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"Captivity and Restoration" by Mary Rowlandson

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Captivity and RestorationPublished in 1682 in Cambridge, Massachusetts,  A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was one of the first books published in the New World. It became a best seller in the New World and in England and went through fifteen editions by 1800. In the literary history and review, A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter calls it the first American literary form dominated by Women's experience.

The account describes how, during the Anglo-Indian war called King Philip's war, on 10 February, 1675, Mary Rowlandson's world was shattered when Narragansett Indians raided, pillaged and burned her village of Lancaster, Massachusetts. Her minister husband was away "in the bay" but the majority of the villagers died in the raid, including her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. Her eldest son and daughter were taken and held captive in different wilderness areas. Mary and her badly injured six-year-old daughter were made to follow the tribe as they moved around searching for food and trying to elude the British army.

The first chapter is as off-putting as it is absorbing. Mary's words, just as the events they describe, tumble over each other in a kind of uncontrolled chaos that leads one to believe that she has only a minimal grasp of literary form. More likely, the chaos arose from her attempt to set this part of this account down and move quickly past the pain she felt in describing it. She tells the remainder of her story in "removes" which relate to her and the tribe's trek around the areas of Vermont, New Hampshire and the Connecticut River. Each of the removes--by contrast--is clearly, succinctly, and sometimes poetically written.

Mary used her experiences to describe what it means to be truly hungry, when raw horse liver and boiled hooves taste delectably, when broth made of maggots is thankfully accepted, when feeling faint is a natural part of daily life. Even in her desperate state, however, she makes it clear that her captors were hungry too, and cold. She remembers the warm cabin and comfortable bed of her past life and realizes that such comforts have never been part of her captors' past. She also alludes to the fact that not all her captors are cruel, as exhibited by her gladness to see her master, Quinnapin, after his three-week absence.

Since not all her captors were as kind as Quinnapin, she learned to barter her knitting and sewing skills for food and shelter during his absence. Later, she demonstrates her skills at bartering goods. When she received word from her husband, she remarked on the positive effects of her twelve weeks of captivity:

"Amongst other things which my husband sent me, there came a pound of tobacco, which I sold for nine shillings in money; for many of the Indians for want of tobacco, smoked hemlock, and ground ivy. It was a great mistake in any, who thought I sent for tobacco; for through the favor of God, that desire was overcome."

In addition to her bartering skills, another key to her survival was a Bible the tribe had plundered along with several scalps. The Indian who had taken possession of the Bible gave it to Mary and agreed that the tribe would allow her to read it. This Bible became "my guide by day and my pillow by night." She quotes many passages from her Bible, the most notable of which might be:

"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."
The Bible, Job 1:21, quoted by Mary Rowlandson


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