Original Document
Original Document
John Smith's Description of the Susquehannocks, circa 1608.

Captain John Smith, the leader of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, wrote the first description of the Susquehannocks in English. He encountered them while exploring the northern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been modernized.

"Upon this river inhabit a people called Susquehannock. . . . 60 of those Susquehannocks came to the discoverers [Smith's party] with skins, bows, arrows, targets, beads, swords, and tobacco pipes for presents. Such great and well proportioned men are seldom seen, for they seemed like giants to the English, yea and to the neighbors [other Indians], yet seemed of an honest and simple disposition, with much ado restrained from adoring the discoverers as gods. Those are the most strange people of all those countries, both in language and attire; for their language it may well beseem their proportions, sounding from them, as it were a great voice in a vault, or cave, as an echo. Their attire is the skins of bears and wolves; some have cassocks made of bear heads and skins that a man's neck goes through the skin's neck, and the ears of the bear fastened to his shoulders behind, the nose and teeth hanging down his breast, and at the end of the nose hung a bear's paw; the half sleeves coming to the elbows were the necks of bears and the arms through the mouth with paws hanging at their noses. One had the head of a wolf hanging in a chain for a jewel, his tobacco pipe three quarters of a yard long, prettily carved with a bird, a bear, a deer, or some such device at the great end, sufficient to beat out the brains of a man, with bows and arrows and clubs suitable to their greatness and conditions. These [Indians] are scarce known to Powhatan. They can make near 600 able and mighty men and are palisaded in their towns to defend them from the Massawomeks, their mortal enemies."

Credit: Karen Ordahl Kupperman, ed., Captain John Smith: A Select Edition of His Writings (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 160.
Back to Top