Susquehannock Fort (18PR8)

Introduction

Located at Mockley Point on Piscataway Creek, the Susquehannock Fort site (18PR8) bears witness to a bloody chapter of Anglo-Native relations.

The ball was set in motion when, in 1674, a group of Susquehannock Indians, then at war with the Five Nations Iroquois, sought refuge in Maryland. Governor Charles Calvert agreed to their relocating provided they constructed their new settlement above the Potomac falls. Instead, the Susquehannock erected their fort in an abandoned fort on Piscataway Creek, perhaps intending to seek the protection of the nearby Piscataway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Potomac in Virginia, a group of Doeg Indians were seeking revenge on Thomas Mathews, thinking he had cheated them in some transaction. The situation in Virginia escalated with the deaths of both Doegs and Mathews's son and servant, and the Doegs fled into Maryland. A group of Virginians led by Colonel George Mason pursued the Doegs into Maryland and confronted them in a group of cabins, presumably at the Susquehannock Fort. Evidently the Doegs had taken shelter there.

Colonel Mason and his allies ended up killing several Doegs, taking the leader's son hostage, and then open firing on Indians fleeing a second cabin. These Indians were not Doegs but Susquehannock, and 14 were killed during the skirmish.

Not surprisingly, the Susquehannock retaliated for this indiscriminate action, and now the two governments were forced to take action against a group of Indians they had just been at peace with. Colonel John Washington (great grandfather of George) and Major Isaac Allerton of Virginia and Major Thomas Truman of Maryland besieged the Susquehannock in their fort at Piscataway Creek. The Marylanders led a force of 250 men with support from the Piscataway—an event that would hound the Piscataway for almost a decade.

During the siege, the Susquehannock sent out five of their Great Men for a parley with the English. The Susquehannock blamed the Seneca for the recent raids and produced a medal and articles of peace given to them by the Maryland government. Without provocation, the English troops executed the Indians during the parley.

For the next six weeks, the Susquehannock were besieged within their fort, still managing to, under cover of darkness, kill 50 English and a number of horses, the latter providing food for the Indians. Finally, the remaining Susquehannock escaped the siege during the night and proceeded to retaliate, massacring and raiding the frontier English plantations primarily in Virginia. When Governor Berkeley rejected their peace overtures, their raids on the Virginia frontier continued, precipitating Bacon's Rebellion in 1676.

Archaeological Investigations

Alice Ferguson
Alice Ferguson excavating the Accokeek Creek site.

The Susquehannock Fort site was excavated by avocational archaeologist Alice L.L. Ferguson between 1939 and 1940. By and large, excavation methods were similar to those employed at Accokeek Creek. Inconsistencies in Mrs. Ferguson's descriptions of methods and features are partially delineated in Curry (1999).

The first excavations at the fort site at Mockley Point were undertaken in 1939 (Ferguson 1941). During this season, Mrs. Ferguson and Professor Thomas Wertenbaker of Princeton University located the site at Mockley Point with the assistance of a colonial map and aerial photography.

In 1940, Mrs. Ferguson led a second season of excavations, during which she and her team uncovered stockade post molds that showed evidence of burning (Ferguson 1941:8). That same year, Mrs. Ferguson uncovered an ossuary containing 42 burials, a staggering number given the Susquehannock Fort's length of occupation (about a year) and meager population size (estimates place the number at around 500 individuals). The remains recovered were later examined by Ales Hrdlicka and T. Dale Stewart, physical anthropologists at what was then called the National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution). Included in the ossuary were seven young children and four syphilitic adults. In her 1941 report, Mrs. Ferguson noted that the Mockley Point ossuary was atypical in its equal ratio of skulls to long bones. Mrs. Ferguson also excavated a small pit containing a number of trade goods, located about a foot away from the ossuary.

Perhaps the most impressive feature recovered during Mrs. Ferguson's excavations of the Susquehannock Fort was the fortification's plan: palisades set in a square with what appear to be square bastions at the two surviving corners (about 1/3 of the fort appears to have been lost to erosion in 194). If photographs survive of the fort's plan, they have not been published. While Mrs. Ferguson's drawing no doubt has smoothed the variability of the archaeological record, her representation of the Susquehannock Fort provides important evidence about the nature of fort-building at the end of the first century of colonization in British North America.

Mrs. Ferguson's drawing provides an important comparative resource for a drawing that survives in the British Public Records Office of the fort while it was under siege. This drawing suggests that the fortification was surrounded by a second enclosure, perhaps of brush, and all of this was found within an encircling ditch. Had the site been located and tested at the end of the 20th century, there is no doubt that features invisible to Mrs. Ferguson would have been seen by modern archaeologists.

Artifacts

Considering the Susquehannock refugees inhabited the site for only eighteen months, they left behind a good deal of archaeological material. The diverse collection of artifacts recovered from the ossuary alone may reveal information about Susquehannock involvement in 17th-century trade. Among these were "three Jew's harps, seven copper hawk bells, eight iron brackets, an iron hoe, a copper finger ring set with glass, a snuff box, fragments of a pair of scissors, and a flattened lead musket ball" (Ferguson 1941). In addition, two tobacco pipes (one white clay and a second later identified as Susquehannock) were recovered from the deepest contexts of the ossuary (Curry 1999). Trade was also evidenced in the small cache of artifacts recovered from a pit near the ossuary. Recovered from this pit were "two iron hoes, an upright Dutch gin bottle, two small iron pots and a mass of almost completely disintegrated stuff that looked as though it might have been textile" (Ferguson 1941:9). Mrs. Ferguson interpreted this cache as either a hastily stashed "treasure pit" or a ritual offering associated with the ossuary.

None of the artifacts described by Mrs. Ferguson are found in the database. These materials, now owned by the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology at the University of Michigan, are subject to rules adopted by the museum to meet requirements under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The Susquehannock Fort collection and with the Accokeek Site collection were both given to the University of Michigan in the 1950s. For the Accokeek Creek site collection, provenience information appears to have been lost. It is possible that some of the Native-made material in the Accokeek Creek collection came from the Susquehannock Fort site, especially given that both designated 18PR8, have been combined. There are a number of artifacts in the Accokeek Creek collection that appear to be made from European flint. It is very possible that these objects are associated with the late 17th-century fort.

References

Curry, Dennis C. 1999. Feast of the Dead: Aboriginal Ossuaries in Maryland. Crownsville: Maryland Historical Trust Press.

Ferguson, Alice L.L. 1941. The Susquehannock Fort on Piscataway Creek. Maryland History Magazine 36(1):1-9.

Rice, James D. 2012. Tales from a Revolution; Bacon's Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Further Information on the Collection

The Susquehannock Fort collection is owned and curated by the University of Michigan's Museum of Anthropological Archaeology. For more information about the collection and collection access, contact Lauren Fuka, Collection Manager, at 734-763-0655 or by email at lfuka@umich.edu.

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