ERIE Research Projects

Early Historical & Ecological Study of the Upper Susquehanna River Valley -- New York State Line to Lake Otsego


Faculty:Don Grinde (Professor of American Studies)
Research Partners/Collaborators: Mary Kohler(American Studies Graduate Student))

Project Sponsor(s):

U.S.Dept. of Interior
Luce Foundation & Mellon Foundation

Key terms:

Upper Susquehanna River valley; Iroquois; Susquehannocks; John Smith Historical Trail; public's historical knowledge


This research highlights the history and culture of the Iroquois nations who occupied the Upper Susquehanna River valley. Beginning with proto-Iroquoian groups, the research found that the Susquehannocks lived along the Upper Susquehanna valley and are thought to be of Mohawk descent.  After migrating south, the Susquehannocks continued their relationship with the Iroquois which fluctuated between good trading partners and enemies. The ensuing beaver trade with the European colonists would fuel this rivalry.  Eventually defeated in Pennsylvania the Susquehannocks would move back to the Upper Susquehanna River valley in New York State where they were given sanctuary by the Iroquois.  Their histories are interwoven and tied to the river since it was used as a highway for trade, diplomacy and war.

The Susquehanna River provided sustenance to the Iroquois and influenced their social, economic and cultural organization. The valley was lush with vegetation and crowded with bird and animal species, all of which were sustained by the river and its tributaries.  There were numerous places along the waterway that served as hunting and fishing camps for the Iroquois. Consequently, the investigators believe that the John Smith Historical Trail (established by Pres. Barack Obama) should be extended to the Upper Susquehanna River valley because its history is linked to the other areas in the Chesapeake region. Furthermore, it will contribute to the public's historical knowledge of the Iroquois and the environment of the Upper Susquehanna River valley, leading to its conservancy.