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Story of Mary Jemison brought to life at Leon presentation

By Deb Everts

Photo provided
The Leon Historical Society hosted speaker Tina Scherman (left) at the 1836 Church in Leon on June 4. Dressed in replica Seneca clothing commonly worn in the late 1700s, Scherman brought Jemison to life in a first-person narration. Scherman is shown with Marilyn Jemison Anderson, of the Cattaraugus Territory, who is a fifth generation granddaughter of Mary Jemison.

LEON — The Leon Historical Society hosted speaker Tina Scherman on June 4 at Leon’s 1836 Church. In her living history presentation, “Mary Jemison: White Woman of the Genesee,” Scherman brought Jemison’s story to life in a first-person narration.Dressed in replica Seneca clothing commonly worn in the late 1700s, Scherman portrayed Jemison as she presented one of the best known Indigeinous captive stories of the French and Indian War period. Her narrative created a historical and cultural perspective of the Senecas during a time period that included both the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars.Scherman first told the Iroquois Creation Myth, then continued on with facts about the Gardeau Tract that was reserved for Jemison by the Seneca Nation in the Big Tree treaty of 1797. The east and west borders of this property lie within the town of Castile.Jemison’s family emigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1743. Scherman took the guests on a journey that began with Jemison’s birth on a ship crossing the Atlantic to her final days on the Buffalo Creek Reservation. Born to Thomas and Jane Jemison, she journeyed to the New World with her parents and siblings to Philadelphia where they joined other Scotch-Irish immigrants on the western frontier, a place that promised them cheap land and freedom. Jemison’s father took the family that now included six children to the Marsh Creek settlement, near present day Gettysburg, Pa., where they built a cabin and began a new life. However, their happy times came to a tragic end when Mary was 12 years old.Scherman painted a vivid picture of the events that took place in 1755 when Jamison and most of her family were captured by a raiding party of Shawnee Indians and their French allies. Along with their visiting neighbors, the family was taken from their frontier home in Buchanan Valley, near Gettysburg, Pa. and the raiding party headed toward Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). With too many captives to outrun the pursuing militia, the raiding party decided to lighten their load. They killed then scalped all of the captives, with the exception of Jamison and a young male captive.Jamison and the boy were adopted by the Seneca — Jemison by two Seneca sisters as a replacement for their brother who had been killed in the French and Indian War. Strongly respected by both the Senecas and white settlers, she remained by choice with the Seneca in the Genesee Valley at what is now known as Letchworth State Park until her death in 1833 at age 90.As a Seneca woman, Jemison became a leading member of the tribe. She was married to first a Lenape (Delaware) chief followed by a Seneca chief and acquired substantial property.Monuments in her honor stand in both Letchworth State Park and in Buchanan Valley, Pa., the site of her capture.After the presentation, Scherman answered guests’ questions. Among those in attendance was Marilyn Jemison Anderson of Cattaraugus Territory, a fifth generation granddaughter of Mary Jemison.The Leon Historical Society offers other educational organizations the opportunity to have Scherman, a member of the historical society, visit them as Mary Jemison and tell her story at no charge. To schedule a presentation, contact her at tnelsonscherman@gmail.com. Call (716) 489-7543 or (716) 296-5268.