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Shawnee Trail Associates: Moccasin Mail

ORIGIN OF THE NAME KANAWHA

Newsletter 
Committee
Brenda Hager

Ron Smith

Mike Williams

Wendy Williams

Fred Langva
Tim Tweed


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by Chingwe AKA Doug Wood

Captain Pierre-Joseph Céleron recorded the name of Kanawha River as
"Chinodaista" when he had a leaden plate buried at its mouth in 1749. This
is likely a French Mohawk word, since he had a number of these Indians with
him, but he also had Abenakis with him and they spoke a Lenape/Algonkin
dialect. My bet is with the Iroquoian tongue of the French Mohawks.

John P. Hale, writing his Trans-Allegheny Pioneers (1971, 1931, 1886)
indicated that the Delawares called Kanawha River "Keninshekacepe (White
Stone River)" and the Miamis called it "Piquemetami." These words are
likely from a list Hale had access to that was produced by Colonel William
Preston, James Patton's nephew and male heir. I don't doubt the word can be
translated as Hale indicated, for the Lenape language is a contractive one
so that words lose prefixes, suffixes and middles when they are combined.
However, I must say I have a hard time recognizing parts of either "white"
(wape) or "stone" (ahsen) in the word. The "in" portion of the word could
be from "ahsen/ahsin," but the rest is tough to figure. "Sheka" may be from
the descriptive root "shiki/shigi," meaning "fine" or "well made." It might
possibly mean "Trough River" or "Fine Trough River," for the Lenape word for
"trough" is "Guninschu," according to Raymond Whritenour in his book derived
from the works of 18th century Moravian missionaries, A Delaware - English
Lexicon (1995). In the Delaware language, "G" and "K" are often
interchangeable sounds or at least mistaken for one another by recorders of
the words. This possible translation (Trough River) is my own and is just
about a half step up from pure conjecture. The suffix, "Cepe," is
definitely from the root "sipu/sipo," meaning "stream." This is evident in
a number of the stream names mentioned by Hale that end with either "cepe"

or "cepewe."
In 1736, John Peter Salling, a German settler in Lancaster, PA was on the
waters of James River (probably hunting or trading) when he was captured by
Cherokees. He finally escaped and then moved to the area of his capture,
and in 1742, an early "western" land speculator, John Howard, sought out
Salling to guide him on a journey of discovery toward the Mississippi.
Salling called New River, "Mondongachete," presumably the name given it by
his former Cherokee captors. My knowledge of Cherokee is just enough to
prevent me from attempting a translation.

In 1744, at Lancaster PA, the Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Iroquois and
other authorities treated. The Maryland authorities claimed the colony had
bought all lands on both sides of Chesapeake Bay, to the mouth of
Susquehanna River, from the Minquas (Susquehannocks/Conestogas) in 1652. A
brief history of conquests, land purchases and treaties was discussed by
several parties and finally the Iroquois representative, Canassatego (also
called Tachanoontia) defended the position taken by the Iroquois. He said,
"We have had your Deeds Interpreted to Us, and we acknowledge ... that the
Conestogoe or Sasquehannah Indians had a Right to sell those Lands unto you,
for they were then theirs; but since that time We have Conquered them, and
their Country now belongs to Us, and the Lands we demanded satisfaction for
are no part of the Lands comprised in those Deeds -- they are the
Cohongoroutas [Potomac River] Lands." (Pennsylvania Colonial Records, V4.
pp 708-709).

Later, speaking to the Virginia authorities, Canassatego said, "All the
World Knows we conquered the Several Nations living on Sasquehanna,
Cohongoronta [Potomac River], and on the Back of the Great Mountains in
Virginia [that is, to the northwest of the

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