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  • Michael Rickard II

"Captured by American Indians. 'A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mar

Continuing our look at Puritan Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (hereafter referred to as History)

While Mrs. Rowlandson’s captivity narrative appears to give credit for her survival to God, there are several instances where Mrs. Rowlandson’s account and experience conflict with the Puritanical worldview of Divine Providence. On the surface she may give God credit for her survival but there is also evidence that much of her survival was due to her personal efforts.

One example is how Mrs. Rowlandson uses her weaving skills to become a useful member of the tribe. At first, she is entirely dependent on the mercies of the Indians around her. After a while, her ability to make clothing earns her the attention of Indians around her including King Phillip who pays her to make a shirt for his son. She shows savoir faire when she offers the money to her Master. Mrs. Rowlandson learns from experience and goes on to sell the clothing she makes for food.

Mrs. Rowlandson also demonstrates an ability to adapt to wilderness life. While her survival skills are not extensive, by the end of her captivity, she has shown the ability to scrounge food from the ground particularly ground nuts. Mrs. Rowlandson is able to help other white captives such as when she helps the English youth who is going to freeze to death.

Another instance is when Mrs. Rowlandson is suffering from a gunshot wound. When she learns from a white man that oaken leaves may be helpful in treating her wound, she applies some and finds that it cures her wound. While Mrs. Rowlandson ultimately attributes this to “the blessing of God” (190), she is the one who has the wherewithal to apply the curative patch.

Linked with this survival is Mrs. Rowlandson’s ability to adapt into Indian politics. Initially she is unfamiliar with Indian politics but by the story’s end, she has figured out how to obtain food and shelter from Indians. On pages 200 and 201 of the text, she explains how she traveled from Wigwam to Wigwam until she found shelter after being kicked out of her normal Wigwam. Furthermore, she establishes herself as trustworthy enough that the Indians let her travel unaccompanied.

Lastly, the narrative provides a true crisis of faith for Mrs. Rowlandson as her thoughts on the Indians are challenged throughout the narrative. As discussed earlier, many Puritans believed that the Indians were demon-possessed. Mrs. Rowlandson discovers that not all Indians are malicious and that they may have some role in God’s divine plan. Mrs. Rowlandson’s initial thoughts on the Indians are that she would rather die than be captured by them. She talks of their ignorance, savagery, and violence. Mrs. Rowlandson describes them as “Barbarous Creatures” (187) and speaks of their “addictiveness to lying” (201).

Mrs. Rowlandson’s Puritanical beliefs clash with her direct experiences with the Indians. She finds out early that while Indians can be brutal, they can also be merciful. Indians put her on horseback when she is recovering from her gunshot wound. While some Indians are reluctant to feed and house her, other Indians provide these necessities.

What seems particularly perplexing to Mrs. Rowlandson is how the Indians elude their pursuers. If the Indians are agents of the Devil, how is it that they are able to repeatedly thwart God’s agents (the colonists)? This must have been a tremendous crisis of faith for Mrs. Rowlandson and it is interesting to see how she remedies this. Mrs. Rowlandson’s attempt to juxtapose her Puritanical belief that the Indians are Satan’s servants with the reality that the Indians are outwitting the colonists would seem to be a challenge to her faith. Mrs. Rowlandson repeatedly laments the English army’s attempts to stop the Indians. She points out the army’s superiority of numbers but that they are slow to advance. The army tries to starve out the Indians by destroying their crops but the Indians are able to live off of seemingly inedible food. “Though many times they would eat that, a Hog or a Dog would hardly touch, yet by that God strengthened them to be a scourge to his People” (215).

In the end, Mrs. Rowlandson chalks things up to Divine Providence. “I cannot but admire to see the wonderful providence of God in preserving the Heathen for further affliction to our poor Country” (216). To her, it is obvious that the Lord is using the Indians as a punishment against the colonists. However, once the Indians have served their purpose (drawing the colonists back to the Lord), the Lord dispenses with them. “And the Lord had not so many ways before, to preserve them, but now he hath as many to destroy them” (216).

It should be noted some scholars believe Puritan leaders may have rewritten part of History to include more Puritanical values, primarily in the addition of Scriptural quotes. If so, one wonders how much Mrs. Rowlandson attributed to individual actions and how much to Divine Providence.

Unfortunately we do not have this information so we have to rely on the text. On the surface, we see a strong case presented for the power of Divine Providence. A closer examination reveals endurance and ingenuity on Mrs. Rowlandson’s part that led to her surviving the ordeal. While she did not acknowledge her own pluck and determination, Mrs. Rowlandson certainly deserves credit for her efforts. This failure to acknowledge her own efforts is a reminder of how ingrained Puritan thinking was in her mind.

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