New York Headwaters
Susquehanna River History
Canoe and Kayak into the History of Scenic
Headwaters of the Susquehanna River
History of the Headwaters of the Susquehanna River...
ORIGIN OF THE NAME -Local legend claims that the name of the river comes from an Indian phrase meaning "mile wide, foot deep," referring to the Susquehanna's unusual dimensions, but while the word is Algonquian, it simply means "muddy current" or "winding current”. The Susquehanna river has played an enormous role throughout the history of the United States.
EARLY INHABITANTS - During the period 1400 - 1525 the Susquehanna River Valley was inhabited by Iroquoians whose descendants would be known as the Susquehannocks. Their name meant “people of the muddy river”, from the Lenape name of the Susquehanna River, Siskuwihane (sisku ‘mud’, have ‘river’).
The lands of the Susquehanna River Valley became occupied by the Munsee of the Lenape (or Delaware) and were under the control of the Five (later six) Nations of the Iroquois nations. In 1608, Captain John Smith became the first European explorer known to travel the river. He quickly found it unnavigable above the fall line and abandoned his plan to journey further upriver.
In the 1750s, many Lenni Lenape from eastern Pennsylvania joined the Shawnees, having been driven from their homeland in the Delaware River Valley. The Lenni Lenape became known as the “Delawares” by the colonists, and shortly thereafter began occupying land further west as they were forced from their homelands.
COLONIAL SETTLEMENTS - Early in the 18th century, a treaty negotiated by William Penn opened up the area to European settlers, angering many Shawnee and Lenape who lost their lands. This led to raids and abductions of white settlements in 1755 to 1756.
WYOMING MASSACRE - The Battle of Wyoming, Pennsylvania (also known as the Wyoming Massacre) was an encounter during the American Revolutionary War between American Patriots and British Loyalists where more than three hundred Patriots were killed in the battle. After the battle, settlers claimed that the Iraquois raiders had hunted and killed fleeing Patriots.
In the summer 1779, the Sullivan Expedition, commissioned by General George Washington, methodically destroyed 40 Iroquois villages and an enormous quantity of stored corn and vegetables throughout upstate New York. The Iroquois never recovered from the damage, and many died of starvation that winter. The tribes allied with the British continued to raid Patriot settlements until the end of the war. Many resettled in the area after the war had ended.
General Clinton's Dam
in Cooperstown at Otsego Lake
In mid June, 1779 General James Clinton led an expedition down the Susquehanna River after making the upper portion navigable by damming up the river's source at Otsego Lake, allowing the lake's level to rise, and then destroying the dam and flooding the river for miles downstream to provide sufficient draft for the heavily laden supply boats.
The freshet caused by the sudden release of the pent-up water swelled the stream for a distance of more than a hundred miles. The rise in the water was great enough to flow back into the western branch, causing the Chemung River to reverse its course.
At Tioga, NY, Clinton met up with General John Sullivan's forces, who had marched from Easton, Pennsylvania. Together, on August 29, they defeated the Tories and Indians at the Battle of Newtown (near today's city of Elmira, NY). This became known as the "Sullivan-Clinton Campaign".
By the end of the expedition, Sullivan's army had destroyed over forty villages and many isolated homes. They had destroyed at least 160,000 bushels
of corn, and an untold number of other vegetables and fruit, with the loss of only 40 men. Noticeably missing however, was the presence of any Indian captives, one of the main goals of expedition.
The tribes allied with the British continued to raid Patriot settlements until the end of the war. Many resettled in the area after the war had ended. •
Chemung River History
How was the Chemung river named?
The facts seem to be that the
Delaware Indians moved into this
area in 1756, found a mastadon tusk
near the river and named the area
and river Chemung - a Delaware
meaning "Horn in theWater." It
is recorded that this tusk was found
near the area where the Riverside
Cemetery is in the Town of Chemung.
The Delaware Indians built a village
just a stone throw from the area
that the Mastodon tusk was found,
and called it Chemung.
CivilWar Era History
The Chemung Basin featured a vast
amount of arable land. Once soldiers
recognized the area during the RevolutionaryWar,
Europeans began settling
in the area. Dairy, lumber, wool,
and tobacco were primary industries.
Farmers used the waterways within
the Chemung Basin to ship their
goods as far as Baltimore on wooden
The canal, and the railroad system all
influenced the development of the
Chemung Basin. The construction of
a local canal connected the Chemung
River to Seneca Lake and the Erie
Canal. The canal allowed for increased
freight trade, but it was costly
to maintain. By the mid-1800s, the
railroad systems were the dominate
trade route in the area and the canal
became less important.
Due to the variety of transportation
routes in the area, a military base
was established in Elmira. Soldiers
from across New York State came to
Elmira for training before their regiments
were transported south. In the
1860s, a prison camp for Confederate
solders was established in Elmira.
The transportation opportunities in
the area made the Chemung Basin an
important destination for many
slaves seeking freedom. Many local
people harbored escaping slaves in
homes, churches, cellars, and barns.
Baggage cars departing from the railroad
station in Elmira toward Niagara
Falls often carried escaping
slaves with the approval of abolitionists.
The famous writer Mark Twain was
influenced by the Chemung River
and the abolitionist history of Elmira.
Twain enjoyed a view of the river
from his summer study as he wrote
many of his famous novels that frequently
related to the issues related
to abolitionist activities in Elmira at
the time. •