Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

  • Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

  • Gratefully adapted from

  • Changes may include paragraph divisions, highlights, spelling updates, bracketed annotations, &
    elisions (marked by ellipses . . . )

selections from



(complete text)

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 French and 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 an accurate record. The pattern of an autobiographical narrative told to a scribe or amenuensis is fairly common to early American Indian autobiography; other examples include

The excerpts linked below focus on passages relating to the captivity narrative genre or providing interesting anthropological information, though some later passages involve family quarrels with literary potential.

Elisions from the text are indicated by ellipses ( . . . ) indicating cuts of . . .

  • repetitious passages;

  • 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
from CHAPTER I. Nativity of her Parents.—Their removal to America.—Her Birth.—Parents settle in Pennsylvania.—Omen of her Captivity.
from CHAPTER II. Her Education.—Captivity.—Journey to Fort Pitt.—Mother's Farewell Address.—Murder of her Family.—Preparation of the Scalps.—Indian Precautions.—Arrival at Fort Pitt, &c.
 from CHAPTER III. 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.

from CHAPTER IV. 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.

from CHAPTER VII. 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, &c.

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. (complete text)

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 Height—Strength—Speed, &c.

no selections from CHAPTER XII. Her Troubles Renewed.—John's Jealousy towards his brother Jesse.—Circumstances attending the Murder of Jesse Jemison.—Her Grief.—His Funeral—Age—Filial Kindness, &c. (complete text)

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 Death.

no selections from CHAPTER XV. 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. (complete text)

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

A26-A28: on the Six Nations [Iroquois Confederacy]

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 Jemison,
Letchworth State Park, Castile NY

1907 postcard depicting Mary Jemison