Pieces of the Past
Artifacts, Documents, and Primary Sources
from Letchworth Park History

Contemporary Accounts of Mary Jemison

William Munson Account published 1905


When Mary Jemison or Dehgewanus lived in the Genesee Valley, she was well known to her pioneer neighbors and early travelers. Several who were acquainted with her set their memories of "The Old White Woman" down for future generations.

One such person was . William B. Munson, who was asked by William Pryor Letchworth to describe the woman he had known as a young man. This is his account as it appears in Doty's History of Livingston County.

You can see a listing of other accounts here.


"According to the picture which I have in my mind of her, she had the shape, form, and figure of an active, lively little old woman seventy five or eighty years of age, about four and a half feet in height, exhibiting the remains of a fair complexion and regular features that had been in youth extremely beautiful. The cheek bones were not prominent, nor was the chin, and the nose was not large; but, considering her age, all these features were quite symmetrical. The head was of medium size, covered with gray hair smoothed backward; the neck was not long, but in due proportion to the size of her head and body, the shoulders were rounded and stooping forward or bent, a position which might have been acquired, or have been brought about by the manner of bearing burdens customary with Indian women, and from age and effects of hardships encountered throughout her eventful life. The eyesight had become dim, but the features had not become wrinkled as much as might have been expected from the many troubles and sorrows endured by her.

The 'White Woman' was quite intelligent, sociable, and communicative, but grave and serious after the manner of the Indians with whom her life from early childhood had been spent. With familiar acquaintances she would join in lively conversation and brisk repartee. Mentioning to her upon one occasion that I had read the history of her life, and that it had interested me very much, 'Ah, yes!' she replied, ' but I did not tell them who wrote it down half of what it was.' It was thought at that time that she withheld information with the Indians feared might stir up against them the prejudices of the white people.

In making visits to the 'White Woman' we were in the habit of taking along some trifling presents for her. At one time we carried along a bottle of the best Madeira wine. She manifested her grateful acknowledgment of the fight, and, taking the bottle of wine, went and hid it carefully away from the Indians.

She was residing in her own blockhouse, superintending preparations of provisions for a journey to Buffalo, about the last time I saw her, shortly before the final departure of the Indians from the Genesee country. She was assisted in the work by her daughter Polly and a number of young papooses. They had a large brass kettle swung over an open fire of wood upon the hearth. The kettle was filled with boiling fluid. sitting, standing, and squatting around a large wooden trough filled with hominy made into dough, the mother, daughter, and grandchildren were busily engaged in making up balls of dough fro the kneading-trough and incorporating therein plenty of dried apples and pumpkin which lay beside the trough. As the balls were made upon they were tossed into the boiling kettle, and when deemed thoroughly cooked, were taken out and laid upon boards or pieces of bark. I remember the food had a savory odor and appeared to be very good; but we could not vouch for the palatableness of the delectable dumplings, as they offered not one of them to us....

The last time I remember seeing her was late in the fall season. She was habited in woollen petticoat and short gown that came mid leg below the knee, buckskin leggings and moccasins, and over all, a white, common woolen Indian blanket. It was just at night, and she was going in search of a stray Indian pony, and was led by a young Indian, one of her grandchildren. She went spatting through the rivulet of ice-cold water just north of the house, and although her sight was so dim she could scarcely see, to all appearance, to discern in twilight twice the length of a horse, on she went, in spite of every obstacles, with the same energy and determined purpose that had characterized her whole life.



Doty, Lockwood R. History of Livingston County, 1905  p 125-26


Also see

A Glimpse of Mary Jemison

Image of Mary Jemison Aged 90


Return to "Pieces" Index Return to Table of Contents

All rights reserved by Tom Cook & Tom Breslin