Make your own free website on

Shawnee Trail Associates: Moccasin Mail

"Kanawha" Continued

was spelled with an "ay" terminal sound. You
may recognize this ending sound today in the pronunciation of the word by many local residents, especially country folk. This is true in southern Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. It islikely that this pronunciation, "Kë-NAW-wee," is closer to the original "Conoy" than "Kë-NAW-wa" or "Kë-NAW" as I most often pronounce the word.

Often, the adjective "Little" was not applied to present-day Little Kanawha River. It was simply referred to as "Conhaway/Conoy/Kanhaway/etc." This causes confusion with today's researchers. A notable exception to this tendency of early explorers to write of Little Kanawha without the adjectiveand to call Kanawha, "Great" or "Big" etc., is found in Christopher Gist's
record of his exploration for the Ohio Company in 1751-52. He did not even refer to Little Kanawha River by any name. His entry on February 15th simply stated, "... very rich Bottoms up the Creek ... ." Later in February, he and his son came to Kanawha River, which he called "Conhaway River."

However, on his earlier exploratory survey for the same company in 1750-51, Gist called the larger Kanawha "big Conhaway" several times as well as, simply, "Conhaway." A testament accompanying the first publication of Gist's two journals made reference to the 1751-52 journal, "... And the other containing an Account of his Travels and Discoveries down the said River Ohio on the SE Side as low as the Big Conhaway made for the sd Ohio Company in the Years 1751 & 1752 ... ." There is no doubt that Gist, like every other frontiersman, knew to distinguish one of the Kanawhas from the other by calling Keninshekacepe, "big Conhaway."

Today, at least two place names still hint at the Little Kanawha River'original designation simply as "Kanawha River." Kanawha Run in UpshurCounty flows into Little Kanawha River from the watershed dividing that river's waters from those of Buckhannon River and Kanawha Head is the nameof a village that sits on the Left Fork of Little Kanawha River in the samecounty. Note the adjectival epithet "Little" is missing in both names. The early Buckhannon and Hackers Creek Virginians named both of these spots Early documents from these settlements often refer to that river as, simply, "Kanawha River."

Some folks assume that "Kanawha" has its origin in the Shawnee language. I have seen one modern writing that even attempts a translation of this "Shawnee" word. However, I have found no indication in any old record,including maps, that would lead me to believe the word is anything otherthan the shortened version of the Iroquoian word for the Piscataway Indians,"Conoy-uch-such-roonan." Implied in several 18th century documents, is that the Shawnees called the river by the same name the Virginians used. I have not seen this explicitly stated anywhere though, and I suspect in discourse with whitemen, the redmen called it simply by the name the whites would understand. I don't know what the Shawnees' ancient name for Kanawha River is. Maybe someone does. Let me know if you do or if you have an historical lead, a clue. It may be similar to

we conquered the Nations residing there, and that Land, if
ever the Virginians get a good Right to it, it must be by Us." (p 712).

Note the reference above to the "Conoy-uch-such-roona." This is one of the earliest references to the name change of the Piscataways, as they called themselves. According to C. HaleSipe in his book The Indian Chiefs Of Pennsylvania, first published in 1927, the Conoy were the Piscataway who moved into Pennsylvania after the Iroquois defeat of the Conestogas in 1675 caused the Conestogas to invade the land of the Conoy in western Maryland. The Iroquois assigned land to the Conoy to settle on in Pennsylvania and New York. "Conoy" is simply a shortened version of "Conoy-uch-such-roona," the Iroquois term for the Piscataway.

Being conquered by the Iroquois had its advantages, for then, under the "Pax Iroquoia," the Conoy were under the protectorate (or under the thumb, depending on your point of view) of the Onondaga Council. This is why the Council assigned to the Piscataway lands to live upon, in order to keep them from wandering about and settling willy-nilly on lands the Council might see fit to sell to one or another of the British colonies. Hence, the Iroquois laid claim to all the lands west of the Alleghenies by right of conquest and expected to be paid for any of those lands the Virginians wanted.

So it is likely that at the time of the Piscataway emigration from the land "on the Back of the Great Mountains in Virginia" (around 1675), the term "Conoy" and its variants was applied to the lands west of the Allegheny Mountains. This makes the name an Iroquoian one applied to the land of a
people of the Lenape language family. Reverend John Heckewelder, writing about languages in chapter IX of his book An Account Of The History, Manners, And Customs Of The Indian Nations Who Once Inhabitated Pennsylvania
And The Neighboring States (1971, 1876, 1819), stated on page 122, "The Canai or Kanhawas, who have given the name to a river in Virginia which empties itself into the Ohio, are known to have been of the same stock. The Indian names of rivers, mountains, and towns, through that vast extent of
country, appear generally derived from the Lenape language." Apparently, Rev. Heckewelder was unaware that the Canai were originally the Piscataways and that the name he was familiar with was the name given them by their Iroquois conquerors turned protectors. However, his observation about the
place names in use during his time being primarily derived from the Lenape language family, was correct.

An historical hypothesis you may find interesting is that present-day Little Kanawha River was the original Kanawha River of the earliest English-speaking explorers and traders. Present-day Kanawha River was almost always referred to as "Great" or "Big" "Conhaway/Conhanway/Conaway/Conoy/Conoise/Cunnaway/Kenhaway/Kanhaway/etc."Also, by and large, the name

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7 | Page 8