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Harford County has a rich Indian legacy

History: Early European explorers encountered several tribes when they made their way into the Upper Chesapeake.

October 26, 2003|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

The Susquehannocks spoke an Iroquian language. Their home was on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, where they lived in fortified villages. According to C. Milton Wright in Our Harford Heritage, published in 1967, "It is doubtful whether any permanent Susquehannock settlements or `towns' were located within the confines of Harford County, for the exact site of any such place is not known. However, there is said to have been a sizable settlement near the mouth of Octoraro Creek in Cecil County and others along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. It is certain that many temporary abodes were found along Deer Creek and in the fields and forests of their hunting grounds. About 1692, [Maryland] Rangers traveling over the backwoods are reported to have discovered a great many Indian cabins. Presumably, these were the scattered dwellings of hunters and not permanent settlements."


According to J. Thomas Scharf's History of Maryland, published in 1879, the Susquehannocks "were not, however, members of the Iroquois confederacy, but, on the contrary, were among their fiercest enemies" at the time of Smith's exploration.

In a generally favorable picture of the Susquehannocks, Smith included a description of their weapons: The chief's "arrows were five quarters long, headed with the splinters of a white crystal-like stone, in form of a heart, an inch broad, an inch and a half or more long." Indian artifacts collected in the Harford area usually feature many examples of these deadly white quartz Susquehannock arrowheads.

The Susquehannock tribe was weakened by smallpox and wars with the Iroquois tribes to the north. The few remaining Susquehannocks, known in Pennsylvania by their Dutch name, Mingoes, were massacred in Lancaster County, Pa., Dec. 14, 1763.

The Massawomecks that Smith's party encountered in the vicinity of the Bush River were another Iroquois tribe. Walter W. Preston in his History of Harford County, published in 1901, described this name as "another name for the famous Mohawk tribe of Indians, whose seat was further to the north."

In Smith's account, the Massawomecks appear as raiders attacking other Indians in the area. Iroquois raiders often entered the Maryland area, fighting the Piscataways on the Western Shore and the Nanticokes on the Eastern Shore. Massawomeck is the name given to these raiders by their enemies, the Powhatan tribes of Virginia.


According to Scharf, "About the identity of the nation whom Smith calls the Tockwoghes, there seems much doubt. Some writers identify them with the Nanticokes of later authors; but ... the position of Smith's Kuscarawaocks more accurately corresponds with that of the Nanticokes, and the Tockwoghes dwelt north of these, with their fort on the Sassafras River. There they had a hundred warriors, and were enemies of the Massawomecks or Iroquois, some of whom showed Smith the wounds they had received in an encounter with the Tockwoghes. As they were evidently a considerable people, both in numbers and ability to hold their own, there can be little doubt that their apparent disappearance is merely due to confusion of names."

According to the tradition of the Nanticokes, Scharf continues, "they were an offshoot of the Lenni Lanape, or Delawares, which nation they called their `grandfather.' But they had many names. Nentego, meaning `tidewater,' or `seaside,' people and Tayachquans, meaning `bridge-builders.' Now Nentego is almost certainly the origin of the name Nanticoke; and Tayachquan, pronounced with the Indian guttural, resembles Smith's Tockwoghes. Both the Tockwoghes and Kuscarawaocks may have been offshoots of the Delaware stock."

Harford's Indian past has many confusing names, some English, some French, some Dutch, some Swedish, many in the tongues of native peoples, including the Iroquois, Delawares, Nanticokes and Powhatans. At the Liriodendron mansion in Bel Air, there is much Indian heritage for the curators to explain and display.

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