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Players group performs story of Mary Jemison

March 10, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The story of Mary Jemison, White Squaw, came alive over the weekend at the Shook Home in Chambersburg.

Using no props or costumes, Chambersburg residents Henry Johnson, Pat Byers and Betty Boyer of the Conococheague Players on Saturday told the story of the 15-year-old white settler who was captured by Indians in 1758.

Byers said the group performed variations of the story in conjunction with the Chambersburg Reads program, during which area residents read several books about Jemison.

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Although Chambersburg Reads concluded in November, "we're delighted to be able to continue (the performances) because it's a wonderful story," Byers said.

The script was derived from an account of the life of Jemison written by Dr. James Seavers, who interviewed Jemison in 1823, when she was 80 years old.

Born in 1742 or 1743 in Buchanan Valley in Adams County, Pa., Jemison was kidnapped, along with her family and some neighbors, by Shawnee Indians in the spring of 1758. They were forced to walk westward, with the Indians lashing the children who fell behind. As the story goes, they marched through Chambersburg, Mount Parnell and Fort Loudon. Eventually, all but Jemison and a neighbor boy were scalped.

Jemison was sold to two Seneca Indian women at Fort Duquesne to replace their brother, who was killed by whites.

The women put Jemison through an adoption ceremony. They took her to the water and cut away her dress, and washed her with sand and soap, then dressed her in Indian clothes and gave her an Indian name.

Jemison married in 1760 and named her first son Thomas, after her father.

Her husband died of a fever soon after, and she married again, this time to an Indian brave named Hiokatoo. They had several children and farmed together for many years. He died at the age of 103.

When Mary died in 1833, she had amassed 6,000 acres of land. She said she never returned to white society because she knew her children would not be accepted in it.

The Conococheague Players, a readers' theater, started 12 years ago with a grant from the Pennsylvania State Department of Education to district libraries to help retired people find and create readings of local history, Byers said.

The group now includes about 15 people.

Among those attending the reading was Marie Baughman, a former resident of the Shook Home, who said the play was "wonderful." Baughman said she has toured the Buchanan Valley area and has seen the statue of Mary Jemison there. She said she returns to the home for various events.

"I left a lot of friends here," she said.

Jo Steinberger, a resident of the home, said she learned from the reading that Jemison had several children and more than one husband.

She said she already knew the highlights of the story because her husband, who was born and raised in Buchanan Valley, told her about the captive girl.

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