Brief Description: 12 yo girl kidnapped by Seneca Native Americans, based on true story
Historical Era: 18th Century
Date Range: 1758-1759
Original Publication: 1941
Suitable for Grades: 5-10th
Target Audience: Middle Grade, Teen
What would you do if four French soldiers and six indigenous natives crept onto your farm early one morning and kidnapped you and your family? That is precisely what happened to twelve-year-old Mary Jemison in April of 1758, during a time when pioneer farmers and Native Americans alike were caught up in the conflict between Britain and France over the right to control North America. Within days, as the captives were run westward across the snowy Allegheny mountains toward Fort Duquesne (current-day Pittsburgh), Mary was separated from the rest of her family, never to see them again. If that happened to you, how would you feel?
Author and illustrator Lois Lenski sensitively guides us through Mary’s shock and grief and her adaptation into a new way of life after she is adopted by a Seneca family. She learns the language and is expected to help with chores. She gradually befriends the other children, grows fond of protective elders, and earns the respect of the villagers. But each time she encounters a white person, she is jolted out of her complacent acceptance and yearns to return to her family.
After a year of living as a captive Mary gets her opportunity to return to “civilization,” when the victorious British general, having expelled the French, travels to her village to curry favor with the Native Americans. Spotting the golden-haired child, he offers to purchase her release. But Mary has just learned of the death of the rest of her family (at the hands of the kidnappers), and therefore has no home to return to. She also resents the condescension of the British general towards her new people, whom she has grown to love dearly. She makes the decision to stay with the Seneca.
The author’s very informative forward details how her fictional version of Mary Jemison’s journey deviates from the well-documented history. There is a hand-drawn map of Mary’s journey. She also depicts how life is changing for the Seneca, as they start to adapt to the increasing presence of Europeans. This work is a sensitive portrayal of Native Americans.