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, 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.
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."