Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison

by Lois Lenski

Paperback, 1995



Local notes

PB Len




HarperCollins (1995), Edition: Reprint, 320 pages


A fictional retelling of the experiences of twelve-year-old Mary Jemison, who after being captured by a Shawnee war party during the French and Indian War, is rescued and subsequently adopted by two Seneca sisters with whom she ultimately chooses to stay.


Newbery Medal (Honor Book — 1942)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

320 p.; 5.13 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member Treeseed
Author and illustrator Lois Lenski has been a favorite of mine since my grade school years long ago. She wrote and illustrated many charming picture books in the early 1940s that featured the Small Family, most of which are still in print. She illustrated the beloved Betsy-Tacy series as well as
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the 1946 Newbery Award winner Strawberry Girl, that she also wrote.

When I recently came across a paperback edition of her 1941 children's book, Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison I was torn between my desire to read yet another book by a favorite children's author and my fear that the depiction of the Seneca Indians would be stereotypical and inaccurate. The illustration on the book's cover, 1995 cover art by Joanie Schwartz, depicting a young girl looking more like a Seventeen Magazine model than a frontier youngster/Indian captive, didn't help.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in this wonderful book, Lois Lenski has outdone herself in her illustrations, her story telling, and her research into her subject. A Newbery Honor book in 1942, it tells the true story of a young frontier girl who lived in a tiny settlement near what is current day Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Set during the French and Indian War, it is the fictionalized version of the Life of Mary Jemison, who in 1758 at the age of 15 was abducted by the Shawnee Indians along with her parents, two sisters, two younger brothers and a neighbor family. After a grueling forced march to Fort Duquesne, current day Pittsburg, Mary's family is killed and she is sold to two sisters of the Seneca tribe and adopted into the Seneca tribe as one of their own. It was the way of the Seneca to take captives to fill the places of their own loved ones who had been killed by enemies. The details of their practices are not sugar-coated, neither are they exaggerated.

Ms. Lenski really did her homework in preparing for this book and has faithfully captured in her art and words the lifestyle of the Seneca and of the larger Hodenosaunee or Iroquois Confederation. She has told the moving story of Mary Jemison with sympathy and yet she has not mired us down in tragedy but has helped us see the strength and beauty that came into Mary's life as she adjusted to her new family. Lenski's illustrations are primitive folk style art, in black and white, rich with detail and evocative.

The real life Mary Jemison stayed with her adopted family, living as a true Seneca until the end of her days at 91. Ms. Lenski spoke with descendants of Mary who still reside on reservations in New York and Ontario. She faithfully researched museums and historical libraries and leads us into the daily routine of the Senecas. Sharing myths and folk stories, accurate drawings of implements, utensils, garments, and ceremony, she captures the Indian way of looking at things and conveys nuances of attitude and philosophy with honesty and clarity.

Intended for the 9-12 year old readership, the story flows with simplicity, but is exciting and interesting enough for older readers as well. Living in Oneida country as I do, I was glad to have such an abundance of information on the Seneca who along with the Oneidas, the Cayugas, the Mohawks and the Onondagas, the tribes of the Hodenosaunee, were a part of the first Democracy to ever flourish upon this land, hundreds of years before white men ever set foot here.

Mary became known as The Two Falling Voices and her story is both tragic and triumphant. I found it very enriching, emotionally and intellectually stimulating, even as a children's book, so vividly is the tale conveyed.

Several non-fictional accounts have been published of the life of Mary Jemison, including one that she dictated to a doctor when she was in her 80s. This book serves as a wonderful introduction to her life's story and also to the stories of other white captives whose little known tales give us splendid insight into the frontier hardships of everyday people and of the indigenous people who struggled to maintain their own ways of life.

I recommend this book to any young reader who wishes to push beyond the confines of a text book into the hearts and minds of history. There is enough here, also, to intrigue most adults with a mind to go beyond the stereotypes.
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
This is a fictionalized account of the story of Mary Jemison, a young teenager who was kidnapped by the Seneca Indians in the year 1758. Back then, the custom among the Seneca was to kill or kidnap a white settler for every one of their own people who were killed by the invading pioneers. Indian
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Captive tells the tale of Mary's capture and her subsequent adjustment to life among the Seneca. I found it to be a fascinating tale, as Mary moves from terror to sorrow to finally finding a place in her new community. To my thinking, the whole concept of an "indian captive" is barbaric, yet the practice does contain an element of justice. The whole book reflects the tension well. The Seneca endeavor to make Mary feel loved and welcome, yet that can't erase the harm they caused by killing her family and kidnapping her in the first place. That Mary finally is able to accept her new people despite their transgressions is an accurate reflection of what it means to live with the flaws of one's family, friends and neighbors. I will definitely look to find a copy of Mary Jemison's actual memoirs once I get back to the States. Until then, I'll just have to make sure this book stays on my shelf.
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LibraryThing member LeHack
A true story about Mary Jemison who was taken by native Americans from Adams County, PA. She grew up in PA, and eventually married and moved to New York. She never trusted whites after living with Native Americans her whole life. Adults may want to read the book "The White".
LibraryThing member MarthaHuntley
Lois Lenski was one of my favorite authors when I was a child. At our neighborhood reading group when a teacher recommended this book as a good one for readers of all ages, I felt like I'd just run into an old friend after a long absence. Mary Jemison, the sole survivor of her family, was adopted
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by Seneca Indians and treated as a tribe and family member . Her story is compelling, and less fictionaized accounts of her life can be found on the internet (Google Mary Jemison), including a book written in 1824 from interviews with her when she was in her 80s. .
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LibraryThing member sagrundman
This story is a fictionalized account of Mary Jemison, who was kidnapped and then adopted into the Seneca tribe in Ohio in the mid 1700s. The story paints a picture of her childhood with the tribe.
LibraryThing member t1bclasslibrary
Mary Jemison is pulled away from her family and adopted by a tribe of Seneca Native Americans. She rebells against her captivity and dreams for years of returning to her family. She slowly begins to make friends among the tribe and to think of them as her family, and when she finds out that her
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original family is long dead, she feels like she has no choice. Later, however, a choice is offered to her to be raised as a white girl and return to the ways of her childhood, or to stay with the new family she has come to care for.
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LibraryThing member maxi1
This book is based on the true story of a young girl captured by Indians in the spring of 1758. After her home was invaded, Mary Jemison and her family were captured they led off into the wilderness by Indians who were careful to cover their trail. After a few days of relentless walking and hunger,
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the family is separated when Mary is given a pair of moccasins and lead away from her parents, sister, and baby brother. Unbeknown to Mary, her family will soon suffer an unfortunate death by the hand of the Indians. Mary’s new life is not easy. She misses her family while having a hard time adjusting to the Seneca ways. Now know as Corn Tassel, Mary tries with no success to run away for the Indians. She knows she would never make it on her own if she ran away. Throughout the year, Mary begins to learn many things from the kind Indian family who has adopted her as their own. Mary eventually learns the truth of her birth family’s demise. When she has the opportunity to return to the “white faces”, Mary must weigh her options. Will she stay with the Indians or return to a world she was once accustomed to.

This book was a joy to read. By reading this story, I learned a few details of the early Indian culture. This chapter book provides black and white pictures throughout the story. Literature circle questions and other activities are presented at the end of the book. While reading this story, I put myself in Mary’s shoes so to speak. I could feel the pain of this frighten young girl. Because of her strong will, I was driven to read in order it find out how Mary would overcome the obstacles she faced. This book will defiantly be passed along to my daughter who is ten years of age.

While reading this story, students can create a line graph to illustrate Mary’s first year living with the Seneca’s. Students could create a dictionary by illustrate and label tools and gear Mary was introduce to while living with the Seneca’s. Students could have a class discussion comparing Mary’s life before and after her capture. I would have Students to write an essay explaining their views about the end of the story. Did she make the right choice by staying with the Indians? Why or why not?
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LibraryThing member sbigger
This story is a fictionalized account of Mary Jemison, who was kidnapped and then adopted into the Seneca tribe in Ohio in the mid 1700s. The story paints a picture of her childhood with the tribe. Mary or Corn Tassel, is described and fleshed out in great detail. The author helps children
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understand the characters/time setting by using things such as clothing and good. A change in cutlure can be seen through the change in clothing and food, from a blue jean dress to buckskin clothing and corn prone to corn cakes. The plot is believable, Corn Tassel reacts as a period child would when faced with this situation. The book is based on true accounts of children that were kidnapped (including Mary Jemison). The theme reflects Mary's changing attitude toward her captors and how she starts to become family, as a replacement for a dead son. Many historical fiction books for children do not portray Native Americans in a good light, but Lenski seems to try to stay away from the trend. She shows that there are good and bad people among them, just as there are among "Englishmen". I feel that this is a good historical fiction book for a older elementary school student.
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
This book is based on the true story of Mary Jemison, a young girl who was captured by an Indian raiding party. After being separated from her parents she is traded o two Seneca sisters. Although Mary misses home, the Indians are kind to her and soon she learns to sew moccasins, make pots and tend
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crops. Slowly she comes to accept the loss of her family and her new life with the Indians.

I thought this book was beautifully illustrated. The drawings were carefully done and brought the story to life. I found the dialogue a bit trying. The author used various dialects rather than writing in more simple terms. I also thought the story moved a bit slowly. Overall, it wasn't a bad book, but I didn't feel that it was a must read.
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LibraryThing member zeebreez
Lenski, Lois. Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1941. This is the story of a girl named Mary who, according to legend, was kidnapped by Native Americans in 1758. This story is based on that legend. It accurately gives the picture of what life was like before the
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Revolutionary War during the time of the French and Indian War. It describes her life with her family in a cabin. This story describes her journey many miles through the forest to their tribe. She becomes a servant in the tribe. At first she is unhappy there but within time whe proves herself and is accepted by the tribe. The descriptions of the tribal life and culture gives a picture of the values and customs of the people. It also shows the hardships they endured through the winter to survive. This story has an interesting plot and it will keep any reader interested. The vocabulary is at 6/7th grade level. Age group: 10-13 years old.
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LibraryThing member Icefirestorm
A good look at both sides of the issue I think. Glad I read it.
LibraryThing member fuzzi
I found this to be an engaging and interesting book based upon the life of an Indian captive from the early American west, mid 1700s.

Mary and her family are taken by the Indians, but she winds up alone, adopted by a Seneca tribe. Some of her captors are not kind, but others show love and
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compassion, treating her as their own child.

The book covers the first two years of Mary's captivity, as "Corn Tassel", named for her platinum blond hair.

I'd classify this as young adult to adult, but some more mature pre-teens would probably enjoy it. It's a gentler version of a similar book, "A Light in the Forest", which I would also recommend.
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LibraryThing member reece1999
The book "Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison" is a book by Lois Lenski.As you can guess gy the title,the book is about Mary Jemison,who was an Indian captive.Mary's father said that the Indians wouldn't kill her because her hair was the color of corn husk.He was right.The Indians didn't kill
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her because of her hair.Mary Jemison went through many difficulties.Life with the Indians was different than life with her family.

I've have read this book twice.I found it very enjoyable.This book would be sutible for fourth and fith grade classes.It is good for young adluts to know that life wan't rainbows and sunshine in the olden days.It still isn't tday either.Things happen to people that can't be changed or avoided.You just have to gain from the knowledge you got from your experience.
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LibraryThing member schroem
This book for 5th or 6th grade readers tells the story of Mary Jemison. When she was 12 years old her family was taken captive. She was separated from the rest of them and taken to a Seneca village. At first she hated it because she missed her family, but when she was given the chance to return to
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her old lifestyle she didn't want to leave the Native Americans she had befriended. This book takes a look at assimilation from an unusual viewpoint. Here she is assimilating to the world of Native Americans rather than them being forced to assimilate to the white world.
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LibraryThing member altonamiddleschool
Mary is a young girl, age 12, who is adored by her daddy even though she tends to daydream. We only see her with her family for the first few pages though as the cabin is invaded by Seneca who take everyone captive, but only keep Mary, aka Molly, and a neighbor boy. Much later Mary learns the rest
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were killed after she was taken on as they were not moving fast enough to outrun the neighbors who were coming to try and rescue them. The Seneca have rules that for every member of their tribe lost in wa they will “adopt” a white to replace the lost member. Girls get adopted, but boys need to first run the gauntlet to prove they are brave enough to be Seneca... After Corn Tassel (the name given to Mary by the Seneca) because of her yellow hair) has been with the Seneca for a few years a teen boy is captured and makes it through the gauntlet. He later manages to escape, but when Mary finally gets the chance to go back to the white’s she has learned her family is dead and decided the Seneca have really become her family and she wants to remain with them.

I found it interesting that they would “adopt” a replacement from the whites who killed their family member... and gender didn’t matter. Mary or Corn Tassel was a replacement for a brother lost the year before. Her “sisters” cared about her and she learned to love her “nephew” even though he was an Indian baby and not her white baby that was killed by her captives.

I don’t know who would enjoy reading this Newberry honor winner of 1946. It’s too high for most of my students and I didn’t enjoy it enough to take the time to read it to them, though I could change my mind at a later date.
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LibraryThing member br14doen
"The pain in her heart became so great she could not bear it and burst into tears." "Indian Captive: The story of Mary Jemison by: Lois Lenski" will capture your heart and hold your attention long after you have read it. It is astonishing and incredible to learn about the struggles Mary("Molly/Corn
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Tassel")Jemison had to go through while she was held captive and taken away from her family. Mary's brave soul and determined mind kept her going all the while. This book taught me a lot about her amazing story and how she was able to deal with what was to come ahead of her life with the Seneca Indians.
Mary's first days with the Indians are full of wariness and uncertainty. As soon as she's taken away, the old rumors she's heard ever since she was little start swirling around in her head: "nasty", "cruel", "killers", "beasts", but are these rumors really true? What lies ahead of her with her new life with the Seneca Indians? Will she ever see the family that's cared for her and loved her all her life ever again? These drastic changes hit hard on Molly since she's not sure if she can really trust the Indians or not. She never wishes to become an Indian woman, and all she wants is to be back home with the white people.
In this book I learned about how it was like to be held captive from Mary's point of view, and the hardships she had to overcome to continue on with her life. Normally I can't stand historical fiction books since they're really boring and all they do is list information, but this one wasn't actually that bad! It can be hard to find a book that you learn something AND find interesting; and this one was the right fit of both. Personally, I think the author; Lois Lenski did a fantastic job creating the "best of both worlds" historical fiction book!!!
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LibraryThing member JaFi14
Molly has just been taken away from her family. Determined not to forget what her folks taught her, she joins the Native Americans and learns the way of the tribe.
LibraryThing member EdenSteffey
Good book. I learned a great deal about Native American life.
LibraryThing member TheLoisLevel
It might be easy to assume that this book is dated because of its subject and age, but except for calling the Seneca "Indians", this book has stood the test of time amazingly well. The detail about the Seneca's way of life is captivating, and I'm impressed with the depiction of Mary's struggle
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between the life she was born to and the life she chooses, with the Seneca. It has to be hard for people to understand since she chose to stay with the people that had killed her family, but as she said, "War killed her family."
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
Based on the life of a real person, Indian Captive tells the story of Mary Jemison, a young girl who was kidnapped by a Seneca tribe in 1758. After taking her away from her family, she was not treated as a slave or prisoner, but adopted as a member of the tribe. This Newbery Honor book from 1941
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has aged well. It is an engaging, well told story. As a result of extensive research, Lenski does not portray the Native Americans as either saints or savages, but honestly. Among the characters in the village are people who are kind, caring and generous, and other who are spiteful and selfish. Some are harsh and firm, but fair and honest.
Mary, who is known to the tribe as Corn Tassel because of her long blonde hair, thinks frequently about how she can escape and return to the white people. But over the course of time, she begins to care about and even love some of the people in her new "Indian" family. The book concludes when she has been with the tribe for about two years, and then is given the freedom to make a decision... will she leave and return to live with the white people, or will she remain forever a member of the Seneca?
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LibraryThing member arelenriel
This is a classic tale of Mary Jemison who was captured by the Seneca tribe of Ohio during the French and Indian War. Lenski presents a fairly accurate and non-biased account of traditional Iroqois culture at least for the era in which this book was writted. I would reccomend this book for both old
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and young readers.
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LibraryThing member largeroomlibrary
A girl was taken from her home and family when a band of Indians came to her farm and took her captive.
She learned the Indian language and learned the way they lived. but when it came for her to pick
if she wanted to live with the white men. she thought, how could she leave the Indians she loved?.
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This is a great story to read.have fun!!!
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½ (230 ratings; 3.8)
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