It is fitting that beautiful Letchworth State Park, which stretches over 17 miles of Livingston and Wyoming Counties, is the final resting place of Mary Jemison, the White Woman of the Genesee.

Mary Jemison Statue

Mary Jemison Statue

Mary was born during an Atlantic Ocean crossing in 1743, the daughter of Irish immigrants who came to settle in the new world, attracted by the freedom and inexpensive land this nation offered.  During the French and Indian War, fifteen year old Mary was captured by a raiding party of Shawnee and French  who killed most of her family.  At Fort Duquesne, she was sold to the Seneca Indians.   She was adopted into the Seneca tribe, took on their customs as well as the name Dehgawanus meaning “Two Falling Voices.”

As a young woman, she took a Delaware husband named Sheninjee and gave birth to a daughter who died in infancy, followed by a son she named Thomas, after her father.  In the 700 mile trek from their home in Ohio to the banks of the Genesee river, her first husband died.  The widow  was taken in by her husband’s family, and she eventually remarried a Seneca named Hiakatoo, giving birth to six more children.

After the Revolutionary War broke out, and as settlers began to take more and more of the land that was once home to the Native American, life became increasingly difficult for Mary’s adopted people.  Through negotiations at the Treaty of Big Tree, Mary was instrumental in helping safeguard almost 18,000 acres of land known as the Gardeau Reservation.

Eventually, most of that land was sold and in 1831, Mary sold off title to the last 2-acre parcel of land reserved to her use and moved to the Buffalo Creek Reservation where she passed away in 1833.

Mary's Statue and the Cabin she built

Mary's Statue and the cabin she built for her daughter

In 1874, after being contacted by her grandchildren, William P. Letchworth invited them to bring Mary’s remains “back home” to his Glen Iris estate on the banks of the Genesee.  In 1910, he mounted a bronze statue atop the granite marker erected on the site in tribute to “the White Woman of the Genesee.”

Today, on a bluff above the Middle Falls, visitors can find her marker and statue next to an original cabin built by Mary Jemison for her daughter Nancy.  Across the grove is the 50′ x 20′ Revolutionary War-era Seneca Council House, discovered in Canadea, NY, preserved by Willaim Letchworth and moved to its current location in 1871.

The Council House

The Council House

 Mary Jemison lead an extraordinary life, and here we’ve only presented the briefest snapshot. Click here For more information on her.

The book Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski offers young children a fictional, but historically authentic look into Mary’s life around the time of her capture. 

CLICK HERE for a map of the park.  Mary’s statue and the Council House are nearest the Castile Entrance.

CLICK HERE for our article on Letchworth State Park, Grand Canyon of the East.

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