The Susquehannock Connection

Native peoples located north of the Occaneechi and their Siouan neighbors had a significant impact on the development of Siouan cultures during the Historic period. Ethnohistoric data indicate that the Susquehannocks were particularly influential in the southern Piedmont, and that they may have been responsible for setting up the Occaneechis as "middlemen" in the Carolina-Virginia deerskin trade.

From the beginning, trade with Europeans along the Atlantic Seaboard was controlled and managed by a relatively small number of Indian tribes. No doubt, in many cases these strategic positions had been at least partly established prior to European contact, and the large-scale trade with the colonists simply enhanced and entrenched existing trade networks (Merrell 1982:72).

In the northeast, European trade was controlled by the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy: the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, Oneida, and Seneca, the latter being the westernmost and the largest of these groups. The Seneca also appear to have been the most hostile in their relations with other tribes, particularly those to the south (Abler and Tooker 1978:505). Initially, Seneca raids were aimed primarily at the Susquehannocks who were located in a strategic position in the lower Susquehanna valley. Many of these raids were prompted by Susquehannock attacks on the Seneca's shipments of furs to their eastern markets (Hunter 1959:15). After the defeat of the Susquehannocks in 1675, the Seneca continued raiding the southern frontier and into Siouan territory. In 1684, William Byrd I mentioned that he had spoken with 50 Seneca Indians who "promised to behave themselves hereafter very peaceable towards the English" (Trinling 1977:16). In 1701, John Lawson was warned by the Virginia trader Massey "to strike down the Country for Ronoack, and not think of Virginia, because the Sinnagers, of whom they were afraid, though so well armed and numerous" (Lefler 1967:61).

The Susquehannocks occupied a strategic position in the trade network and acted as intermediaries as early as 1608, when John Smith reported that the Tockwogh living at the head of Chesapeake Bay had knives, hatchets, and pieces of iron and brass they had received from the Susquehannocks (Kent 1984:26). The Susquehannocks' geographic location and their role as entrepreneurs placed them in a continual state of hostility with the Seneca. For a time they were allied with the Maryland colony against the Seneca. However, in 1674 Maryland made peace with the Seneca and declared war against the Susquehannocks, who were defeated by the Seneca the following year. Weakened, the Susquehannocks were subsequently pursued by the Maryland and Virginia militia and sought refuge with the Occaneechis who were, at that time, living on Occaneechi Island in the Roanoke River.

In contrast to the hostile relations the Susquehannocks had with the Seneca, they appeared to have lived in harmony with the neighboring Delaware Indians, as well as with groups to the south, especially the Occaneechis (Hunter 1959:15). Because of this relationship, the Susquehannocks appear to have established themselves as middlemen in the fur trade with the Siouans prior to 1670. And in establishing this position, they also made the Occaneechis, located astride the major north-south trading path, their primary trade agents. Up to this period, few white traders had yet ventured into the southern Piedmont. John Lederer, on his second exploration in 1670, hired a Susquehannock guide, Jackzetavon, to lead him through Siouan territory. This guide may have been familiar with the Carolina Piedmont from participating in earlier Susquehannock trading expeditions, an interpretation that is supported by Lederer on his approach to a Siouan town.

You must by your scouts inform your self whether they hold any correspondence with the Sasquesahanaughs: for to such you must fire notice of your approach by a gun; which amongst other Indians is to be avoided, because being ignorant of their use, it would affright and dispose them to some treacherous practice against you. (Cumming 1958:41)

Lederer's comments suggest that not only did the Susquehannocks trade with the Siouans, but they traded in firearms and probably other Euroamerican utilitarian goods in addition to beads and trinkets.

Shortly after 1670, the Occaneechis had established their own reputation as trade middlemen. In 1673, Abraham Wood observed that the Occaneechis' store of arms and powder made them "the Mart for all the Indians for att least 500 miles" (Wood, quoted in Merrell 1982:91). During this same period the Occaneechis had established ties with several other tribes, and their village was said to be:

Strongly fortified by nature and that makes them so insolent for they are but a handfull of people besides what Vagabonds repaire to them it being a receptakle for rogues. (Alvord and Bidgood 1912:225)

The Susquehannock-Occaneechi connection is clearly illustrated by the fact that after being defeated by the Iroquois in 1675, and being chased by the Virginia and Maryland militia, a band of Susquehannocks sought refuge among the Occaneechis. That same year, "Manakins" and "Annalectins" had also retreated to Occaneechi Island. Nathanial Bacon conspired with these two groups to betray the Susquehannocks, which they did along with capturing 30 individuals who were turned over to Bacon's forces and put to death (Billings 1975:267). It is important to note that the Occaneechis were not involved in the Susquehannocks' betrayal but rather continued to play their role as middlemen by trying to stall Bacon. Their strategy did not work, and the Occaneechis were attacked by Bacon and so devastated that they were forced to abandon the island and retreat southward to the vicinity of present-day Hillsborough, North Carolina (Billings 1975:267-268).

It is hypothesized that ties of trade brought with them bonds of social responsibility, and it is likely that a strong trade relationship was sanctioned by an equally strong network of social ties. This relationship of mutual obligations is evident in the above accounts and in an earlier 1663 report of the Virginia General Assembly which states that some of the "ill-omened and murderous Doeg (Susquehannock) Indians" had taken up sanctuary with the Occaneechis (Rights and Cumming 1958:119). Social bonds between the Siouans and Susquehannocks are also evidenced by the fact that neither Lederer nor his Susquehannock guide were threatened by any of the Siouans they visited. This is in sharp contrast to the reception given by the Occaneechis to five Cherokees who were visiting among them at the same time as Lederer. The Cherokees wanted to establish trade relations directly with the Virginia colonists, and this so angered the Occaneechis that they murdered their visitors (Cumming 1958:261). A similar fate met James Needham in 1674, when he also attempted to establish trade relations independent of the Occaneechis (Alvord and Bidgood 1912:217).

Thus, the ethnohistoric and archaeological records argue for a strong connection between the development of Piedmont Siouan tribes and tribes of the Susquehanna valley. The northern groups first felt the invasion of the Europeans, and early in the seventeenth century, they established extensive trade networks with them and other Indian groups. By the middle of the seventeenth century, trade competition from the Iroquois Confederacy to the north forced the Susquehannocks to look to the southern Piedmont for potential trading partners. It is believed that they found in the Occanneechis, both geographically and culturally, an ally that would allow them to monopolize the Siouan trade. The Occaneechis were in a sense "set up" by the Susquehannocks as middlemen with whom they could deal directly. And, as Susquehannock influence was on the wane after 1670, the Occaneechis were just coming into their own as a major trading influence when attacked by Nathaniel Bacon. This no doubt affected their unchallenged prominence in the Siouan fur trade. However, even after moving to Hillsborough in the late seventeenth century, they apparently were still prosperous.

During the early 1700s, European diseases and slavery greatly reduced the tribes of the middle Atlantic region. Remnants of various groups coalesced to maintain social solidarity and to try to overcome the effects of depopulation. By 1700, similar cultural patterns had developed in both the Susquehanna valley and in the hills of the Eno, and as a consequence, Conestoga Town and Occaneechi Town shared many characteristics that are still visible in the archaeological record.