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Mary White Rowlandson

1637? - January 1710/11
Indian Captive, Writer
by Jone Johnson Lewis
1999


Mary White was probably born in England to parents who immigrated in
1639. Her father was, at his death, wealthier than any of his
neighbors in Lancaster, Massachusetts. She married Joseph Rowlandson
in 1656; he was ordained as a Puritan minister in 1660. They had
four children, one of whom died as an infant.

In 1676, near the end of King Philip's War, a group of Nipmunk and
Narragansett Indians attacked Lancaster, burned the town and
captured many of the settlers. Mary Rowlandson and her three
children were among them. Rev. Joseph Rowlandson was on his way to
Boston at the time, to raise troops to protect Lancaster. Sarah,
6, died in captivity of her wounds. She used her skill in sewing
and knitting as the Indians moved around in Massachusetts and New
Hampshire to elude capture by the colonists. She met with the
Wampanoag chief, Metacom, who had been named King Philip by the
settlers.

Three months after the capture, Mary Rowlandson was ransomed for
20. She was returned at Princeton, Massachusetts, on May 2, 1676.
Her two surviving children were released soon after. Their home had
been destroyed in the attack, so the Rowlandson family reunited in
Boston.

Joseph Rowlandson was called to a congregation in Wethersfield,
Connecticut, in 1677. In 1678, he preached a sermon about his
wife's captivity, "A Sermon of the Possibility of God's Forsaking a
People that have been near and dear to him." Three days later,
Josephson died suddenly. The sermon was included with early
editions of Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative.

Rowlandson married Captain Samuel Talcott in 1679, but no later
details of her life are known except some court testimony in 1707,
her husband's death in 1691 and her own death in 1710/11.

In 1682, an autobiographical narrative of her captivity was
published, with an anonymous preface presumed by some to have been
written by the prominent clergyman, Increase Mather. No editions
before the fourth (also from 1682) are still known to exist.
Her book, originally titled The Soveraignty & Goodness of God,
Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a
Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson,
Commended by her to all that Desire to Know the Lord's Doings to,
and Dealings with Her. Especially to her Dear Children and
Relations. was written to retell the details of Mary Rowlandson's
captivity and rescue in the context of religious faith. The English
edition (also 1682) was retitled A True History of the Captivity &
Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, A Minister's Wife in
New-England: Wherein is set forth, The Cruel and Inhumane Usage she
underwent amongst the Heathens for Eleven Weeks time: And her
Deliverance from them. Written by her own Hand, for her Private Use:
and now made public at the earnest Desire of some Friends, for the
Benefit of the Afflicted.

The book became an immediate best-seller, and went through many
editions. It is widely read today as a literary classic, the first
of what became a trend of "captivity narratives" where white women,
captured by Indians, survived over overwhelming odds. Details (and
assumptions and stereotypes) about the life of women among the
Puritan settlers and in the Indian community are valuable to
historians.

Despite the overall emphasis (and title) stressing "cruel and
inhumane usage... amongst the heathens," the book is also notable
for conveying an understanding of the captors as individuals who
suffered and faced tough decisions -- as human beings with some
sympathy towards their captives (one gives her a captured Bible, for
example). But beyond being a story of human lives, the book is also
a Calvinist religious treatise, showing the Indians as instruments
of God sent to "be a scourge to the whole Land."


 

Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Pilgrims and Puritans