Indian Captivity Narrative
The Taking of Mary Jemison
By historical artist Robert Griffing
Mary Jemison was born in 1743 aboard the ship William and Mary in the fall of 1743 while en route from Northern Ireland to America. Upon their arrival in America, the couple and their new child joined other Scots-Irish immigrants and headed west from Philadelphia to what was then the western frontier (now central Pennsylvania).
The Jemisons squatted on territory that was under the authority of the Iroquois Confederacy, and Mary grew up on that farm, 10 miles west of present-day Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Although life was hard on the western edge of the colony of Pennsylvania, Mary fondly recalled these “childish, happy days” full of hard work and the love of a family that then numbered six children.
During the time the Jemisons were establishing their home, the French and Indian War was raging throughout the American Colonies and Canada. It was a bitter struggle between two European powers, and colonists and native people of both sides suffered. Those on the frontier suffered the most.
On April 5, 1758, 15-year-old Mary and her family along with visiting neighbors were taken from their frontier home by a raiding party of Shawnee Indians and their French allies. Mary’s two older brothers were at the barn and escaped the raid, but Mary, her parents, and the rest of the family were taken captive.
The raiding party headed west toward Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). The decision was made to lighten their load since they had too many captives to outrun the pursing militia. At nightfall, they separated a tearful Mary from her family, along with a neighbor boy who had also been captured, and led them away. The rest of the Jemison family were killed and scalped.
At Fort Duquesne, Mary was purchased by a party of Seneca Native Americans, who loaded her in a canoe and headed down the Ohio River. When she arrived at the village, Mary was adopted by two Seneca sisters as a replacement for their brother who had been killed in the French and Indian War. She was named Dehgewanus, or Two Falling Voices.
It is a custom of the Indians, when one of their number is slain or taken prisoner in battle, to give to the nearest relative to the dead or absent, a prisoner, if they have chanced to take one, and if not, to give him the scalp of an enemy. On the return of the Indians from conquest, which is always announced by peculiar shouting, demonstrations of joy, and the exhibition of some trophy of victory, the mourners come forward and make their claims.
If they receive a prisoner, it is at their option either to satiate their vengeance, by taking his life in the most cruel manner they can conceive of; or, to receive and adopt him into the family, in the place of him whom they have lost.
It was my happy lot to be accepted for adoption; and at the time of the ceremony I was received by the two squaws, to supply the place of their brother in the family; and I was ever considered and treated by them as a real sister, the same as though I had been born of their mother.
During my adoption, I sat motionless, nearly terrified to death at the appearance and actions of the company, expecting every moment to feel their vengeance, and suffer death on the spot. I was, however happily disappointed, when at the close of the ceremony the company retired, and my sisters went about employing every means for my consolation and comfort.
~The Life and Times of Mrs. Mary Jemison