Mary White Rowlandson

Indian Captivity Writer

Title Page of Mary Rowlandson's Narrative
Title Page of Mary Rowlandson's Narrative. Fotosearch / Getty Images

Known for: Indian captivity narrative published 1682

Dates: 1637? - January 1710/11

Also known as: Mary White, Mary Rowlandson

About Mary White Rowlandson:

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. Rev. Joseph Rowlandson was on his way to Boston at the time, to raise troops to protect Lancaster. Mary Rowlandson and her three children were among them. Sarah, 6, died in captivity of her wounds.

Rowlandson used her skill in sewing and knitting so she was useful while 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.

Her book was written to retell the details of Mary Rowlandson's captivity and rescue in the context of religious faith. The book was 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.

The English edition (also 1682) was retitled A True History of the Captivity and 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 English title emphasized the capture; the American title emphasized her religious faith.

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, in England) 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."

Learn more:

Links below contain additional material on the life of Mary Rowlandson, or are online copies of her book.

Mary White Rowlandson - a teaching guide for Rowlandson's history and narrative

Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson - index to locations for the online text version of the book

Rowlandson: 1682 Title Page - an image of the 1682 edition

Rowlandson: 1773 Title Page - an image of a later edition - note that the heroine wields a gun in the illustration, though this contrasts with her own story

Bibliography

These books may be helpful for more information on Mary White Rowlandson and on Indian captivity narratives in general.

  • Christopher Castiglia. Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing and White Womanhood. University of Chicago, 1996.
  • Kathryn and James Derounian and Arthur Levernier. Indian Captivity Narrative, 1550-1900. Twayne, 1993.
  • Kathryn Derounian-Stodola, editor. Women's Indian Captivity Narratives. Penguin, 1998.
  • Frederick Drimmer (editor). Captured by the Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870. Dover, 1985.
  • Gary L. Ebersole. Captured By Texts: Puritan to Postmodern Images of Indian Captivity. Virginia, 1995.
  • Rebecca Blevins Faery. Cartographies of Desire: Captivity, Race, and Sex in the Shaping on an American Nation. University of Oklahoma, 1999.
  • June Namias. White Captives: Gender and Ethnicity on the American Frontier. University of North Carolina, 1993.
  • Mary Ann Samyn. Captivity Narrative. Ohio State University, 1999.
  • Gordon M. Sayre, Olaudah Equiano and Paul Lauter, editors. American Captivity Narratives. D C Heath, 2000.
  • Pauline Turner Strong. Captive Selves, Captivating Others. Westview Press, 2000.