Friday, January 25, 2008

Raiding the 17th Century Chesapeake

Lois Carr's 1974 piece, The Metropolis of Maryland: A Comment on Town Development along the Tobacco Coast seeks to understand the sparsity of 17th century Chesapeake towns. In the end, she concludes that "the costs of centralizing the tobacco trade were higher than the benefits and that this fact hindered the growth of towns along the Chesapeake" (pg 144). But, she also places blame on a Native American group, the Susquehannocks, and their raids for limiting town development.

It just so happens that the Susquehannocks have become a research specialty of mine. The Susquehannocks are an enigmatic group in that they are clearly present in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the 1600s but their pre-Lancaster history is a topic of much debate. The Susquehannocks are believed to have moved down to Lancaster, from northern Pennsylvania and southern New York, beginning in 1550. On their 30-year journey they massacred the local Shenks Ferry people, set up short-term residence in the Shenks Ferry villages, adopting and marrying those they spared. The reason for this long distance migration and conquest was to gain better access to European trade and to move away from their enemies, the Five Nations Iroquois.

What's my take on this story? I don't believe it.
At the Society for Historical Archaeology conference earlier this month, I found out that I am not alone.

There is mounting evidence to suggest that the migration and the massacre did not occur, at least not as outlined above. In fact, the Susquehannocks and the Shenks Ferry are probably one in the same. The Susquehannocks have long been cast as the marauders of the region. I think this will change soon.


Carr, Lois Green
1974 The Metropolis of Maryland: A Comment on Town Development along the Tobacco Coast. Maryland History Magazine, pp. 124-145. vol. LXIX.

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