Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Abduction of Mary Jemison

The French and Indian War Series 
The Abduction of Mary Jemison

Fort Duquesne / Forks of the Ohio
Our story begins in April of 1754 with the French and Indian War going poorly for the British.  The fertile Ohio Valley was at stake and England was not going to let the claims of the French, who had descended south from Quebec, take it away.  Both nations would import professional armies at great expense to secure the expanding west and the center of contention was an area known by the Indians as the Forks of the Ohio. The French had built a string of forts as a military fence to keep the American setters from coming west but this action was received by the British Crown as an Act of War.  One of the most geographical and militarily significant locations of conflict was Fort Duquesne (Du-kane), a commanding presence where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers came together to form the Ohio River.  Today the coveted site is within view of Heinz Field where the Pittsburgh Steelers have defeated gridiron enemies on their way to winning six Super Bowls.
The Expedition of 1755
Painting / Pamela Patrick White
 General Edward Braddock was sent to take command and he quickly set his sights on Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio.  His plan was to advance through the wilderness by building a road through the western frontier of Virginia to enable supply wagon trains to easily reach his troops.  He was accompanied by a young American officer named George Washington who was eager to make amends, following his failure at Fort Necessity that sparked the war.  (Washington is represented in the painting above in the blue uniform)  Braddock was an excellent commander proven in battle across the European theater but in America, he was in an unfamiliar landscape.  Braddock had little respect for the Indian peoples who offered their aid and dismissed them as savages, incapable of fighting with professional soldiers.  Braddock followed the traditional military customs and insisted that his troops march in straight columns to fife and drum cadence.  Despite the protests of Washington, warning of Indian ambush in the densely wooded terrain, Braddock was determined to follow proper military rules of behavior according to the established European Articles of War.
Wounding of Braddock
Painting / Robert Griffing
The British Army, sharply clad in uniforms of bright scarlet red, made their way west toward their predetermined target without incident or detection.  Washington knew better and cautioned General Braddock, who continued to dismiss the American officer's warnings as inexperience and youth. Braddock had never encountered an enemy in the woods and expected the fight to take place at Fort Duquesne.  On July 8, 1755 within a few miles of the French stronghold, Braddock and his 1300 men marched straight into the middle of a surprise ambush attack.  The Battle of the Monongahela would rage for over three hours of heavy fighting but the Indians had the advantage of fighting on familiar hunting grounds and used the terrain to their advantage.  Braddock had several horses shot out from under him and was then shot through the lungs and fell.  (Washington is represented in the painting above kneeling behind Braddock in the red uniform)  Without his leadership, the British lines began to fall apart and Washington began to lead the men in retreat back toward Fort Necessity.  Indians overran the battle site and began to harvest trophies of war from the British fallen, enabling the organized retreat to proceed without chase.  Braddock died four days later and was buried in the road in an effort to hide the grave from the Indians. Over 900 British Soldiers were killed or wounded in the lop-sided battle. 

Taking of Mary Jemison
Painting / Robert Griffing
Following the defeat of Braddock and the retreat of his army, the frontier was set ablaze by Indian war parties that swept over western Pennsylvania.  Lonely settler cabins were easy prey and one after another fell victim to Indian attack.  Like so many other newcomers, the Jemison family had immigrated from Ireland, entered America through Philadelphia, and later settled in the wilderness of Adams County, Pennsylvania. Early one morning following Braddock's defeat, the Jemison cabin was attacked by a party of a dozen Shawnee and French raiders.  The family was captured and force marched west toward Fort Duquesne where they might be ransomed off or taken to Canada as forced labor.  However, the Jemison family soon became victimized by their captors with the entire family being killed on the trail with the exception of their teenage daughter, Mary and another small neighbor boy. Upon her arrival at Fort Duquesne, she was traded to two Seneca Warriors who took her south to their tribe.   Following several abductions in the area, the frontier emptied of settlers, many coming east for the protection available in populated Lancaster County.     

Our Group / College Dining Hall
I was at Gettysburg College attending a week long teacher's institute focusing on local history  associated with war in Pennsylvania.  I really enjoyed taking a week each summer and going back to college to learn about the subject I love.  Plus, it brought back a lot of memories of my college days, living in a dorm room, eating at the dining commons, and writing my parents to plead poverty and beg for them to send me money...  It didn't work!  Sadly, state funding has dried up and the Governor's Institutes for educators I looked forward to each year are now a thing of the past and part of history themselves.  I will miss the friendships and unique experiences the program granted me access to experience the past few summers.  I am hoping someday they will offer the program once again.

 Endless Apple Trees
(Credit / Flicker Images) 
This warm summer morning we were off to find the location of the original Jemison home site in rural Adams County.  We passed through areas of dense apple orchards that went on as far as the eye could see. It was a beautiful display of nature's bounty with the sun just starting to burn off the morning mist. I learned that Apple trees are sensitive to temperature and only thrive on one side of the low grade mountains in this area.  The quiet community comes to life once a year for the National Apple Festival.  Bet you didn't see that one coming! The Jemison family would have lived on the opposite warmer side of the ridge, which was better suited to field crops.

    Jemison Home Site Location 
Our large tour bus wound through the twisting roads of the rural and lonely low slope mountains and descended into the Buchanan Valley.  We passed by the open spaces seen in the photograph above and the original Jemison cabin remains were found in the lower fields near Marsh Creek.  The site today looks much as it did when the Jemison family cleared the forest and planted crops in the fields seen above.  Sadly, their dream of working their own land was short lived as they were farming land in the wilderness they did not own.  Squatter settlers cleared land and harvested crops hoping that by the time the line of settlement, slowly shifting west, caught up with them, they could afford to buy the land they had been working.  These families were often living outside the protection of local militias and their quest for a better life made them the most vulnerable to Indian attack.  It was the only land available to the poor and recently released indentured servants. The threat to settlers living in the frontier became a stark reality with the defeat of Braddock and the retreat of the British Army from the wilderness of Western Pennsylvania.

  Mary Jemison Statue
On the ridge above the long lost home site, a solemn likeness of young Mary Jemison looks down over the Buchanan Valley and Marsh Creek where tragedy struck her family so long ago.  The monument is located on the grounds of a beautiful Catholic Church that seems out of place in the quiet rural landscape.  Parishioners must come from far and wide to fill the pews of this isolated place of worship.  It was one of the most peaceful locations for a country church I have ever seen, which complimented the tranquil likeness of Mary Jemison's gaze.

St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church 
Mary Jemison was taken south by two Seneca braves who took her to their village where she was adopted by two women who incorporated her into the Seneca tribe and lifestyle.  Native Americans sometimes adopted white children into their communities to help support their dwindling populations, which consistently fell victim to warfare and disease.  During the journey west the abducted were evaluated and judged by their captors. If they thought they could potentially assimilate into tribal life and be reeducated in their way of life, they would be spared. If the captured were uncooperative during the journey they would be killed, which was the fate of Mary's parents and siblings.  Most often, the very young were spared because they could forget their previous lives as whites over time.  This is most likely why Mary and the young boy, who was her family's neighbor, were spared. The fate of the little neighbor boy is lost to history. 

 Buchanan Valley / Adams County
Mary grew up and learned to mesh with her new world, later marrying a Delaware warrior and gave birth to a son, she named Thomas, after her deceased father.  When the war ended in defeat for the native peoples, her husband feared he would lose her to treaty agreements that would require the return of all abducted Christian souls back to white society.  He decided to take his wife and son on a 700-mile journey north into New York State near the Genesee River in the Sehgahunda Valley.  Mary and her son Thomas arrived safely but her husband fell ill while hunting and died.  Mary later remarried another Seneca man and had another six children.  Following the end of the American Revolution, much of the land in the area was seized by corporate land companies.  Mary helped negotiate more favorable terms for her tribe with those representing "white" interests, in what became known as the Treaty of Big Tree.

 The Genesee River, NY
(Credit / Flicker Images)
The land of the Seneca continued to dwindle until the only tract left was a two-acre parcel left for Mary Jemison and her family, where she stayed for quite some time.  She later chose to move to the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation with the Seneca people, where she lived until she died at the age of ninety. Over her life, she became legend and was locally known as the White Woman of the Genesee and the White Squaw.  Although given the opportunity many times to return to white society, she remained part of the Seneca Nation for the duration of her long adult life.  Perhaps having children who were raised in the Native American culture, cemented her decision to stay.  She was buried at the Buffalo Creek Reservation but her body was later relocated to Letchworth State Park near Castile, New York. A bronze likeness similar to the one in Adams County marks her gravesite.  

Mary Jemison Grave site / NY
(Credit / Flicker Images) 
The legacy of Mary Jemison was recorded in an interview with Rev. J. E. Seaver who published the narrative in his book Captivity Narrative in 1824.  The account was played out in the popular historical fiction work for young readers by Lois Lensky entitled The Story of Mary JamisonA similar account that centered in New Hampshire during the same time period is portrayed in another popular book for adolescent readers entitled Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare. 

Did you Know...
  • Mary Jemison was born aboard the ship William and Mary during her family's transatlantic voyage from Ireland to the New World.


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