A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison
(Syrcause University Press, May 1, 1990)
As one of the earliest literary forms of colonial America, the Indian captivity narrative is important not only in the history of American letters but also as an indispensable source concerning the colonization of the “frontier,” the peoples who dwelt on either side of it, and the often limited understanding they had of one another. A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison is one of the best of this literary genre. In 1758, fifteen-year-old Mary Jemison and her family were captured near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by a Shawnee and French raiding party. Shortly thereafter, her family was killed; she was turned over to a Seneca family, adopted by them, and four years later taken to their western New York homeland―where, by choice, she spent the rest of her life as an Iroquois wife, mother, and landed proprietor. In time she gained respect as a negotiator and was known in New York and adjacent states as the “white woman of the Genesee.” James E. Seaver’s account of her life, written in the first person, taking on her voice as narrator, tells not only of her own adventures and misfortunes but also of the lives, customs, and attitudes of the Indians with whom she identified. When Seaver (about whom very little is known) interviewed Jemison in 1823, she was eighty years old. She did not read or write English, but she spoke it fluently. The book, published in 1824 and reprinted more than thirty times both in the United States and abroad, lives on; for readers continue to wonder at the strength and complexity of this remarkable woman’s life.