One of the lovely things about seventeenth century books is that once you’ve read the title you really know what the whole book is about. The Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson is one of these explanatory titles. Mary was a colonial American woman who was seized from her home by marauding Indians and forced to travel about with the tribe for eleven weeks. Her husband, who was away from home, escaped capture, but her three children and many of her in-laws were also taken.
Mary Rowlandson’s story is a great testament to her Christian faith. In her recollections about the ordeal, she talks of how God used it to chasten her unthankful spirit. It was only when she was forced to subsist on moldy grains of corn, diluted broth, and meat not fit for a dog that she truly appreciated the blessings of her former life. At one of the places where her Indian captors sojourn, Mary receives a Bible from a fellow colonist. She contrives to keep it hidden from the Indians, reading it whenever she is alone to seek comfort in its pages. She tries to share this comfort with other captives that she runs across, even giving away the precious book to another whose need was as great as her own.
Mary is eventually ransomed and reunited with her husband and two eldest children, however her six-year-old child dies in the wilderness, wounded and ill. This primary source narrative is a harsh, uncensored glimpse at the perils of the colonial world. Many books that I have read about white people being captured by Indians gloss over the horrible treatment that they received from their captors and try to show the Indians as a different but morally acceptable culture. Mary Rowlandson’s narrative, though it is obviously a portrayal of the Indians at their worst, has a far different story to tell.
This narrative was on the reading list for my book club–which happens to be meeting tonight about an hour from now. We are currently working our way chronologically through a list of famous autobiographies, and I decided to use this post to collect my thoughts before I head out to the meeting. I’ll be sure to update it, if anyone there says something insightful….