stature of A Susquehannock Population of the Mid-16th Century Based on Skeletal Remains from 46HM73

When John Smith first contacted a group of Susquehannock in 1608 he described these people as "gyant-like." Direct confirmation of this observation can now be provided through studies of the long bones of a population which was part of the Susquehannock "confederacy." Recent excava- tions at a Susquehannock site on the South Branch of the Potomac River in Hampshire County, West Virginia, revealed portions of a palisaded village and associated features dating from the middle of the 16th century. This remnant of a flood-destroyed site yielded 13 relatively intact burials. Surface collection of skeletal material immediately downstream of the site after the flood provided long bones from at least 18 other adults. Calculation of the stature of the individuals represented in this sample and comparisons with the other Native American populations of this period confirm John Smith's observations.

To learn more click here. 

How they Lived - by Francis Parkman

Fortified Villages
"The fortifications of all this family of tribes were, like their dwellings, in essential points alike. A situation was chosen favorable to defence, the bank of a lake, the crown of a difficult hill, or a high point of land in the fork of confluent rivers. A ditch, several feet deep, was dug around the village, and the earth thrown up on the inside. Trees were then felled by an alternate process of burning and hacking the burnt part with stone hatchets, and by similar means were cut into lengths to form palisades. These were planted on the embankment, in one, two, three, or four concentric rows, those of each row inclining towards those of the other rows until they intersected. The whole was lined within, to the height of a man, with heavy sheets of bark; and at the top, where the palisades crossed, was a gallery of timber for the defenders, together with wooden gutters, by which streams of water could be poured down on fires kindled by the enemy. Magazines of stones, and rude ladders for mounting the rampart, completed the provision for defence. The forts of the Iroquois were stronger and more elaborate than those of the Hurons; and to this day large districts in New York are marked with frequent remains of their ditches and embankments." Francis Parkman, "The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century"


"They covered a space of from one to ten acres, the dwellings clustering together with little or no pretension to order. In general, these singular structures were about thirty or thirty-five feet in length, breadth, and height; but many were much larger, and a few were of prodigious length. In some of the villages there were dwellings two hundred and forty feet long, though in breadth and height they did not much exceed the others. [ Brebeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1635, 31. Champlain says that he saw them, in 1615, more than thirty fathoms long; while Vanderdonck reports the length, from actual measurement, of an Iroquois house, at a hundred and eighty yards, or five hundred and forty feet! ] In shape they were much like an arbor overarching a garden-walk. Their frame was of tall and strong saplings, planted in a double row to form the two sides of the house, bent till they met, and lashed together at the top. To these other poles were bound transversely, and the whole was covered with large sheets of the bark of the oak, elm, spruce, or white cedar, overlapping like the shingles of a roof, upon which, for their better security, split poles were made fast with cords of linden bark. At the crown of the arch, along the entire length of the house, an opening a foot wide was left for the admission of light and the escape of smoke. At each end was a close porch of similar construction; and here were stowed casks of bark, filled with smoked fish, Indian corn, and other stores not liable to injury from frost. Within, on both sides, were wide scaffolds, four feet from the floor, and extending the entire length of the house, like the seats of a colossal omnibus. [ Often, especially among the Iroquois, the internal arrangement was different. The scaffolds or platforms were raised only a foot from the earthen floor, and were only twelve or thirteen feet long, with intervening spaces, where the occupants stored their family provisions and other articles. Five or six feet above was another platform, often occupied by children. One pair of platforms sufficed for a family, and here during summer they slept pellmell, in the clothes they wore by day, and without pillows. ] These were formed of thick sheets of bark, supported by posts and transverse poles, and covered with mats and skins. Here, in summer, was the sleeping place of the inmates, and the space beneath served for  storage of their firewood. The fires were on the ground, in a line down the middle of the house.

Each fire sufficed for two families, who, in winter, slept closely packed around them. Above, just under the vaulted roof, were a great number of poles, like the perches of a hen-roost, and here were suspended weapons, clothing, skins, and ornaments. Here, too, in harvest time, the squaws hung the ears of unshelled corn, till the rude abode, through all its length, seemed decked with a golden tapestry. In general, however, its only lining was a thick coating of soot from the smoke of fires with neither draught, chimney, nor window. So pungent was the smoke, that it produced inflammation of the eyes, attended in old age with frequent blindness. Another annoyance was the fleas; and a third, the unbridled and unruly children. Privacy there was none. The house was one chamber, sometimes lodging more than twenty families." Francis Parkman, "The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century"

Concerning their social structure (Clans):

"In the organization of the savage communities of the continent, one feature, more or less conspicuous, continually appears. Each nation or tribe to adopt the names by which these communities are usually known is subdivided into several clans. These clans are not locally separate, but are mingled throughout the nation. All the members of each clan are, or are assumed to be, intimately joined in consanguinity. Hence it is held an abomination for two persons of the same clan to intermarry; and hence, again, it follows that every family must contain members of at least two clans. Each clan has its name, as the clan of the Hawk, of the Wolf, or of the Tortoise; and each has for its emblem  the figure of the beast, bird, reptile, plant, or other object, from which its name is derived. This emblem, called totem by the Algonquins, is often tattooed on the clansman's body, or rudely painted over the entrance of his lodge. The child belongs, in most cases, to the clan, not of the father, but of the mother. In other words, descent, not of the totem alone, but of all rank, titles, and possessions, is through the female. The son of a chief can never be a chief by hereditary title, though he may become so by force of personal influence or achievement. Neither can he inherit from his father so much as a tobacco-pipe. All possessions alike pass of right to the brothers of the chief, or to the sons of his sisters, since these are all sprung from a common mother. This rule of descent was noticed by Champlain among the Hurons in 1615. That excellent observer refers it to an origin which is doubtless its true one. The child may not be the son of his reputed father, but must be the son of his mother, a consideration of more than ordinary force in an Indian community." Francis Parkman, "The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century"

When were the Susquehannocks here?
By the early 1600's, the Susquehannocks had left the village of Carantouan as they began to lose significant numbers of their population due to constant Indian wars with neighboring tribes. This is indeed supported by a quote from "Old Tioga Point and Early Athens" - by Louise Welles Murray:

 "From 1640 the (Iroquois) Five Nations were supplied with firearms, and soon devastated the tribes on the upper Susquehanna, thus opening the way to the lower tribes on the river..."

They also lost many lives due to the diseases brought by the Europeans.It would seem that the the Susquehannocks and their Carantouan village would have only have been in existence for less than 40 years during the time the Europeans began writing about their experiences with the natives in the new world.  The Indians did not use a written language, and sadly, our history starts with either stories told over the years, or European versions that were recorded at that time. Because of this, not much written detail remains to tell the story of the Susquehannocks, other than the tales of E. Brule's travels with them as referenced by Champlain or in other historical accounts such as the Jesuits Relations. (This is also largely due to the use of so many names referring to each tribe in the area, and the loose ends in the historical data caused by this.) There are also things that can be learned from the remains left at their old village sites and burial grounds as well.

Excerpts concerning their southward migration from "The Selected Manuscripts of General John S. Clark, page 78": It is believed that they were forced south by disease and war with the Iroquois during the mid to late 17th century.

"The Susquehannas were certainly established in the new position as early as 1653 and probably earlier.  The instructions to Captain Obder in 1661 show that a permanent garrision of 50 soldiers were to occupy a fortified position either within or without the Susquehanna fort which they were to fortify for their own security...A critical study of the history of this period will show the Susquehanna fort was at Blue Rock, Connadago, five miles from Columbia..."

The Andastes (Susquehannocks) were believed to be the only tribe that had cannons:
"Lalemant now describes the warfare which ha [Page 10] continued between Canadian and other tribes and the Iroquois. The latter attack the Andastes, far down the Susquehanna, but find that the villages of this tribe are defended with European cannon; and, moreover, the Andastes are a match for them in cunning — seizing twenty-five Iroquois spies, and burning them to death in the sight of their own army. Not only do the invaders meet disaster, but their own villages are ravaged by smallpox, and their fields remain half tilled. Thus menaced, the Iroquois plan to form an alliance with the French, hoping that the latter may help them against their enemies; but they abandon this scheme, upon hearing that the king of France is about to send many soldiers to Canada, to crush the enemies of the colonists. Meanwhile, some souls among them are saved; for certain captive Frenchmen baptize over three hundred children, and some adults who are dangerously ill." - The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents Volume 48

What happened to them?
One last item that is known about them is how they met their demise. In 1763, the last remaining 20 Susquehannocks were living in peace in Conestoga, PA, only to be slaughtered by the Paxton Boys in revenge for Indian raids that these specific people had nothing to do with.

To learn more about the Susquehannocks - visit