Mercy Harbison

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Mary Jane "Massy" Harbison (March 18, 1770 [1] - December 9, 1837) was a young American woman living in the decades immediately following the Revolutionary War, who was captured by Native Americans in May 1792. She escaped after six days and gave a short deposition, Capture and Escape of Mercy Harbison, 1792, which is an example of the American literary genre of captivity narratives.

Mary Jane White was born on March 18, 1770 in Amwell, New Jersey, the son of Edward White, a soldier during the Revolutionary War and Rebecca Pelton, a descendant of Richard More. Much of White’s early life is unclear but she did marry John Harbison in 1787 in Pennsylvania. Harbison was born in Belfast, Ireland the son of Matthew Harbison Jr. and Margaret “Peg” Carson.

In November 1791, Harbison lived in western Pennsylvania on the Allegheny River above Pittsburgh with three small children. Her husband accompanied General Arthur St. Clair to defeat at the Battle of the Wabash, otherwise known as St. Clair's Defeat and St. Clair's Shame. After the Indian victory, Indian tribes on the frontier became bolder and increased their attacks on European-American settlements. Harbison's husband had returned but was away in late May 1792 when the Harbison home was attacked.

Massy Harbison and her three children were captured. The natives killed her three-year-old child immediately, and her five-year-old was killed shortly after they were taken away. Massy held on to her infant child for six days and managed to escape back to a settler stronghold. The deposition of her experiences was given before the magistrates in Pittsburgh. She and John separated and later died in 1837 while John died in 1822 from falling overboard from his ship.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Kephart, Horace, ed. The Account of Mary Rowlandson and Other Indian Captivity Narratives. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2005. ISBN 0-486-44520-8

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