Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Title:  Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Author:  Mary Rowlandson

Date Published:  1682

Challenges:  The Classics Club; and The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, Biographies

Mary Rowlandson
Mary Rowlandson, a British native living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, shares her terrifying experience: being forced from her home, witnessing the brutal murders of neighbors and family members, and being separated from her children, save one dying in her arms from a gunshot wound.  

In 1675, American colonists were in the middle of a Native American conflict between several New England tribes and the British and their Indian allies.  King Philip's War, named after Native American Metacomet, began after the alleged murder of an Indian translator and advisor to Metacomet. Three Wampanoag Indians were tried and hanged for this crime. In revenge for the trial and hanging, a number of surprise attacks occurred on colonial towns.  Homes were destroyed and men, women, and children were either murdered or taken captive; Mary Rowlandson was one of those taken captive.

Rowlandson narrates in vivid and terrifying description what it was like on that February morning: Indians came into her town, burning homes, knocking men or women on the head, shooting, stabbing or butchering some to death, stripping bodies naked, or taking others alive. She witnessed the death of one sister and a nephew.  Her husband was not home during the time of the attack when two of their oldest children were taken and a third was wounded.

At first, she thought, "if Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than taken alive, but when it came to the trial my mind changed..."  And so began her eleven-week ordeal of survival in the daunting wilderness, often on the march and fleeing from the pursuing British, foraging for food to sustain herself, but always clinging to God and His Word.  

Within a week, her wounded six-year old died, but she knew her two older children were alive and in nearby camps.  In her burden and anxiety, she asked God to give her "some sign and hope of relief." Then after a raid on another English colony, an Indian brought her a Bible that he took as loot and had no use, which she accepted willingly and saw as an answer to prayer.

She gained strength from Psalm 27: "Wait on the Lord, Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine Heart, wait I say on the Lord."  And in understanding her loss of family, relations, her home and its comforts, she read from Job: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."  

She was able to comfort her son, when she saw him, with Scripture, such as Psalm 118:17-18: "I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord: the Lord hath chastened me sore yet he hath not given me over to death."  Other times, this verse, Psalm 46:10, was good enough: "Be still, and know that I am God."  Or when she could not worship on the Sabbath and had no where to lay her head, 
I cannot express to man the sorrow that lay upon my spirit; the Lord knows it.  Yet that comfortable Scripture would often come to mind, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee."

The Killing of Jane McCrea
(This painting is often used in captivity stories, and was on the cover of my copy.)
Rowlandson suffered in her heartbreak over the separation from her children and endured humiliation in the midst of her captors - who threatened her, struck her, or were unkind to her, particularly the women.  Sometimes she was "met with favor," but other times unkindness.  She did meet Metacomet (King Philip), and he was very good to her.

To survive, she was forced to look for her own food in the wilderness or to beg for pieces of food from others.  Food included: ground acorns, bear meat, or boiled horse hoof.  Once she sustained herself on molded crumbs of bread that she found in her pocket.  She remarked that "it was very hard to get down their filthy trash," and yet, in her hunger, she believed that God allowed them to be "sweet and savory to [her] taste."

Near the end of her captivity, she learned of her possible restoration and had to set a price for her redemption; this was ironic because the Indians had taken or destroyed all of her property, and she and her husband had nothing to give.  Nonetheless, she was redeemed for twenty pounds.  Later, she and her husband were able to track their two older children and redeem them, as well, so that they were all reunited once more.

Rowlandson recalled how God had His hand in this conflict, and how He provided for the Indians, whether it was to stop the English from pursuing or permit Indian victories, destroying towns and taking more captives.  She says,
Now the heathen begins to think all is their own, and the poor Christians' hopes to fail (as to man) and now their eyes are more to God, and their hearts sigh heaven-ward; and to say in good earnest, "Help Lord, or we perish."  When the Lord had brought His people to this, that they saw no help in anything but Himself; then He takes the quarrel into His own hand; and though they (the Indians) had made a pit, in their own imaginations, as deep as hell for the Christians that summer, yet the Lord hurled themselves into it.  And the Lord had not so many ways before to preserve them, but now He hath as many to destroy them.
In regards to her afflictions, she said,
I have seen the extreme vanity of this world: One hour I have been in health, and wealthy, wanting nothing.  But the next hour in sickness and wounds, and death, having nothing but sorrow and affliction.
Having known these miseries, she could now look beyond her troubles and be at rest in the Lord.

If I had to answer the question, "Why did Mary Rowlandson write her story?" I would say her simple message was this: God chastens those whom He loves, and He is able to carry them through their afflictions.  "That we must rely on God Himself, and our whole dependence must be upon Him."


Unknown said...

Looking at this and your previous posting, I seem to have stumbled upon the blog of a kindred spirit. I am one of those people who would probably take books rather than food and water when faced with the prospect of being stranded on a desert island. I shall have to take a look at the Rowlandson; indeed, I do not know how I have overlooked in my past reading adventures (and English lit courses).

Ruth said...

I am humbled by your comment. I have been blogging for three years, and it is such a joy to meet like-minded readers and bloggers. Looking forward to reading more about your reading journey!

Jillian said...

Hi Ruth! There's an interesting contemporary perspective on this novel by Amy Belding Brown (who wrote Mr. Emerson's Wife, one of my favorite books.) It's a recent release called Flight of the Sparrow which asks this narrative how much influence Mary Rowlandson really had on its publication. The book takes a skeptical look at Puritanism, so if that's not your thing, you might not like it. It suggests that Rowlandson, though absolutely devout, might have been pressured by the Puritan patriarchy to make her tale into a work of propaganda for the Puritan agenda during King Philip's War. Her own agency in her situation -- her intelligence, her ingenuity in making a business of sewing, making herself indispensable to her captors -- is minimized in her narrative, and she goes down in history for having faith, and giving all the credit to God. I'm a Christian and don't mean to suggest giving faith/credit to God isn't right, but I'm also a historian and a feminist, so looking at Mary Rowlandson's tale from a different perspective (was she really as devout under all that pressure as -- it seems -- the era wanted her to be, might she have felt smothered by the patriarchy, might she have been more terrified than she appears to be in her narrative, might she have had doubts, might she have longed for more personal freedom) interests me as a means of seeing into her tale more deeply. The narrative is a product of its time, which makes it rich in and of itself, but if you consider that it was written when women NEVER wrote, especially Puritan women, you begin to wonder what was in it for the men who published her account. Why was she, as a woman, good enough to publish? Why does she apologize for publishing before she begins speaking? Was she the ideal woman from a Puritan viewpoint, and why? How much of this narrative is her own work? (Not to say it wasn't, but these questions spring to mind.) How might this narrative have positively impacted the reading public (Puritan New England), and what might be the motivation in actually allowing a Puritan woman to come out of the obscurity and speak publicly?

Obviously, it was the fact that she gave her whole story of survival over to God, and that she displayed faith throughout her ordeal, and that she displayed the Native Americans in a particular light (savage, awful, murderers, why is God saving them?) And that she survived under extraordinary circumstances, which in the Puritan viewpoint meant God was on her side, and by default, he was not on the side of the Native Americans.

(Ha! I have to split this comment because as usual I'm going on FAR TOO LONG FOR THE BOX!) :P

Jillian said...

YET -- many, many, many Puritans died in the war, under extreme horror. Were people beginning to doubt? This was a war, and the Puritans were trying to create an American utopia. They couldn't have doubt. They needed a survival story to give people hope, and here is Mary, the wife of a minister who strangely survives, and though she was only a woman (less than a man, not a patriarch) she showed by her very survival that she had all of the marks of visible sainthood. I know you've done your Puritan research, but I''' say it anyway: Puritans believed EVERYONE was destined for hell, except for visible saints -- people who looked saintly were probably predestined for heaven. Mary Rowlandson was married to a minister and looked saintly, and she survived. Ergo, do this, ladies and gentlemen, and you will survive this heinous war.

But was Mary Rowlandson as devout as this narrative makes her seem. ABSOLUTELY she might have been. I might have been if I'd been raised as a Puritan women and had never thought of life beyond the patriarchal notion of Puritan womanhood. But what if? What if she began to see things differently in the Native American world, where women were allowed to be queens of their tribe, where they split to work equally, where they had voices and used them? Where life suddenly didn't seem so black and white?

Anyway, it's a decent novel. There's a love story in it that made me say "meh" because women protagonists can't ever seem to escape a stock love story, but the main attention to the captivity story was really good, I thought, and left me feeling a bit skeptical in defense of Mary Rowlandson. I feel a bit skeptical about either side of the story: Mary Rowlandson WAS a Puritan, which was a whole other world to my own. She was steeped in ideas that seem foreign to me. It's dangerous to try to filter her tale through a modern feminist viewpoint. It wouldn't have been out of character, I think, for her entire narrative to be true from the lips of herself. Yet it's hard not to also look at her tale through my own perspective and wonder how much of that narrative was coming from a Puritan agenda during an intense period in New England history.

Anyway, the novel is interesting just as a different perspective. I think.

Cheers, Ruth!! :-)

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I'm very fascinated by stories of people being captured by American Indians, or living with them voluntarily, and I've read Rowlandson's story before, though not her own account, just a retelling. So fascinating!

Ruth said...


This is more personal than a direct response to all you address; but I understand where you are coming from, and maybe you know where I am coming from.

We have almost a generation between us, and I see myself in you when I was college age, though I was not as aware a feminist as you are, and I was not a Bible-believing Christian. Nonetheless, I was grateful for my freedoms, and I rarely had reminders of how far women had come – except for a couple of comments that I couldn’t do something b/c I was a woman. They were just opinions and did not phase me.

I was confident that I never wanted to get married or be a mother, ever, but that changed when I got pregnant – I wasn’t living like someone who was avoiding marriage and kids, but rather according to my own selfish liberties. Slowly, all my dreams and desires were put on hold as my life changed. And with that change, I believe God put it into my empty heart a desire to learn His Word and follow Christ.

When I found a Bible Church, my husband and I began [our] walk with Christ. Learning God’s Word changed [our] lives (again), and today I have a completely different worldview and understanding of people. It is through that worldview that I filter literature.

I totally respect the Puritans. They worked hard to establish and maintain a good working relationship with the Natives; even still, no one deserved to be ripped from her foundation, from her home and family, to be someone else’s slave. We can question "what if’s" and try to explain them using our reasoning, but unless we find a true source that Rowlandson was coerced into fabricating her story, I am comfortable believing her.

In the past, I have read similar accounts to Mary Rowlandson’s, so it wasn’t too shocking. They were not primary sources, but family members or historians wrote them. They are from different early American periods, such as the French and Indian War, and they tell the same fate of women and children. Being the weakest, women and children were often taken, and the Natives used them as slaves or forced them into marriages. Many assimilated and remained, being so far from home, even as far as Canada.

During raids, men, the elderly, and babies were murdered. In fact, I read that screaming babies had their heads dashed on trees in front of hysterical colonial mothers. Native Americans did not share the same regard for the union of mother and child as the colonists did. And in my opinion, Natives did not respect women any more than any other non-Christian group of humans, (like the Nazis or ISIS), probably b/c they did not have a biblical worldview of women or children or life in general.

I believe there is a prejudice against Puritans, as there is against religious people, especially Christians. Part of that, I believe, is b/c the Puritans desired a life of obedience to God, which states that man is weak, and woman is weaker of the two; hence a woman is to be obedient to her husband, and the man is to be obedient to God. Rebellion of this is b/c man does not want to obey God, and woman does not want to be commanded to obey her husband, which is also disobedience to God!

Scripture says: a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church; and if you consider how Christ loves the Church: He gave His life for the Church! A man should so love his wife that he would give his life for her!

The other issue is this: when using sources, it is important to me how it views God and the Bible. If its aim is to make God irrelevant, then I won't use it. I know that Christians make mistakes and can be wrong, but even Christian should be able to discern truth from other Christians, and that is all I can do. But a source that hates God or His word or even followers of Christ, I won't use.

And so, that's my take on it. While I would have never wanted to be a Puritan or to live during that time, I highly respect them and all they did to live pure lives for God.


Jillian said...

Thanks for your response, Ruth! First, please pardon me if I ever overstep in your comment box. You've said alternate perspective s on what you read helps you develop ideas, which is the only reason I feel welcome enough to intrude here at length. I'm all passion and have trouble with analysis, and I fear I often hop in appearing far more adamant than I mean to be. I've noticed I often pose questions as fact (a weakness as a writer I never notice until I've finished typing.) What I generally mean is "here's what I think -- what do you think?" rather than a "here's the straight fact and you should sway over to my side." I'm never (ever) thinking that, but I believe with all of my essay writing at school, which has taught me to "write assertively and cut to the thesis," I'm forever coming off as though I know what I'm talking about and am dogmatic about it. I actually believe ardently in keeping an open mind, though I don't know what I'm very good at it yet. :-)

Documentation from history is swayed toward what its writers wanted people to think -- is my point. What I mean is -- when you read a document from the 17th century, you're reading the bit that was left behind. Not the whole story. For example, if you research the 17th century in England, you'll find A LOT of advice manuals on how to be a quiet, docile woman -- manuals written by men. The evidence of all these manuals on how to be docile women can be interpreted as a sign that women were docile because they were reading all of these advice books. OR they can be interpreted as a sign that women were not docile, which is why so many "here's how to be quiet and docile" books were being written.

My point is definitely NOT that Mary Rowlandson was clearly forced to write this document, or that she didn't write it at all. That's too absolute. And my point is certainly not that the narrative's implication that she was faithful throughout is false or silly. I have said I'm a Christian, and I find her example under such extreme duress inspiring. But that's the point -- I find it inspiring. Wouldn't a Puritan? I would think so. Ergo, my suspicion that this document was published with an agenda. I'm not saying the agenda was bad or good, just that there may be more to this than a woman sitting down to write about her experience. Everyone writes with an agenda, and hers was obviously backed by the Puritan leaders.

My point (let me try to get around to a thesis) :P is that reading these documents skeptically can open up a world of potential interpretation. It's why I like reading your take on this stuff. I know you are strong-minded, sharp, and have a background in feminism, yet your view tends to give the Puritans/patriarchy a fair reading which I find myself too world-worn to give. So I like to read what you have to say and try to make some sense of it to enlighten my own viewpoint and widen my ability to see multiple interpretations.

Jillian said...

I do appreciate your point that women and children were the weakest and were often taken and tortured. I didn't mean to imply I doubted that what Rowlandson wrote about could have happened. I believe these raids happened! But, reading history is sort of like hearing a person's side of the story. History is written by the victors? (The men, the whites, the ones with the printing presses and the literate culture.) We aren't hearing the Native American side of this story. We are hearing Mary Rowlandson's side through her own agenda, her own filter, and (perhaps) that of the Puritan leaders. So what is being left out? That's history, for me: trying to interpret the unsaid. I'm not particularly good at it. I'm probably at the suspicious stage right now, which might muck the read more than help it. :P ;-)

(I) have trouble reading Mary Rowlandson's narrative as a work written by a woman from an ideal moment in history (Puritan America.) I don't believe that because the Bible says "have this nice Biblical hierarchy," husbands were automatically kind to their wives and women were valued as faithful followers whose passivity was attributed to her faithfulness. That would be the ideal in a Christian world, but the reality (which likely isn't left behind as evidence in the documents printed by the Puritan leaders) was that the Puritans believed EVERYONE was going to hell who didn't have signs of visible sainthood. That meant women and men. If they had a bit of bad luck? Someone must be sabotaging the community. My feeling on the Puritans is that they absolutely meant well, but they were only human, were desperate to make their American utopian community work, and had a 17th century view on the world: which meant they viewed women as disorderly on the whole, less than, ordained by God to do what men told them to do. If they were docile, submissive, and devout, they probably got by. If not? I believe in those days it was permissible to beat your wife. That probably didn't make it into the Puritan documents.

What you describe above about the Biblical hierarchy between man and wife is an ideal hierarchy, where man ideally follows God, and woman follows her husband's lead because she can absolutely trust him. I grew up in a household where that was the opposite of truth and watched my mother slowly lose her soul trying to follow my father. It was death in the worst way -- death by trusting. It was a supposedly Christian home. My father would scream at her, "You are a horrible wife, and a horrible mother, and you have to do what I tell you or you're going to Hell." Oh, yes, he said this. So telling me this ideal structure where woman is pinned under man's arbitrary authority is Godly? doesn't feel right to me.

The ideal might be of God, but the reality of it, in far, far, far, far, far too many cases, is an absolute monarchy over the heart, soul, and freedom of woman. That's what I think about when I read Mary Rowlandson's narrative. Woman's history is far too often reconstructed from a patriarchal viewpoint. We rarely get the woman's voice on matters, especially in these early documents. That we have Rowlandson's voice here does not feel triumphant to me. Right away I'm thinking -- "Okay, so why are they letting her put her name in print? There must be something in it for them. If so, what?"

Jillian said...

I want to see the real history, and in this case, what we have is a document that can be interpreted as the truth about the Puritans as depicted in Rowlandson's own words (certainly plausible!), or can be interpreted as an archive contemplated beyond its words, as in, what does this document imply about its historical moment? what might have been the reason this was written? what might this document say between the lines?

I don't have a problem with the Puritans. They were a product of their time, born of an era that burned women at the stake for being women. Many in the 17th century believed that there was only one true gender, and that women were an inverted form of it, quite disorderly, and not guided by reason -- but by their female discharge. Their bodies were routinely searched for marks of the devil -- a nipple on the flesh that they believed Satan used to suck the moisture out of the woman. Men or women searched for this mark, not always on the outside of her flesh -- if you get my meaning. Her body was also searched for signs of pregnancy based on accusation alone. If a woman entered a parish pregnant and was unattached to a man, the parish leaders would whip her and push her out of the parish to have her baby elsewhere -- lest their own village have to take on another hungry mouth. Women in England/Europe might be respected if they had children and tied themselves to husbands, but the unmarried, the widows? They didn't fit into the hierarchy and were viewed with suspicion. These were the types of women who were burned at the stake as witches.

The Puritans, on the other hand, gave women a bit more mobility and freedom. They were by no means egalitarian: they believed in a structural hierarchy where women were at the bottom, unless they could show visible sainthood. But Puritan women could read, they were allowed to go to church and worship (though not to speak in church, if I recall), their devoutness was respected, etc. Puritans were a product of their age, as was Mary Rowlandson. As a married woman (wife to a minister, no less) who was likely viewed as a visible saint (since I think she went to church, and you couldn't go to church unless you were a visible saint), it's reasonable to guess that as a woman in the Puritan community she was fairly respected.

So I'm not saying, "None of this happened! The men coerced her!" I'm saying, "We have a document here. What don't we have? What might not be said? Where are there gaps?

I'll leave you alone now, Ruth. Homework. Please pardon me if I ever intrude. Not my intention. x

Cleo said...

First of all, Marianne, I absolutely LOVE your comments. I read every one of them and have learned so much from them. No, I don't always agree with everything, but I think that's okay. That's what friends used to do. Talk ...... agree ........ disagree ........ and still remain friends. I'm reminded of Benjamin Franklin and his friends. I think that this type of exchange formed part of a lasting relationship and it is sadly missing from friendships today. We are soooo (to our everlasting detriment) scared of offending people. I don't care that you think or don't think exactly the way I do ...... I just love it that you ARE thinking, and through your thoughts, I get to expand my own.

Cleo said...

Okay as for my comments on the above comments ......

I'm late to the party. And I'm late because I really have struggled as to what to say about this book. Rowlandson's hatred of the Indians was understandable and came out like lightening from the pages. Yet she bothered me, not because of her hatred or her conclusions, but because she never seemed to think or examine situations. I believe if she'd analyzed the situations, thought about their causes and outcomes, and then formed opinions, I would have respected her, but her hatred ......... well, perhaps it was only too human, but I was hoping for something more. I can see why there might be speculation as to her purpose for writing ....... her narrative did not sound natural to me ........ but even if she was "guided" into writing it, I don't see the problem. History is always swayed for one reason or another. One must be selective in one's reading and this is why I tend to stick with primary or secondary documents to form my opinions (I'll read others but I'm VERY careful with what I uncritically believe from them). If the writing is closer to the time in which the event happened, generally you have a better chance of understanding as the historical people would have understood it and, I think, of getting closer to the truth. I can't tell you how many historical non-fiction books I've read that have mostly bibliographical references to other modern history books. How many opinions have been altered and reconstructed through time then? Yikes! I remember reading two biographies on Napoleon Buonaparte, one written eight years after his death and the other 150+ years after his death ...... the second had information that was completely opposite from the first. So I'm going to believe the first 1) unless the 2nd tells me why the information was altered, the first is probably most accurate and 2) I want to understand and view Napoleon through the eyes of his contemporaries, not through the eyes of a modern person; how each view him and their opinions formed could be vastly different.

And since I was so bothered by Rowlandson's one-sided story (see, Marianne, you don't have to worry! Most careful readers will pick it up and at some point try to balance it out), I decided to read another story with a more balanced view and chose The Journal of William Sturgis. He was a 17 year old young man who started his seaman's career on ships sailing to the Pacific Northwest to trade furs with the natives. So basically, like Rowlandson, it's a primary source document. I'm about halfway through and a couple of his observations have leapt off the page at me. First, about the Indians:

"I believe I am the only man living who has a personal knowledge of those early transactions and I can show that in each and every case where a vessel was attacked or a crew killed by them, [the Indians of the region] it was in direct retaliation for some life taken or for some gross outrage committed against that tribe. This is the Indian law, which requires one life for another, as inflexibly as we civilized nations exact the life of a murderer. The Indian did not forget, but silently waited his opportunity, and retaliated because his duty and his law required it of him."

I understand this mentality from reading Greek literature. I don't agree with it, but I can understand the mindset.

The Indians often seem to be fighting each other, as well. He mentions with regard to the tribe he was trading with that they were at war with another tribe.

(see next comment box ...)

Cleo said...

And with regard to the Indian women compared to 18th century women, he says:

"The females have considerable voice in the sale of the Skins, indeed greater than the men; for if the wife disapproves of the husband's bargain, he dares not sell, till he gains her consent, and if she chooses she will sell all his stock whether he likes it or not, or rather what she likes, he is obliged to approve of or afraid to disapprove of .......... In fact, the power of the fair sex seems to be as unlimited on this as on our side of the Continent ....." (The bolding is mine, if indeed, it turns out bold. ;-) )

So Sturgis says that the women of the Indians are as unlimited in their power as American women and he gives the impression that he approves of it. Keep in mind that it's 1799. It doesn't seem from his point of view that women are on an unequal level. In fact, the whole exchange argues that the women are actually demeaning the men in this case --- it doesn't play out as an equal, unified, mutually helpful relationship to me. Which makes me question if things can ever be equal. I don't believe so (but that's a discussion for another time)

It's interesting, Marianne, that you are looking for a story to be "triumphant". I know what you mean, but I have often wondered about it. When I read Tolstoy's War and Peace, his monologue on history was so illuminating. I think when we get true history, it may not be triumphant; it's simply broken, fallen people making the best decisions they can in certain situations (sometimes unbearable situations). It is when the history is written that it is made triumphant ------ so I have begun to distrust that triumphant feeling a little.

As for Biblical hierarchy, I do believe that it is given as a model for how life works best. Do we have to follow it? No? Do we even have to accept that it's the best model? No. But I think deviating from it makes the life we live more difficult. Your father deviated from it and it must have made life unbearable for your mother. (Give her a hug from me, please! ;-) --- You don't have to tell her why.) As for the original Greek, in this case I believe it not only translates as "obey" but the meaning is "be weak in your strength", or something like that (perhaps Ruth can help me out here) ...... meaning that the woman is strong, but in the cases where there needs to be give, she needs to model it, but it is in the context of the husband loving her like Christ loved the Church. It doesn't say be obedient no matter what ...... the defining hub of these passages is Christ and if you remove Him and behave differently than he requires, then it's not going to work well.

I admire that you are so ready to defend something that you believe in, Marianne. I think I'm more cynical, but I don't believe that attitude (or at least how I deal with it) is necessarily bad. Puritans, I'm sure, had wonderful aspects to their beliefs and their characters ..... and they had awful ones too. The same with the Indians, the same with Buonaparte, the same with feminists, the same with you, the same with me. I try to realize this and accept it. I guess my first goal is to try to understand people, which I admit, I'm having a hard time with Rowlandson. I may have to finally shrug and realize she was on a journey that I just don't quite get. It's always a struggle to step further and further away from our humanness and move closer and closer to God.

Cleo said...

Ruth, I loved that you get these looooong comments on your blog! Discussion! I wish I had more of these on mine! :-)

Ruth said...


You touch on A LOT, but I'll just respond to what I can.

I had a different response after reading Rowlandson's Narrative. I put myself in her place, and I found it interesting that she did not spend more time expressing what I would have considered "hatred" of her captives. She focused more on God's grace and mercy, even when she felt alone or abandoned by Him.

When she talked about the work she did for her captives, the sewing of articles of clothing, I thought she was a bigger woman than I could ever be. Once she even made a meal for her master and invited him to dinner, which he refused.

Also, why did she not write about how offensive it seemed that she or her husband had to set a price and pay for her independence? It was as if this was all so normal. I mean, if I were writing the story, my offenses would be showing, but for her, they seemed quiet. I thought, where is the hatred? Or anger? Or any cruel emotion toward her captives? (That she called them savages is minor. To the English, the Natives were savages b/c they lived in the "frightening" woods, wore very little clothing, ate raw meat, and worshiped made-up gods.)

Anyway, if you think it seemed "guided" b/c of the missing raw emotion in the writing, then I may agree; but I just didn't see the anger and actually expected more b/c that's how I felt.

And I believe that b/c of my other readings about Native captivity, I did not have red flags w/ Rowlandson. I get it. These things happened, and I know exactly why. Questions did not arise. I actually enjoyed her story, especially b/c of the faithful message at the end. Even if she lied about it, let's say, she is correct in her presentation of God's mercy, even as difficult as it to cling to under such duress. I cannot even imagine what mothers went through; they would have burned me at the stake ASAP b/c I could not have remained calm.

Part 1 or 2

Ruth said...

Part 2 or 2

In addition, from other readings of Natives, I no longer have a romanticized view of them, as so often is created in stories and movies. They lied, stole, murdered, sought revenge, went to war, had hatred in their hearts, practiced slavery, polygamy, and cannibalism, and worshiped man-made gods. And they did these things to each other, not just the white man. But all this proves is that they were human, too - they were sinners in need of a Savior. That is not to say there were not hospitable Natives among them b/c we know from history that there were. (See Lewis and Clark's journals.) But there were also many wicked and evil tribes, too.

So my point is, I don't raise the Native up as this perfect human class that was ruined when the Europeans came. They were as capable of evil as any man b/c they came from the same broken, sinful human. That's why they went on murderous rampages and took colonists as slaves.

As for the Puritans, again, if man is in involved, then we are dealing with the same broken, sinful heart, and sin is going to happen. And what I have studied so far of the Puritans gives me a good, healthy perspective. It makes sense to me. I have yet to read anything about visible sainthood coming with privilege. Certainly, it is not biblical, and Christians should be able to discern that. If anything, a visible saint should be a Christian with visible fruit in his life.

But I guess I have more to read - Marianne has peaked my curiosity. I no longer want to use The Scarlet Letter or The Crucible as my negative supporting evidence of the Puritans b/c Hawthorne and Miller used their personal issues to write those stories. (I'm just kidding! I prefer a primary source of history, too.)

While I shall always maintain a respectful opinion of the Puritans for what they did to come to America and how they tried to follow God's word, I am willing to investigate further. But I have this feeling it will all lead back to man's sinful heart, in which sometimes his intentions are good, but his applications are mired in his brokenness. History keeps trying to correct this, and I think that is the point, even though it is frustrating b/c of how much damage is done and how many lives are ruined each time.

So in the end, I liked Rowlandson's story. I didn't have any red flags, but it is possible that it had an agenda; after all, everyone has a purpose, and every story has a purpose. Even Bauer suggests that biographies are written with a bias. But I can only take Rowlandson at her word, at this time, as she says her story was written for her own private use, but was made public at the urging of some friends.


Ruth said...

It was! And it was only 50 pages, so you can read it in a day. It's probably available to read online somewhere.

Ruth said...

Ugh! I mean "captors," not "captives," in the first part.

Jillian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jillian said...

Sorry - I deleted the above because my paragraphs ran together. Reposting...

Jillian said...

Hi ladies! I have to make this quick as I'm seriously supposed to be doing homework :) but I just wanted to respond to a couple things:

(Wait, I just finished typing the below. Turns out I went on at length again. Fiddle-dee-dee! How I do run on!) :P

@Cleo: I'm not sure where I implied that I expect history to be triumphant? I want to see as wide a picture as I can, which means I want to see the truth -- not the triumphant. I do say above that I don't consider the publication of Rowlandson's narrative triumphant. I probably didn't state that well. I was speaking from the point of view of a person very interested in women's history. I only meant that the fact that she published doesn't automatically (in my view) feel like a triumph simply because she was a woman and women had so few opportunities to speak. It doesn't feel like a triumph to me because I don't know that she'd have been permitted to speak (in print) if she'd chosen to say anything the males in charge of the printing press disagreed with. I don't really understand what you're talking about with expecting triumphant history -- sorry. I think somehow we confused ourselves, or else I'm just confused. Which wouldn't be surprising. :) I'm interested to check out that passage in Tolstoy. Thanks for your kind remarks on my thinking! I do like to chew the life out of an idea and stick it in my hair. ;-)

@Ruth - I noticed in your response that you said you don't have a view of the Native Americans as "a perfect human class." I just wanted to clarify that I don't have that view either. The view I do have is that they are often (often, often, often) depicted in English and American History through the point of view of their enemies in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries. I've read primary source Native American narratives of settlers destroying their camps (filtered through English translators, obviously). These were not war parties, Ruth. These were women, children, elderly in camp at home, and suddenly they are attacked and slaughtered. For nothing.

Millions of Native Americans died of small pox when the Europeans arrived. I don't think anyone realized small pox was contagious at the time, or they might have tried to stop the spread, but from the Native American point of view, these newcomers were arriving in droves, and their civilization was being destroyed. Sincerely, nations fell to the disease. The Europeans tried to make slaves of the Native Americans but found them too susceptible to disease and lived too closely to their tribes (and therefore might fight back.) Which inspired them to turn to the Africans. The Puritans were moving all over Lancaster in King Phillip's War. You talk about evil tribes and murderers, while I distinguish between war parties and civilian Native Americans, and cannot get out of my head some of the stuff I've read in Georgia's history which led to the Trail of Tears. Women, babies, old men, dropping dead on the trail. Not because the colonial Americans were afraid of the Native Americans, but because they wanted their land.

Jillian said...

Layers of separation. The Puritan point of view is so important to our history. I don't mean to discount it -- but when you read about a Puritan viewpoint on the Native American culture, you're getting a PURITAN VIEWPOINT on the Native American culture. If a gentleman gives you a document about his views on the fact that his sister hit him when he was ten, and his brother gives you a document about his views on her hitting him when he was ten, and two more brothers supply similar stories, and you end up with a whole book about different points of view on the sister's naughty behavior as a child, you won't have the whole truth. You'll have a point of view on truth, An angle. Historians might come in and talk all about the courageous plight of the abused siblings, and offer all kinds of great, detailed analysis of the letters and other records which support the fact that the guy and his brothers were good people, and had good intentions, and were justified in finding their sister's cantankerous behavior offputting. Maybe the sister never had access to pen and ink, and the letters she did supply were lost to the sandbox. So no one ever heard about the many times the boys invaded her territory, setting up camp on her bed, ignoring her pleas that they go away, tricking her into letting in the neighborhood, shoving her bodily out the window, so that eventually what had once been her room became the boys' meeting house, and a "no girls allowed" sign was slapped on the door of her bedroom, and when she went to her parents to complain that she had no place to go, they told her, "Oh, boys will be boys," and finally, in frustration, she hit them.

Both stories are probably jaded by life experience, emotions, and perspective, but it takes both to get the beginnings of the whole story, and even then, for the historian, it is only guesswork. The historian is like the marriage counselor listening to both sides of a tale and concluding that neither is likely completely right, but that together they make a greater whole than apart.

So I don't have a starry-eyed view of the Native American culture anymore than I have a starry-eyed view of the Puritan culture. I think, as with all communities, there were good and bad on both sides. I don't think it's any more fair to history to romanticize the Puritans than it is to romanticize the Native Americans. If what you want to explore is the Puritan viewpoint, I think you're on the right path. But if you want to explore early America, you have to cast a wider net and be skeptical about what you read. I don't mean skeptical in a nasty, "I think this document is a lie!" kind of way. All documents are versions of lies and truth. Cleo is right above: we all have our filters and our perspectives. That's sincerely all I'm trying to get across: the evidence left behind by history is very flawed, very personal, in many cases, very limited to the speaker's own viewpoint and perspective. Historians are detectives that take in multiple viewpoints and try to make sense of it all somehow, to get an interpretation of the bigger picture. Whether that interpretation is correct we can never perhaps know. We can only offer our evidence and try to arrive at fact.

Jillian said...

That's sincerely all I mean. I'm not doubting the word of the Puritans. I don't guess they were out their lying. But my point of view on throwing a baseball is going to be a different story than the point of view of the poor kid who was minding his own business when the ball hit him in the head.

Declaring that Native American tribes were evil because the Puritans said they were doesn't take into account the very narrow window the Puritans may have had on Native American culture. They experienced the war parties and the terror, and what inspired the aggression on the part of the Native Americans wasn't on their mind, for the most part. That doesn't mean Native American raiding parties were okay. It's not about judging the history -- it was what it was, in a historical moment we can never fully conceptualize in the 21st century. It's about recognizing that we are hearing only one side of the story when we read a primary document, and realizing that this document is a puzzle piece in the massive tale of human experience, rather than the end of the story.

Jillian said...

I want to correct my "If what you want to explore is the Puritan viewpoint, I think you're on the right path" statement to add -- "if you bear in mind that you're still only getting the part of the Puritan perspective that was printed."

Ruth said...

Yes, book discussions! The best kind of discussions!

Ruth said...

Well, said, Marianne. I completely agree with your ideas on historical investigations. The whole picture is always best.

I imagine we can investigate and research and study, and the truth may or may not ever be decided or found, but at some point we have to come to terms in our hearts that we know a little about someone or someone's time and the events that took place. And there is some truth in it, but only God knows all the truth, even to the hearts of those involved, which we may never be able to know.

One thing I have come to terms with is that in every time period, in every event, in every man and woman involved, history keeps repeating itself. Man is the same throughout. Like I mentioned to you before: man is broken and in need of a Savior. It is like the truth of the Old Testament. God shows us man's inability to keep His Commandments and his need for redemption. All of those stories of murder, war, violence, rape, theft, lies, immorality, jealousy, etc. are there to show us that man is broken and needs God to save him b/c he is not able to save himself. And then the New Testament says, "Here is your Salvation, in Christ."

Today, man still cannot keep God's law, and hence, we still have murder, war, violence, hatred, rape, immorality, theft, vanity, jealousy, covetousness, greed, etc., but we have a way to redeem ourselves, through Christ.

In the end, that is what matters most. We can do all we can to figure history out and determine who is right and who is wrong, but more specifically, we can probably find both. The more important questions probably are: did they seek God? Did they seek forgiveness? Did they seek truth? Did they seek their salvation and redemption? And those questions can be worded differently. It is something to consider when looking through history, but I find it most fascinating in my continuous review of history that from era to era, and place to place, man has not changed one bit.