Not a critical or
scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar
Gratefully adapted from
Changes may include paragraph
spelling updates, bracketed annotations, &
(marked by ellipses . . . )
NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF
MRS. MARY JEMISON
Introduction & Index
Instructor's note: Mary Jemison (1743-1833)
was born to Scotch-Irish parents
aboard a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland. The family squatted in
Iroquois territory (now central Pennsylvania). In 1755, during the
Indian War, a raiding party of Shawnee Indians and Frenchmen killed and
scalped her parents and older siblings, and took Mary and captured Mary and her younger siblings
into captivity. Traded to Seneca Indians
of the Iroquois Confederacy, Mary was renamed Deh-he-wä-mis
("a pretty girl . . . or a pleasant, good
thing." After marrying a Delaware Indian, she named their son Thomas after her father. The
family moved to the Genesee River area of modern New York State, her husband
dying on the way. She remarried to a Seneca named Hiakatoo, with whom she had
six more children. During the American
Revolutionary War, the Seneca allied with the British. She helped negotiations for land sales to white settlers and told her life story to
Reverend James E. Seaver, who published Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary
Jemison in 1824.
The text is now recognized as a
captivity narrative. In contrast to
older captives like Mary Rowlandson who want only to return to their familiar lifestyles, younger
captives like Mary Jemison could adapt to Indian ways and lose their inclination
to return to white settlements.
Before her captivity Jemison had learned to read somewhat but
became illiterate amid the oral-spoken Seneca culture. In 1823, ten years before her
death, she was interviewed by Seaver, who by his text appears to be a workmanlike writer interested in
accurate record. The pattern of an autobiographical narrative told to a scribe
or amenuensis is fairly common to early American Indian autobiography; other
The excerpts linked below focus on passages relating
captivity narrative genre or providing interesting anthropological
information, though some later passages involve family quarrels with literary
Elisions from the text are indicated by
ellipses ( . . . ) indicating cuts of .
passages sounding more like Seaver's additions than Jemison's authentic voice;
passages of personal drama, however pathetic, such
as the death of her son Jesse.
Arrangements of text below:
Chapter headings indicating contents are retained so casual readers can scan events
covered. For further reading,
go to complete text of Narrative of Mary
Jemison (not edited).
Preface (by James E. Seaver)
Introduction (by James E.
Seaver): for Jemison's appearance and speech, see paragraphs 14 & 15; her
clothing, para. 18
Nativity of her Parents.—Their removal to America.—Her Birth.—Parents settle in
Pennsylvania.—Omen of her Captivity.
Her Education.—Captivity.—Journey to Fort Pitt.—Mother's Farewell Address.—Murder of her
Family.—Preparation of the Scalps.—Indian Precautions.—Arrival at Fort
She is given to two Squaws.—Her Journey down the Ohio.—Passes a Shawanee town
where white men had just been burnt.—Arrives at the Seneca town.—Her
Reception.—She is adopted.—Ceremony of Adoption.—Indian Custom.—Address.—She
receives a new name.—Her Employment.—Retains her own and learns the Seneca
Language.—Situation of the Town, &c.—Indians go on a Hunting Tour to Sciota and
take her with them.—Returns.—She is taken to Fort Pitt, and then hurried back by
her Indian Sisters.—Her hopes of Liberty destroyed.—Second Tour to
Sciota.—Return to Wiishto, &c.—Arrival of Prisoners.—Priscilla Ramsay.—Her
Chain.—Mary marries a Delaware.—Her Affection for him.—Birth and Death of her
first Child.—Her Sickness and Recovery.—Birth of Thomas Jemison.
She leaves Wiishto for Fort Pitt, in company with her Husband.—Her feelings on
setting out.—Contrast between the labor of the white and Indian
Women.—Deficiency of Arts amongst the Indians.—Their former Happiness.—Baneful
effects of Civilization, and the introduction of ardent Spirits amongst them,
&c.—Journey up the River.—Murder of three Traders by the Shawnees.—Her Husband
stops at a Trading House.—Wantonness of the Shawnees.—Moves up the
Sandusky.—Meets her Brother from Ge-nish-a-u.—Her Husband goes to Wiishto, and
she sets out for Genishau in company with her Brothers.—They arrive at
Sandusky.—Occurrences at that place.—Her Journey to Genishau, and Reception by
her Mother and Friends.
from CHAPTER V.
Indians march to Niagara to fight the British.—Return with two Prisoners,
&c.—Sacrifice them at Fall-Brook.—Her Indian Mother's Address to her
Daughter.—Death of her Husband.—Bounty offered for the Prisoners taken in the
last war.—John Van Sice attempts to take her to procure her Ransom.—Her
Escape.—Edict of the Chiefs.—Old King of the tribe determines to have her given
up.—Her brother threatens her Life.—Her narrow Escape.—The old King goes
off.—Her brother is informed of the place of her concealment, and conducts her
home.—Marriage to her second Husband.—Names of her Children.
from CHAPTER VI. Peace amongst the
Indians.—Celebrations.—Worship. Exercises.—Business of the Tribes.—Former
Happiness of the Indians in time of peace extolled.—Their Morals; Fidelity;
Honesty; Chastity; Temperance. Indians called to German Flats.—Treaty with
Americans.—They are sent for by the British Commissioners, and go to
Oswego.—Promises made by those Commissioners.—Greatness of the King of England.
Reward that was paid them for joining the British. They make a Treaty.—Bounty
offered for Scalps. Return richly dressed and equipped.—In 1776 they kill a man
at Cautega to provoke the Americans. Prisoners taken at Cherry Valley, brought
to Beard's Town; redeemed, &c.—Battle at Fort Stanwix.—Indians suffer a great
loss.—Mourning at Beard's Town.—Mrs. Jemison's care of and services rendered to
Butler and Brandt.
Gen. Sullivan with a large army arrives at Canandaigua.—Indians'
troubles.—Determine to stop their march.—Skirmish at Connessius
Lake.—Circumstances attending the Execution of an Oneida warrior. Escape of an Indian
Prisoner.—Lieut. Boyd and another man taken Prisoners.—Cruelty of Boyd's
Execution.—Indians retreat to the woods.—Sullivan comes on to Genesee Flats and
destroys the property of the Indians.—Returns.—Indians return.—Mrs. Jemison goes
to Gardow.—Her Employment there.—Attention of an old Negro to her safety,
&c.—Severe Winter.—Sufferings of the Indians.—Destruction of Game.—Indians'
Expedition to the Mohawk.—Capture old John O'Bail, &c.—Other Prisoners taken,
no selections from CHAPTER VIII.
Life of Ebenezer Allen, a
Tory.—He comes to Gardow.—His intimacy with a Nanticoke Squaw.—She gives him a
Cap.—Her Husband's jealousy.—Cruelty to his Wife.—Hiokatoo's Mandate.—Allen
supports her.—Her Husband is received into favor.—Allen labors.—Purchases
Goods.—Stops the Indian War.—His troubles with the Indians.—Marries a Squaw.—Is
taken and carried to Quebec.—Acquitted.—Goes to Philadelphia.—Returns to Genesee
with a Store of Goods, &c.—Goes to Farming.—Moves to Allen's Creek.—Builds Mills
at Rochester.—Drowns a Dutchman.—Marries a white Wife.—Kills an old Man.—Gets a
Concubine.—Moves to Mt. Morris.— Marries a third Wife and gets another
Concubine.—Receives a tract of Land.—Sends his Children to other States,
&c.—Disposes of his Land.—Moves to Grand River, where he dies.—His Cruelties.
from CHAPTER IX.
Mrs. Jemison has liberty to go to her Friends.—Chooses to stay.—Her Reasons,
&c.—Her Indian Brother makes provision for her Settlement.—He goes to Grand
River and dies.—Her Love for him, &c.—She is presented with the Gardow
Reservation.—Is troubled by Speculators.—Description of the Soil, &c. of her
Flats.—Indian notions of the ancient Inhabitants of this Country.
from CHAPTER X. Happy situation of her
Family.—Disagreement between her sons Thomas and John.—Her Advice to them,
&c.—John kills Thomas;—Her Affliction.—Council. Decision of the Chiefs, &c.—Life
of Thomas.—His Wives, Children; &c.—Cause of his Death, &c.
from CHAPTER XI.
Death of Hiokatoo.—Biography.—His Birth—Education.—Goes against the Cherokees,
&c.—Bloody Battle, &c.—His success and cruelties in the French War.—Battle
at Fort Freeland.—Capts. Dougherty and Boon
killed.—His Cruelties in the neighborhood of Cherry Valley, &c.—Indians remove
their general Encampment.—In 1782, Col. Crawford is sent to destroy them, &c.—Is
met by a Traitor,—Battle.—Crawford's Men surprized.—Irregular Retreat.—Crawford
and Doct. Night taken.—Council.—Crawford Condemned and Burnt.—Aggravating
Circumstances.—Night is sentenced to be Burnt.—Is Painted by Hiokatoo.—Is
conducted off, &c.—His fortunate Escape.—Hiokatoo in the French War takes Col.
Canton.—His Sentence.—Is bound on a wild Colt that runs loose three
days.—Returns Alive.—Is made to run the Gauntlet.—Gets knocked down, &c.—Is
Redeemed and sent Home.—Hiokatoo's Enmity to the Cherokees, &c.—His
no selections from CHAPTER XII. Her Troubles
Renewed.—John's Jealousy towards his brother Jesse.—Circumstances attending the Murder of Jesse
Funeral—Age—Filial Kindness, &c. (complete
no selections from CHAPTER XIII. Mrs. Jemison is informed
that she has a Cousin in the Neighborhood, by the name of George Jemison.—His
Poverty.—Her Kindness.—His Ingratitude.—Her Trouble from Land Speculation.—Her
Cousin moves off. (complete text)
from CHAPTER XIV.
Another Family Affliction.—Her son John's Occupation.—He goes to
Buffalo—Returns.—Great Slide by him considered Ominous—Trouble, &c.—He goes to
Squawky Hill—Quarrels—Is murdered by two Indians.—His Funeral—Mourners, &c.—His
Disposition.—Ominous Dream.—Black Chief's Advice, &c.—His Widows and Family.—His
Age.—His Murderers flee.—Her Advice to them.—They set out to leave their
Country.—Their Uncle's Speech to them on parting.—They return.—Jack proposes to
Doctor to kill each other.—Doctor's Speech in Reply.—Jack's Suicide.—Doctor's
no selections from
Micah Brooks, Esq. volunteers to get the Title to her Land confirmed to
herself.—She is Naturalized.—Great Council of Chiefs, &c. in Sept. 1823.—She
Disposes of her Reservation.—Reserves a Tract 2 miles long, and 1 mile wide,
&c.—The Consideration how Paid, &c.
from CHAPTER XVI.
Conclusion.—Review of her Life.—Reflections on the loss of Liberty.—Care she
took to preserve her Health.—Indians' abstemiousness in Drinking, after the
French War.—Care of their Lives, &c.—General use of Spirits—Her natural
Strength.—Purchase of her first Cow.—Means by which she has been supplied with
Food.—Suspicions of her having been a Witch.—Her Constancy.—Number of
Children.—Number Living.—Their Residence.—Closing Reflection.
Appendix (by Seaver)
A1-A7: Origin Story of the Seneca
A8-A20: Seneca Religion & Festivals
A21-A24: of their Dances
A25: of their Government
on the Six Nations
A29-A32: on their Courtships
A33, A34: their Family Government
A35-A37: their Funerals
A38-A43: their Credulity (concerning superstitions and witchcraft)
A44-A46: Farming as practiced by Indian Women
A47-A50: Of their Method of Computing Time and Keeping Records
A51-A57: Anecdotes (concerning Indian reaction to a solar eclipse)
Memorial and statue at gravesite of Mary
Letchworth State Park, Castile NY
1907 postcard depicting Mary Jemison