Friday, April 8, 2011

A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison

I downloaded a free kindle copy of this work over a year ago. I have a keen interest in the history and colonization of North America, the American Revolution and the fate of the Native American Indians. I have read many historical archives online researching my relatives who settled Connecticut and Pennsylvania. My Grandmother's great grandfather fought alongside his father in the Revolutionary War, and was later captured by Indian Scouts and sold to the French after being marched from Pennsylvania to Prisoner's Island in Canada. His daring and remarkable escape, and walk back to Vermont to civilization is well documented. His hatred for the Indians and his subsequent years spent destroying Indian settlements in Sullivan's March is also well documented. Through his recollections, a deep fear and hatred for the Native Americans is evident. I had come across many references to Mary Jemison during my research, as her story crosses paths with those of my ancestors.

While on Spring Break, I read a few pages of James Seaver's interviews with Mary Jemison and was hooked. Her story is remarkable and sad, as she is the only member of her family not slaughtered and sold for scalps, instead sold for adoption to a Seneca tribe. She lives among the Indians as one of their own, marrying, raising children, hiding from Sullivan's raids, and lives to the age of 90 to witness the birth of this nation and the demise of her adopted tribe, suffering great personal loss along the way.

I could not stop reading this book. It is a quick read, fascinating from both the historical and the human perspective. Human nature has not changed much in the last 200 years, as countless stories of betrayal and murder and deceit are woven throughout the years, along with tales of strength, bravery and resilience. The details of tribal warrior ritual are very gory. There are detailed descriptions of torture rituals, but there is also context and explanation for them. I felt a greater understanding of the culture of the Indian tribes and gained a great deal of insight into how my relatives must have perceived these rituals without understanding them and seeing them only as savage barbarism, rather than retribution or redemption for lost souls. Mary was extremely lucky to have been chosen for adoption, and we are lucky that she not only survived, but chose to recount her life for historians in her old age.

I did not expect to enjoy reading this novel as much as I did. I kept thinking that real life is so often stranger than fiction. The torture rituals haunted my dreams for a few nights, but otherwise, I recommend this book which is available free on Amazon or the Gutenberg project, for a unique look at both sides of an amazing era in American and Native American history, and for a glimplse into the life of a remarkable, strong woman named Mary.

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