Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hurons - Brethren of the Susquehannocks

The people who ruled our region and the whole Susquehanna river by fending off the powerful Iroqouis Nation during at least most of the the 16th and 17th centuries were named "Susquehannocks" by Englishman Captain John Smith in 1608. The word Susquehanna meant "muddy river" and Susquehannocks meant "people who lived on the muddy river."

The Susquehannocks were said to have had at least five tribal nations located along the Susquehanna river system with several villages per nation. We know that they were very warlike and the only known nation to be feared by the Iroquois. In fact in at least one historical record that I have read, if someone happened to try to travel along one of the Susquehannock paths, they might very well find their brains bashed in by the great club that can be seen in Captain John Smith's illustration shown here....

It is commonly believed that the Susquehannock tribal nation called Carantouan by Champlian in 1615 had three villages in our region was also described by the Dutch in 1614 was located in our region along the NYS border at confluence of the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers.

The reason why the Susquehannocks have all but been forgotten in our local history before SRAC began re-educating our communities is because as of the late 1600's, the Susquehannock tribe began to dwindle as a result of of many years of war with the Iroquois and sickness and disease from the Europeans...

Note in the references below from the French priests that the French referred to them as Andastes, Andastogués, and people of Andastoerhonon and did not use the name Captain John Smith used(Susquehannocks):
"The Senecas also are intolerably insolent since they defeated the Andastes... & among these were some captives from Andastogué whom he baptized amid the fires in which they died....& In fact, since the Sonnontouans have utterly defeated the Andastogués, their ancient and most redoubtable foes, their insolence knows no bounds;..." (Vol. LIX. Lower Canada, Illinois, Ottawas 1667—1669) "

"Seven or eight years ago, we had here baptized an Andastoëronnon (these are tribes of the Huron language, who live in Virginia, where the English have their trade).[iv] After that time, this man having returned to his own country, we supposed that his faith must have been stifled in the midst of the impiety which prevails there, since he had no longer any support in the midst of a nation wholly infidel, and so remote from us that not even have we been able, for five or six years, to learn any news of it. ’

This winter we have learned, from a Huron who has returned thence, that the faith of this man from [Page 85] a strange land is as vigorous as ever, — that he makes public profession of it, and continues in his duty as much as if he [87] lived among a people quite Christian. We gave him in his Baptism the name of Estienne; his surname is Arenhouta."...(Vol. XXX.Hurons, Lower Canada:1667—1669)

"The Hurons send envoys to the Andastes, allied tribes along the Susquehanna, to ask aid against their foes. The latter, upon this appeal, request the hostile Iroquois to lay down their arms and consent to a peace." - (Jesuit Relations - PREFACE TO VOL. XXXIII : )

As you can read by the excerpt above - - as far away as the Huron country in Canada, this powerful tribe was well known and the Hurons were freely communicating with these people who were feared by everyone else ... Yet by the later 1600's they began to weaken...

"the Andastoerhonon, a nation in the direction of Virginia. These tribes, it is said, had been infected therewith by Ataentsic, whom they hold to be the mother of him who made the earth; that she had passed through all the cabins of two villages, and that at the second they had asked her, Now, after all, why is it that thou makest us die?" (Vol. XIV - Quebec, Hurons 1638)

By the later end of the 17th century - the Susquehannocks began to weaken to the point that the Iroquois tribes began to lose their fear of them:

“The 27th. Two Elders from Onnontagué bring the news of the return of their warriors, with nine Andastogué captives that were surprised while hunting. Two of them were given to Onneiout, — a Young man of twenty, and a woman. This woman was baptized at Onnontagué by Father Millet.

“The 30th. They begin to burn her over a slow fire, and prolong her torture for the space of two days and two nights, — because he for whom she was given was burned at Andastogué for that length of time. (CHAPTER VI. OF THE MISSION OF ST. FRANÇOIS XAVIER AT ONNEIOUT. Jesuit Relations – Vol. LIII (1669-1670))
As sickness and war continued to diminish their numbers, what was left of the Susquehannocks moved out of area and into southern PA in the region of Washington Borough (Lancaster County.) Later in 1763 - the last known group of Susquehannocks living in Cantestoga, PA as Christian farmers were murdered by a vigilante group called the Paxton Boys in retribution for a raid they had nothing to do with.

Because these people were at their height of power before the European contact and written records, much of the information about these people is somewhat of a mystery to us all today. Yet, because they are the tribe that ruled our area and they ARE such a mystery, I have over the years become very interested in the Susquehannocks, and still have many other questions about these people even today. One of the most pressing questions is:


It is commonly accepted by professional archaeologists and anthropologists that the area surrounding Spanish Hill, Tioga Point in Athens, PA and the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers was once the area of the "Proto-Susquehannock" culture. That is - where the Susquehannock culture originated - or where different cultures came together and later evolved into a distinct culture of people that were eventually referred to as the Susquehannock. Interestingly, the question of who the originating cultures were that formed the Susquehannocks has long been under debate. Questions like "Were they a clan broken off from one of the Iroquoian nations? Were they somehow infused with the Algonquin culture? Did they evolve from prior cultures in our region?" all continue to make this culture so interesting to research...

While I have read many reports trying to untangle their beginnings and ancestral connections, I would like to give readers my own theory as to at least one of the associated cultures that must be considered while untangling their mysterious beginnings... the Hurons.

The Hurons (Note: The early French explorers gave them this name, the Hurons actually call themselves Wendat. However - in order to be consistent with the historical records discussed here -- I will use the name Huron.) lived in Canada in and around the region of the Georgian Bay (Canada,) some 35o miles from our region and the Susquehannocks. However, the Hurons and Susquehannocks were known to have important ties with each other. Like the Susquehannocks, the Hurons were bitter enemies of the Iroquois people, but they both were still said to have an Iroquoian-style language. In fact, many historical accounts of the Susquehannock language claimed it was a derivation of Iroquoian but "much like the Huron."

Historic Records of Relationship. It is commonly accepted that the Hurons and Susquehannocks traded between themselves and had a relationship before the Europeans made contact. And, as many of you already know, I had an article published in in the PA Archaeologist in 2005 about the Susquehannock nation of Carantouan. In 1615, the French explorer Champlain sent his assistant Etienne Brule from Huronia to Carantouan to collect 500 Susquehannock warriors to assist the Hurons in a battle against the Onondaga nation. I was published making the argument that the pace that Brule came to meet with the people of Carantouan was at Spanish Hill located in South Waverly, PA, just three miles north of Tioga Point.

The important thing about the Brule event to me is that no tribe in our area is thought to have had so many able warriors that 500 of them would not be a huge part of their population available to protect their own villages. In fact, Champlain described Carantouan nation in dire need of warriors in 1615 when he said, "This nation is very warlike, as those of the nation of the Attigouautans maintain. They have only three villages, which are in the midst of more than twenty others, on which they make war without assistance from their friends..." (Champlain: Voyages)

As a result, the mere agreement that was made between the Hurons and the Susquehannocks in 1615 is a statement that their loyalty to one another was very great and worth the losses on the part of the Susquehannocks (and were quite reasonable to expect as a result of the agreement to send the warriors three days away.)

Still today, some professionals are in debate about the Carantouan story, and as a result seem to overlook this reference to their close relationship...And if this were the only time that the Hurons and Susquehannocks would join forces it could be considered a one time event. But with a little more research you can see that even in 1647 - 32 years later - we know that the Hurons still had an alliance with the Susquehannocks and that the Susquehannocks even acted as the intermediaries between the Huron and the Iroquois. To me, this clearly illustrates that this ongoing relationship between te Susquehannocks and the Hurons was above all others on historical record.

Artifacts. Recently I made a trip to the Huron Museum in Midland, Ontario. While it can be expected that many of our artifacts such as working tools, arrowheads, and gorgets would be quite similar, I did find a few other things that were such an amazing match that it seems that the same hands must have made one for the Hurons, and another for the Susquehannocks at the same time!

Here is a display of game stones and gorgets at the Huronia Museum - and anyone who is familiar with our region's artifacts will not find the ones found locally to be any different. In fact, the only item that seems somewhat uncommon to me is the center top circular game stone that has a drilled hole and incised circle and lines drawn into it...

However - a matching game stone with identical etching can be seen on display at SRAC in the Ted Keir collection! (Case 1)

Another unusual artifact that caught my eye in the Huronia Museum was the following pipe:

(note the lines below the eyes...)

But again - - SRAC has a pipe that matches the Huron pipe in our collection:

Ted Keir/ SRAC Collection (Sheshequin, PA)

And the story of these pipes doesn't end here...I in fact found yet another match in a recent book by Bill Engelbrecht of Buffalo State University, titled "Iroquoia." On page 58, (figure 27) - there is another pipe that matches these two pipes shown here. Bill also referred me to two other professionals about all three of these pipes and they both agree as well that all three pipes are a match with one another. Simply put, this means that these pipes have been found in a region that covers at least 360 miles- from Canada to Sheshequin, PA:

View Larger Map

Susquehannock spirals and hoops manufactured by Indigenous peoples from sheet copper or copper alloy actually are also quite commonly found in Huron sites 300-some miles away.

Cornell grad Jasmine Gollup explained the cultural affiliation of the copper spirals in a recent presentation about the Susquehannocks stating:
"Spirals and hoops, manufactured by Indigenous peoples from sheet copper or copper alloy occur almost exclusively on Iroquoian sites within the Susquehanna and adjacent river drainages (Bradley and Childs 2007:290). Recognized as an early contact period artifact, these items are found on sixteenth century sites throughout northeastern North America (Bradley and Childs 2007:209). They spread into Monongahela (western Pennsylvania) and the Niagara frontier areas in the late sixteenth century and are found as far away as Huronia and Fort Ancient (Ohio River Valley) by the seventeenth (Bradley and Childs 2007:292-3). As a result of their earliest known location (along the Susquehanna River) spirals and hoops have been culturally associated with the Susquehannocks (Bradley and Childs 2007:292)."
Further research reveals that 2 brass spirals in fact were uncovered at the Englebert site in Nichols, and several have been found in the Tioga Point/Athens region as well. Note: All of the copper artifacts found at the Englebert site can be seen in the NYS BULLETIN, Number 61: July 1974 where it was reported:
"Artifact No. 4 (Figure 2, center, right) is one of two spiral ornaments that, along with the two tubes, formed part of the headdress for Burial 71 in Feature 715 (front cover). The ornament was formed by coiling a copper rod into a flat spiral. The interesting feature is that the round cross section of the rod was made by coiling together two strips of heavy copper sheet (Figure 9). Corrosion has obscured the external evidence of this composite construction. The copper itself is fine grained, fully annealed, and contains numerous copper oxide inclusions, large and small (Figure 10). It is probably smelted copper. Although this ornament was found in the same burial as No. 3, the metal in the two objects differs in grain size, distribution of oxide, and hardness (Table 1), showing that different pieces of copper were used as source material." (Dunbar & Ruhl:1974)
I find the kinsmanship and the many other associations and points that I have made here - that is that out of the known tribes to have existed during the time of the Susquehannocks - there were no better or loyal brethren than the Huron people to be important.

By looking outside the localized and constrained area that some professionals insist on using today in trying to understand this unique culture - I believe that many current questions about the Susquehannocks can be uncovered.

I look forward to your feedback - - and appreciate that you post your feedback using the comments area below so that we all can share the knowledge that we can can gain from this discussion. I will also post any emails that are sent to me on this topic in the comments section for this post in order that everyone can share the information freely.


  1. Hi Deb,

    It is kind of interesting to examine the relationship of the Huron and the Susquehannock. McFate pottery from western PA was said to have been modeled after Nuetral-Wenro Pound Blank and Huron Incised forms (see Johnson 1999). The McFate-Kalgren phase pots, at least those I am familiar with, are similar to Susquehannock pots. These groups were likely involved in this trade axis on a prehistoric level.

    Andy Myers

  2. Hi, Deb -

    "Ethnographics" not my bag - but you have done great article here! I think you have opened (or are opening) a door which others may have all too prematurely pushed shut... Keep on pushing back!

    As to similarities (even uncanny ones) among "hard copy," artifact types, etc. it is requesite of course, they be cited and noted - but there are many explanations for the "why" of such in widely different times and places. (Consider: the remains in cellarholes of (Western) Russians right now might not be all that different from the remains in American cellarholes - but the two cultures are far apart in "type" and space...

    "Trade" - and the "intensity" of such - does make "cousins" of us all!

    Question: Is anyone (gasp!) doing any DNA work perhaps on ancient remains of the two groups? Shared genetics, and other techie stuff might shed additional light on intermarriages, moities and all that jazz.

    Thanks for sharing and keep me in the loop!

    Bernie Powell