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"The Taking Of Mary Jemisen" - By Robert Griffing

Signed & Numbered Limited Edition Print

Image size: 17 3/4" x 32"

Edition size: 1250 S/N

Issue Price: $215 (When this is sold out it will only be available on our secondary market--call then for current price and availability--800-237-6077)

"Our family, as usual, was busily employed about their common business. Father was shaving an axe-helve at the side of the house; mother was making preparations for breakfast;-my two oldest brothers were at work near the barn; and the little ones, with myself, and the neighbor woman and her three children, were in the house.

"Breakfast was not yet ready, when we were alarmed by the discharge of a number of guns, that seemed to be near. Mother and the woman before mentioned, almost fainted at the report, and everyone trembled with fear. On opening the door, a man and a horse lay dead near the house, having just been shot by the Indians.

"I was afterwards informed, that the Indians discovered him at his own house with his gun, and pursued him to father's where they shot him as I have related. They first secured my father, and then rushed into the house, and without the least resistance made prisoners of my mother, Robert, Matthew, Betsey, the woman and her three children, and myself, and then commenced plundering.

"My brothers, Thomas and John, being at the barn, escaped and went to Virginia, where my grandfather Erwin then lived, as I was informed by a Mr. Fields, who was at my house about the close of the revolutionary war.

"The party that took us consisted of six Indians and four Frenchmen, who immediately commenced plundering, as I just observed, and took what they considered most valuable; consisting principally of bread, meal and meat. Having taken as much provision as they could carry, they set out with their prisoners in great haste, for fear of detection and soon entered the woods. On our march that day, an Indian went behind us with a whip, with which he frequently lashed the children to make them keep up. In this manner we traveled till dark without a mouthful of food or water; although we had not eaten since the night before."

So begins the captivity of Mary Jemison. Mary's story, like so many others, was to begin with a journey. As all that was familiar faded in the distance, young Mary could not know what fate awaited her. Her journey would traverse more than mere time and space. She was traveling from security to uncertainty, and from one distinct culture to another. Her journey would not last for weeks or months, but for the rest of her life.

As the Jemisons and their neighbors were dragged from their homes, one could well imagine, but barely comprehend, Mr. Thomas Jemison's feelings of anguish and guilt. Mary's father was losing his wife, his children, and his home. Two days after his abduction, Mr. Jemison would die at the hands of his captors. He would not live long enough to know that two of his sons had made their escape. On the morning of the raid, the young Thomas and John Jemison slipped away and traveled to their grandfather's home in Abermarle County, Virginia.

The Jemisons' experience on that spring morning in 1758 was a uniquely American phenomenon, although it was not unique to Mary or her family. Only a week after the raid on the Jemison farm, the home of Richard Bard was attacked. Within moments, the war party of Delaware had taken Richard Bard, his wife Katherine, his son John, Thomas Potter, Frederick Ferrick, Hannah MacBride, William White, Samuel Hunter, and Daniel McMenamy.

The threat of "Indian" attacks came to the Pennsylvania frontier following Braddock's defeat in 1755. As the French and Indian War raged, Pennsylvania was in its infancy. The tide of European settlement had only advanced as far as the Susquehanna River Valley. The Jemisons lived on the very edge of English civilization. Between the English on the Susquehanna and the French on the Ohio, there was a vast mountainous region devoid of settlement save that of the Native Americans. The French occupants of the Ohio wished to maintain this buffer. It was to this end that French allied Indians swept into the Susquehanna Valley raiding the English frontier. The success of the Forbes expedition of 1758 ended, at least for a while, the threat of such attacks.

The taking of captives in times of war was a centuries old tradition amongst many Indian groups. The arrival of European immigrants brought a new intensity to warfare. The Indians were forced to deal with an overwhelming, unrelenting, race enveloping their world. It is impossible to know how many settlers were taken, but it can safely be assumed that hundreds had been captives by the close of the eighteenth century.

The many published captivity narratives give us a glimpse, however one-sided, of the captivity experience itself. Captives were not taken simply by a group of Indians, but rather by individual warriors. Captives would be tangible proof of a warrior's prowess. Typically, those taken would remain personal war prizes until their final destiny was decided.

A variety of fates loomed ahead as captives were hurried from their homes. After a journey of sometimes hundreds of miles, those taken could be paraded through neighboring villages and ritually beaten by it inhabitants. Those who experienced this often referred to it as running the gauntlet. Upon arriving at their captors' village, many prisoners faced the gauntlet once again. For some, surviving the severe beatings of the gauntlet was merely a prelude to a long and tortuous death. The deaths of many prisoners were truly cruel and prolonged, but no more or less so than the fate of many Indians at the hands of the whites.

A great deal of mythology has been built around torture at the hands of the "savages." In reality, most white captives experienced a much less cruel and sensationalized fate. Probably the most difficult scenario for modern observers to understand is that of adoption. Many white captives, like young Mary Jemison, were in fact adopted into Indian families. Typically the adoption process included a ceremony by which all of the "white" was taken out. Afterwards the captives were no longer considered to be the person they once were. Upon adoption, the captive was accepted as one of the nation, being completely trusted and loved as any other person. Adoptees were often considered replacements for loved ones killed in war. Mary was adopted by two women of the Seneca nation as a replacement for their recently slain brother. According to Mary, "I was made welcome amongst them as a sister."

The level at which these former whites were accepted is truly remarkable. Mary was not replacing their brother as a source of labor. If more hands to work the fields and procure game were the goal, then surely a slave could accomplish this as well as a sister would. Mary was not a slave. Native social sensibilities did not allow for such halfway gestures. Mary was accepted to fill a void in a family and a nation. Many such adoptees, like Mary, would fulfill this role for the rest of their lives, while others would bide their time and escape to return to their white families.

In 1764 Colonel Henry Bouquet led an expedition to the Muskeegum River in present-day Ohio. The campaign was in retaliation for Pontiac's war the previous summer. Before Bouquet would allow peace to be made, the natives were forced to return any captives currently in their midst. The Ohio valley nations conceded and returned 206 people that considered by them to be sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters.

There survives an interesting document from Bouquet's 1764 campaign which suggests that Mary Jemison may have had another sibling survive the raid. A preliminary list given to Bouquet states that a Betsey Jemison was living among the Shawnee on the Sciota River in the present state of Ohio. Was this Mary's sister, Betsey? Could Mary have been mistaken? Did Betsey escape death and survive her own journey? This is unknown, for Betsey's name does not appear among those returned.

The natives' sincerity in their adoptive relationships was made obvious by the tearful and melancholy good-byes at the Muskeegum. What of those being returned? Many of those repatriated at the Muskeegum were relieved to be going home, while others had to be forcibly removed. Many had truly become "Indian," a remarkable journey in itself.

 

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