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


A Description of the Mary Jemison Statue

The Mary Jemison Statue in the Park is a favorite among visitors. The story captures a moment in the life of the famous "White Women of the Genesee" Mary Jemison.

The following description is taken from the 1942 edition of A Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison by James Seaver, published by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. pp 239-240. It was written by Charles Delamater Vail, who worked closely with Mr. Letchworth in the development of the Park.

It provides an insight into the history that Mr. Letchworth and the sculptor Henry Kirke Bush-Brown wanted to preserve.

"The statue is of bronze, somewhat larger than life size. It represents the white girl as she is believed to have appeared, arriving at the Genesee, dressed in Indian garb, carrying her Indian babe (her son Tom) on her back, and a small bundle in her right hand."

photo by Tom Cook
"Her attitude and the flow of her drapery indicate the motion of walking. The features of Mary Jemison were modeled from those of a girl who was of Scotch-Irish ancestry and who was about the same age as Mary Jemison when she arrived at the Genesee. The face of the babe, showing the distinct Indian case of features, was modeled after a life study of an actual descendant of Mary Jemison. The dress represented in the statue is similar to those worn by the Shoshonean women and perhaps other western tribes. As Mary Jemison commenced her memorable journey from Ohio she possibly wore a dress of this character."

"The baby board (ga-os-ha) is of the Iroquois type and was modeled from specimens in the American Museum of Natural History and New York state Museum. The hoop over the face serves the double purpose of forming a frame for covering the baby's face and for a protection should a limb crash against it or the board fall when placed on the ground against a tree. The wrappings about the baby are arranged two bands which, in the originals, are always of different colors, usually red and blue. A covering for the face is arranged to be drawn over the hoop and cover the child's face. In the statue this is pushed back against the mother's shoulders to allow the face of the babe to show.

The bands are modeled from specimens then in the New York State Museum, once owned by Flying Feathers, a Tonawanda Seneca. The breast band or head band which holds the baby board was modeled from one collected in 1853 by Lewis H. Morgan, the first great Indian student and father of the science of American anthropology. The original was woven of elm bark shreds, warp and woof of one material, and was in the the New York State Museum collection. The side pouch was modeled from the skin embroidered with porcupine quills. The wooden ladle just above it is a characteristic spoon of the Senecas. The belt was modeled from a unique specimen and the decorations are of moose hair and leggings were modeled from a pair collected at Tonawanda and are typical. The moccasins were designed from a rare pair collected by Mr. Morgan.

On the base of the statue is Mary Jemison's Indian name- Deh-ge-wa-nus."

Also see

A Glimpse of Mary Jemison

A Glimpse of Henry Kirke Bush-Brown

A Letchworth Letter on the Mary Jemison Statue

The Other Mary Jemison Statue


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