Historical Markers
Mary Jemison Historical Marker
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Mary Jemison

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
U.S. 30 at junction Pa. 234, 4 miles W of Cashtown

Dedication Date:
December 12, 1947

Behind the Marker

The teenager had no idea what was happening to her. Why had a party of Frenchmen and Indians attacked her home, and why had they allowed her to live when they murdered her parents and siblings? Now that they had ended their long trek back to the Ohio Valley, why had her captors turned her over to two Indian women who had never seen her before? These women stripped her of her torn clothes, washed her clean in the river, and dressed her in new clothes, "complete Indian style." Now she was seated in the "center of their wigwam," listening to them sing songs in their native language. Mary Jemison did not know it then, but she had been adopted into a Seneca family.
Indian man with white English child.
John Buxton, The Prize.

Jemison was the most famous of the captives taken in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War. Unlike her fellow captive markerSimon Girty, she was not repatriated at the end of war, and although she had several opportunities during her lifetime to return to white society, she chose to remain among her adopted Seneca kin. Her two marriages to Indian men and her several children by them were proof of the success that Indians often had in incorporating white captives into their communities as family members and equals. When compared to Simon Girty's experiences, Jemison is also testimony to the different paths that male and female captives could take in Indian society.

Jemison was born aboard the ship that carried her parents from Ireland to the New World in 1742. Like many other Scots-Irish immigrants, her family settled in south-central Pennsylvania, near modern Chambersburg, where her father worked as a farmer.

In April 1758, when Mary was sixteen years old, a French and Indian party attacked her family's home. Mary was saved, but the rest of her family was murdered. Her Shawnee captors took Mary to Fort Duquesne and then to an Indian village on the Ohio River, where the burned remains of captives tortured to death "afforded a spectacle so shocking, that . . . my blood almost curdles in my veins when I think of them." A different fate awaited Mary. marker She was adopted by two Seneca women to replace a brother they lost in the war. They gave her an Indian name and taught her the Seneca language.
A detail from a painting by Robert Griffing that depicts the kidnapping of colonist Mary Jemison by Shawnee Indians and French raiders.
Taking of Mary Jemison, by Robert Griffing

Mary was almost repatriated when she accompanied her captors to a parley at Fort Pitt the following year. Some colonists at the fort asked Mary her name and where she had been captured; their curiosity raised apprehensions among Mary's adopted sisters, who immediately left with her. According to Jemison, "So great was their fear of losing me, or of my being given up in the treaty, that they never once stopped rowing till they got home."

Mary's sisters arranged her marriage to a Delaware warrior, and all of them moved to the Seneca homelands in the Genesee River Valley of New York after the French and Indian War. When the opportunity to return to colonial society presented itself again, Mary purposefully avoided it, and after the death of her first husband, she remarried, this time to a Seneca. She remained among her Seneca kin even during the trying times of the American Revolution, when American troops destroyed many Seneca villages. After the Revolution, she settled on a tract of land in the Genesee Valley granted to her by treaty. Eventually, she moved with other Seneca to reservation lands near Buffalo, New York.

In 1823, Mary told the story of her life to an interviewer, who published it a year later. It is still read today as one of the best examples of the Indian captivity genre in American literature. She died in 1833 at age 91. "Jemison" remains a common surname among the Seneca of western New York.
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