Conoy and Nanticoke

While distinct tribes, the Conoy (also known as Piscataway and Ganawese) and Nanticoke are understood better when thought of together. Both were very small tribes from the Chesapeake Bay region who were forced to take similar paths of relocation and assimilation in Pennsylvania in the early eighteenth century due to Bacon’s Rebellion (see "Susquehannocks"). Further, once in Pennsylvania, they joined together as one. Those who stayed behind in Maryland remained in an ally-less world, left at the hands of the English. Some Conoys described how Bacon’s Rebellion pushed them to Pennsylvania – “they thought it not safe to Continue there, & were now come hither where they hoped they might live peaceably" (from Pennsylvania Colonial Records). It has been estimated that Conoy population fell to a low of around 100 people during this time.

The Conoys and Nanticokes who came to Pennsylvania chiefly settled at Conestoga, reinforcing Susquehannock numbers and contributing to an ethnogenesis of sorts. Historically, the Susquehannocks had been enemies to both the Conoy and Nanticokes. However, the warring between the Iroquois and Susquehannocks in the late seventeenth century (see "Haudenosaunee") shifted political alliances, and the Conoy and Nanticoke found themselves friends of the Susquehannocks. Despite this shift in alliances, the Conoy and Nanticoke eventually had to accept Iroquois terms and become part of the Covenant Chain out of need for protection and safety in 1718. Later, many Conoys and Nanticokes, under the direction of the Iroquois, also settled as refugees in the Wyoming Valley during the 1740’s due to unrest in southern and central Pennsylvania. Notably, the town of Nanticoke was host to many Conoy and Nanticoke refugees. They would stay there until the late 1760’s when they were forced off the land. Most of those who moved into the Wyoming Valley likely assimilated into the Delaware nation and went west to reservations with them. 

Perhaps the most interesting impact that these nations had on the Wyoming Valley was the introduction of Nanticoke spirituality, which would have been very similar, if not identical to Conoy spirituality at this point. 

In the 1770s, many Wyoming Delawares, an ethnogenesis consisting of Lenape, Munsee, Conoy, Nanticoke, Shawnee, and likely Susquehannock heritage had been pushed out of the Wyoming Valley and were living in southwestern Pennsylvania and what would become southeastern Ohio. An epidemic was ravaging their communities, and many members believed that a strange, supernatural, and deadly root known as Machtapassican was being used by someone to poison them. If one were to ingest this root, they would be poisoned immediately. Knowledge of this root was thought to originally come from the Nanticokes who settled in the Wyoming Valley. Here is a quote from Amy C. Schutt’s Peoples of the River Valleys: The Odyssey of the Delaware Indians, 

“According to one account, the Nanticokes received [Machtapassican] through a spirit disguised as a baby. This infant ‘grew of a short and thick size’ and ‘took to kill the others Children.’ People tried repeatedly to kill it, ‘but it still became alive again.’ Finally, the spirit worked out an agreement that ‘if they would obey it & serve it,’ which probably entailed the performance of certain rituals, ‘it would learn them how to do mighty things."

Thus, from this situation, it is clear that the small tribes of the Chesapeake Bay region made their impact at least on the spiritual consciousness of the Wyoming Valley.

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