Rowlandson, Mary (Writer)


(ca. 1635-ca. 1711) memoirist

Mary White was born in England to John and Joane White and immigrated to Massachusetts with her family in 1639. In 1656, when in her early 20s, she wed Joseph Rowlandson, a minister of the town of Lancaster, and in the following years gave birth to four children.

In 1682 Rowlandson published A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration ofMrs. Mary Row-landson, an autobiographical account of her capture by Native Americans at the height of King Philip’s War. The war began in 1675, when Meta-comet (called King Philip) formed an alliance to fight the colonists’ usurpation of Native American lands. Rowlandson’s narrative opens with a description of the extremely bloody attack on Lancaster. Several members of her family were murdered, while both Rowlandson and her youngest daughter were taken captive. Rowlandson’s account, divided into sections called “Removes,” details the physical, spiritual, and psychological challenges she faced during her 11 weeks and five days of captivity.

Rowlandson’s captivity narrative was enormously popular: It was reprinted three times in 1682 and more than a dozen editions of it appeared in the following centuries. Like the many captivity narratives that followed in its wake, Rowlandson’s text is highly religious in its tone and incorporates a moral theme in its conclusions that her “punishment” was brought about by failure in her Christian duties. Rowlandson’s narrative is important to scholars because it allows readers to witness one woman’s private struggle to make sense of a painful experience in terms of her Puritan belief. In addition, the autobiography documents the transformation of a colonist’s perceptions of Native Americans. At first Rowlandson considers them inhumane and devilish creatures, but over time she comes to recognize their humanity and to experience their compassion.

After her husband ransomed her, Rowlandson returned home. She remarried after her husband’s death in 1678 and lived in Connecticut until her death in 1711.

A Work by Mary Rowlandson

Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Together With the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1997.

Works about Mary Rowlandson

Breitwieser, Mitchell R. American Puritanism and the Defense of Mourning: Religion, Grief, and Ethnology in Mary White Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

Casiglia, Christopher. Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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