Essay: Mary White Rowlandson

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This essay is on Mary White Rowlandson. Rowlandson remained a prisoner of the Narraganset for several months, during which time she and her two surviving children were forced to live and work as members of the tribe.

The image of Indians in New England was shaped both by traditions brought with settlers from Europe and by their experiences with Indians in the New World; however, their preconceptions colored almost all interactions. In the European tradition, Indians were either “barbaric and uncivilized heathens” or “noble savages,” although the former definition usually won out over the latter. Some Puritans tried to spread Christianity to New England’s Indians, but most tribes were distrustful of the settlers because they as often spread disease and dissension among tribes as they spread Christianity. For the settlers’ part, nothing reinforced their negative associations with Indians like the tradition of captivity narratives which emerged in early American letters.

In 1675, the Wampanoags Chief Metacomet (known as King Philip by the English) expressed his resentment toward the settlers for encroaching on his tribal lands and treating his people disdainfully. The resulting war, known as “King Philip’s War”, which broke out resulted in a rash of raids throughout New England. In one of these battles, at Lancaster, Massachusetts, the Wampanoags and their Narraganset allies took several settlers captive and held them for ransom; among these captives was Mary White Rowlandson, the wife of a Congregationalist minister, and her three children.

Rowlandson remained a prisoner of the Narraganset for several months, during which time she and her two surviving children were forced to live and work as members of the tribe. The Rowlandson were eventually ransomed and freed before the end of the war, and returned to her husband, who had now relocated to Wethersfield, Connecticut.

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