A great deal of the early history of the American continent has been lost thanks to the annihilation of great Indian nations such as the Susquehanna, forcing us to examine other tribes for clues as to their way of life.
In early 17th century, three distinctive groups of Indian tribes, representing three different linguistic stocks, occupied the region that is now Virginia. Along the coast were many settlements of the Algonquian group, the Powhatan confederacy, enemy of the Siouan stock composed of the Monacan and Manahoac groups that spread from the banks of the upper James and the headwaters of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers to the Allegheny Mountains (UV, 2006). The bellicose and scattered Iroquoian stock was represented by the Conestoga or Susquehanna tribe of about 600 able warriors that lived in palisaded towns to defend themselves from the Massawomeckes. The six Susquehanna towns are Sasquesahanough, Quadroque, Attaock, Tesinigh, Utchowig, and Cepowig; the earlier names obviously conventionalized forms of the original native terms (AG, 2006).
Ever since, the Susquehannock apparently had been in good alliance with the Huron. It was probable they migrated to the Susquehanna Valley from the north. The earliest town sites recognized as Susquehannock were sited on the upper Susquehanna River and date from about 1550, but they probably had occupied the region for at least four hundred years before this. Even though they inflicted a major defeat on the Mohawk shortly before 1600, conflicts with the Iroquois had by 1570 forced the Susquehannock south into the lower Susquehanna Valley. Toughened by years of constant warfare, they besieged the Algonquin tribes along the shores of Chesapeake Bay and began extending their control southward. The first European contact with the Susquehannock was in 1608 when Captain John Smith an explorer from Jamestown was traveling the northern end of Chesapeake Bay (Shovel, 2006).
The Powhatan also knew the Susquehannock from painful experience, and when the English first established Virginia, the Powhatan had placed their villages well-inland to defend them from Susquehannock war parties that ranged the coastline by canoes. One basis the Powhatan were not completely conflicting to English settlement at first was that they provided additional defense, but the Susquehannock still attacked the Powhatan villages in northern Virginia during 1610 (Cadzow, 1936).
During the early 1600s, drawn by the potential profits from furs, other Europeans came to the New World. Friendly dealings with the Susquehannock were particularily valuable to the French, not just for the purposes of trade, but because they fascinated the Iroquois between two powerful enemies. Unluckily, the new coalition alarmed Dutch traders on the Hudson River, and they vigorously supported the Mohawk in 1615 against the Susquehannock. Even though they were relatively few in number and isolated by their inland location, the Susquehannock managed to turn out to be an important trading partner with all of the competing European powers.
As well handicapped by their