Scholla: Conestoga February 18, 1942

2/18/1942            Conestoga

There is no object more than symbolic of the growth and development of the United States than the covered wagon, known universally as the Conestoga wagon. It is not surprising that the boat shaped bodies and the convex tops, covered with white linen should have earned the fantastic name of “Ships of Inland Commerce” as they moved through the green hills of Pennsylvania, westward bound. On the western prairies they were called prairie schooners, but their constant and abiding name is Conestoga wagons, derived from the place of their construction, on the banks of the Conestoga Creek, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Also there is no other word as American as the word “stogie.” It refers to an American product and derives its name from Conestoga. The drivers of the six-horse teams that set out over the mountains, westward-bound, wanted a good, long smoke of rich Lancaster tobacco.

What is the meaning and origin of the Indian word, Conestoga?

In 1608, one year after the first English settlement in America, Capt. John Smith explored the lower reaches of the Susquehanna River and drew a map of the region. His explorations carried him as far north as the Octorara Creek in Maryland, but he did not reach the present boundaries of Pennsylvania.

In 1670 Augustin Hermann, one of the patentees of the settlement of German Mystics at Bohemia Manor, explored Susquehanna and constructed a map on which the creek is shown and its name spelled Onestego. The Bohemia Manor settlement was similar, in some respects, to the Ephrata community. It was located in present day Maryland, not far from Chesapeake City. Bohemia River, Maryland, a favorite fishing spot for many Berks countians, derives its name from the old-time religious settlement.

On Franquelin’s map of 1684, two years after the Penn Settlement point of the junction of the Conestoga and the Susquehanna is marked and named Conestoga Fort. On Popple’s map of 1733 the creek itself is named Conestoga and as early as 1704 William Penn had made a treaty with the Indians of Conestoga Manor.

The French explorers had learned of these Indians on the Susquehanna and had named them the Andastes. To the Virginians they were known as the Susquehannocks. They were part of the Iroquois family and in that confederacy they were known as the Conestogas which means “the people of the forked roof poles.”

The term Andastes is much older than the Iroquois name Conestoga. In one of his earlier journal Conrad Weiser speaks of an Andastes fort that he came upon in the wilderness north of Muncy, PA. His red companions on that journey informed him that the Andastes had once been a powerful tribe, but that was before the memory of any person living then. The Iroquois conquered these people in 1685 and many of them fled to North Carolina. Weiser’s discovery of the fort was in 1737.

“Stogies” from Berks County. Source:
Conestoga Wagon. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society
Conestoga Wagon. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society