The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

“The sovereignty and goodness of GOD, together with the faithfulness of his promises displayed, being a narrative of the captivity and restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, commended by her, to all that desires to know the Lord’s doings to, and dealings with her.”

On February 10, 1675 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Lancaster settlement was attacked by Indians and Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was taken captive along with a number of other settlers, including other members of her family.  This short book chronicles the events of her capture, her travels with her captors and finally her release after 11 weeks.

For almost 50 years, the colonists and Indians had lived in relative peace, but increasing settlement and demand for Native land caused tension that eventually exploded in attacks on American settlements by the Indians and resulting retaliations.  Indian raids were often violent and by the attack on Lancaster, the comfortable life that Mary had known with her husband and three children, was abruptly torn apart.

Mary turned to God in her fear and suffering and instead of lamenting her situation, she looked for lessons to learn from it.  Her Puritan faith was rather rigid and the narrative comes across as very unemotional at times, but the religious and historical weight of her experiences are a valuable tool in understanding the people of those times.  The book follows the traditional framework of the captive narrative, focusing on suffering, exile and redemption.

For more extensive information, Ruth at A Great Book Study has produced an excellent review of The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson.    I had plans to write an extensive review but in the end, I just couldn’t.  Then I planned to answer the WEM questions as I did in my review of Saint Augustine’s Confessions …. but when I looked at them, I just couldn’t. I have only a basic knowledge of the Puritans and of conflicts between the Indians and colonists, so I hesitate to give even an uneducated judgement on Rowlandson’s narrative.  When I finished, I hadn’t really connected with Mary or her narrative.  Excepting what she communicated about her faith, there was an enormous gap in my understanding of her outlook and her judgements. This book left me feeling rather off-balance.  Normally I hate reading a book from a modern perspective and ALWAYS put myself, or attempt to put my mindset, into the times about which I’m reading.  For the first time, I had difficulty.

What I do know is that I need a “palate cleanser” with regard to Colonist-Indian relations, and so I’ve chosen to read The Journal of William Sturgis, a primary source document about a 17 year old boy who goes on his first voyage to trade furs with the Pacific Coast Indians.

11 thoughts on “The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

  1. That's interesting how you had a hard time feeling engaged with the character. It may have been that "Puritan" culture that simply did not allow for anyone to wear the feelings on their sleeve. I'll have to read Ruth's review as well.

    The book still sounds interesting but the Journal of William Sturgis sounds really good. I look forward to your review of it.

  2. I was completely bamboozled by this read. Her child died in her arms and yet I still could not connect with her. I feel rather embarrassed, but I do honestly feel that the narrative was rather dry. I would like to read some other Puritan literature, but with everything else I'm reading and want to read, I can't see it happening soon.

    Sturgis is a great read. There's lots of "our ship went here" and "our ship went there" but there are many golden moments and excellent information. It certainly not only adds a broader view of Colonist-Indian relations, but gets into the intricacies of dealing with each other.

  3. Hm…I remember reading an excerpt from this book for an "early American arts & lit" class. Mostly, it was the violence that stood out to me…though, oftentimes, violence was a way of life even in Europe, so that probably influenced the Puritans' stoicism.

    We were also assigned readings from Anne Bradstreet's poetry, which showed a more emotional side than some of her contemporaries. It would be interesting to read more primary sources from that time period; it's one of those I tend to view too simplistically, I think.

  4. I read somewhere that some of the Puritans, because of the hardships (Indian attacks being one of them) were questioning if these struggles were sent from God as a sign that perhaps they should not have come to the new world. With what they probably had to overcome, I can understand them questioning.

    Thanks for the tip on Bradstreet! Being completely uninformed in this area, I hadn't heard of her before.

  5. Need a "palate cleanser" hehe, I like that analogy. I've never heard of this personal account before but narratives that deal with colonialism have always interested me.

  6. It's a short read and I'd recommend it to you. While I can't say I liked it, it's generated lots of wonderful conversation (see Ruth's post on her blog) and I'm still thinking about it, so it must have been worthwhile.

  7. Well, thanks for your honesty.

    Right now, I am reading about Barbara Leininger, a captive during the French and Indian War. Also, one of my favorite YA historical authors writes about these captivities in his text: The Struggle for a Continent. You may like that one.

    Being familiar with these stories did not give me a second thought about Rowlandson's narrative. But they are still difficult to read b/c it is hard not to put yourself in the place of the author. I cannot imagine the horror!

  8. Did you see Consolation of Reading's review? It's interesting that both he and I, who tend to be free with our opinions, were rather subdued about this book.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I just ordered The Struggle for a Continent from the library (so surprised that they had it!). I think I'll read this book again after I've read some other similar literature and see if I feel differently the second time around.

  9. Just read it, thanks.

    And can't wait to see what you think about The Struggle for a Continent. I really like Marrin. He writes captivating historical texts for younger audiences. I devoured a text on Stalin by him. I just couldn't put it down! It was totally shocking.

  10. Argh! Marrin! I ordered one by Maestro by the same title. I'll have to try to track the one by Marrin down.

    I agree, I love Marrin's books. I haven't read the Stalin one yet (I own it) but we read his one on Hitler. Fascinating!

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