From the arrival of Columbus through that of the first settlers from England, coastal Virginia area had been inhabited by a powerful, warlike tribe called the Susquehannock. When first encountered by John Smith in 1608, he described the Susquehannock as "the most noble and heroic nation of Indians that dwell upon the confines of America." Although related to the Iroquois, the Susquehannock carried out constant warfare with them. Almost completely forgotten today, the Susquehannock were on of the most formidable tribes of the mid-Atlantic region at the time of European contact, and dominated the large region between the Potomac River in Northern Virginia to southern New York. Using canoes for transport, Susquehannock war parties routinely attacked the Delaware tribes along the Delaware River and traveled down the Susquehanna where they terrorized the Nanticoke, Conoy, and Powhatan living on Chesapeake Bay.
The west shore of the Potomac River was the last of Virginia's Tidewater fringe to be settled. In 1669 Governor Berkeley granted Robert Howsing 'six thousand acres of land situate . . . upon the freshes of Potomac River on the west side.' Captain John Alexander, who surveyed this tract, including the site of Alexandria, bought the Howsing grant the year following, and sporadic settlement began.
The section suffered in 1675 because of the Susquehannock War, when the Indians crossed the Potomac to attack new settlers. Colonel John Washington with a Virginia force joined Major John Truman's Maryland troops in a campaign against the Indians on Piscataway Creek (Maryland). During a truce, Maryland soldiers killed the Indian conferees. The Susquehannock, bent on revenge, advanced southward and aroused other Indians, thus bringing about conditions that led to Bacon's Rebellion.
The Susquehannock War of 1673 was the beginning of the downfall of the tribe, who were almost completely destroyed by the Iroquois by 1675. The few survivors joined the Nottoway, later formed a new tribe called Meherrin and finally called themselves the Conestoga. The century had ended before the Indians were driven out and permanent settlements established.
For many years, the survivors lived with the Oneida in New York State, but they eventually were permitted to return along with remnants of other tribes that had been subdued by the Iroquois. Epidemics reduced their number. In 1763, the last twenty were massacred by a party of rioters known as the Paxton boys seeking revenge for Indian atrocities committed hundreds of miles to the west.
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