The Conestoga are a no-longer-extant American Indian tribe whose descendants may be included among today's Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma. An Iroquoian people, the Conestoga occupied present Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, during the sixteenth century and claimed land as far south as Chesapeake Bay. They dwelled below Conewago Falls on the Susquehanna River, an important trade route. Their name derived from an Iroquoian term meaning "people of the cabin poles" or "at the place of the immersed pole." To the English they were known as the Susquehannock, an Algonquian word defined as "roily water people" or "people at the falls," and Swedish and Dutch settlers referred to them as the Minquas.
Hostilities and European diseases reduced the Conestoga population from an estimated 5,800 in 1647 to about 250 in 1698. A warlike tribe, they fought the Delaware Indians after 1626 and against the Maryland Colony from 1642-52. Conestoga leaders and Maryland officials formed an alliance against the Five Nations Iroquois in 1661. That agreement resulted in the tribe's relocating to near present Washington, D.C., in 1675, where they were subsequently attacked by Virginia and Maryland militiamen. The Conestoga fled into southern Virginia, only to become embroiled in the disturbance known as Bacon's Rebellion. Those who survived returned north; some settled among the Delaware or submitted to the Iroquois.
By the mid-1690s most Conestoga had gone back to the Susquehanna River. There they were joined by Tuscarora, Delaware, Shawnee, and others, with whom they intermarried. To escape white settlement and additional pressures, the majority migrated to Ohio during the early-eighteenth century. (Pennsylvania's twenty remaining Conestoga were massacred by backwoodsmen in 1763). There they affiliated with other Iroquois-speaking bands and tribal remnants known as the Mingo or Seneca. In 1815 the United States assigned the "Seneca" a reservation along the Sandusky River. As members of the Seneca of Sandusky, an indeterminate number of Conestoga removed to the Indian Territory in 1832. They and/or their descendants were allotted land on the Seneca reservation in present Ottawa and Delaware counties in Oklahoma, beginning in 1888.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Frederick W. Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Vol. 1 (1907; reprint, New York: Pageant Books, 1960). Francis Jennings, "Susquehannock," Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast, ed. Bruce G. Trigger (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978). Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).
Jon D. May
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