Lois Lenski's fictionalised account of the life of Mary Jemison.
Mary Jemison was captured by Indians as a young girl in 1758 and raised by the Seneca Nation. She lived to the age of 90 and never returned to her people, preferring to identify with the Seneca. American children’s author and illustrator, Lois Lenski, researched Mary’s story and wrote it up as the children’s novel, Indian Captive.
The story starts with Mary being captured from her farm by a band of Indians and French soldiers. Her mother tells her that most likely she will never see her again. Her parting words reinforce the importance of saying her prayers and remembering who she is. Mary is handed over to two Indian women who initiate her into tribal ways. She learns about Indian food gathering, cooking, craft and religious beliefs. The whole time Mary is terribly torn. She wants to run away and live with white people, but day by day she slowly comes to accept living with the Seneca Indians. After several attempts to run away, she is finally given official permission to leave if she wants to. It’s an agonsing decision to make, but Mary finally chooses to stay with the Seneca, realising she wouldn’t be truly happy if she returned to living with the “pale faces”.
Indian Captive does in many ways read like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. It’s a story of American frontier life, but flipped over and told from a much darker perspective. Mary is an innocent victim of white frontier expansion, collateral damage if you will. Once she is captured, she learns the harsh reality of war, and why the Indians retaliate the way they do.
Mary’s story is necessarily a melancholic one. Ripped from her family, she must learn to live in a totally foreign culture. For most of the book she resists her fate, until near the end, she finally accepts that she is now an Indian. Lois Lenski’s biographical novel of Mary Jemison is no Disneyfied version of American history. There are harsh truths to lean along the way – most notably that Mary’s family has been killed – making Indian Captive a story that is full of sadness and stoicism.
Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780064461627 RRP: $11.95
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