Mary Rowlandson, Voice from Captivity


ENG 223: American Literature Before 1865

Lesson 4: Mary Rowlandson, Voice from Captivity
Sept. 9-13, 2002


By the end of this lesson, you should be able to do each of the following without consulting notes or other resources:

  • Describe the life and literary contributions of Mary Rowlandson, William Bradford, and John Winthrop.
  • Interpret themes and other features in Rowlandson’s captivity narrative.
  • Define or identify relevant terms, names, and dates.


Before coming to class on Monday, you should complete the following assignments:


Read A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson (309-340)



Our class activities this week include the following:


Think Fast: In a paragraph (100 words),analyze the imagery in Mary Rowlandson’s narrative.  Try to identify some patterns.  What might these patterns suggest about her viewpoint?

Presentation: Mary Rowlandson, Voice from Captivity (Professor Canada)

Cooperative Learning

Selection: What incidents and descriptions has Rowlandson decided to include in her narrative?  What might she have omitted?  How does her selection of material shape our reading of the narrative?  In her mind, what is the meaning of her experience?

Genre: Rowlandson’s story is one of the first and most notable examples of a genre called the captivity narrative.  Describe the conventions of this genre.

Race: How does Rowlandson depict her captors?  What factors might have inspired this depiction?  Do you find it convincing?  Defend your answer.

Faith: Trace the development of Rowlandson’s faith over the course of her captivity.  How and why does her faith change?

Discussion: During this time, we will discuss the insights and questions that have emerged during our reading, “Think Fast” exercise, my presentation, and cooperative learning.

Think Again: In a brief essay (200-300 words), discuss the Puritans’ relationship with nature, as depicted in Rowlandson’s narrative.

Conferences: While the rest of you are working on the “Think Again” exercise, I will meet with two of you in one-on-one conferences.  During this time, I will review some of your writing, orally quiz you on lesson objectives, and field your questions.

Announcements: We will wrap up this lesson with announcements regarding upcoming lessons, as well as other relevant subjects.

Names and Terms

Make sure you know the meaning and significance of each of the following names and terms:

  • Mary Rowlandson
  • John Winthrop
  • William Bradford
  • captivity narrative


Make sure you are familiar with the following key date in early American history:


1675-1676: Native Americans wage King Philip’s War against colonists in Massachusetts

1692: Salem witch trials take place


You can find more information about the subject covered in this lesson by consulting the resource listed below:

Mary Rowlandson—Captive in 1675/76 features background information and photographs.

Updated September 5, 2002
Mark Canada, 2002


In our last lesson on Anne Bradstreet, we saw that Puritan writings could be introspective and devotional, at times.  As we will see in this lesson, however, they were by no means entirely free from action and even sensational material.  Indeed, Mary Rowlandson’s narrative would make a lively story even more a modern Hollywood script.



As late as the 1690s, more than half a century after John Winthrop’s arrival in Massachusetts, the Puritans were still a dominant group in New England.  It was they, after all, who were responsible for the Salem witch trials in 1692.  Furthermore, many of the major American writers of the time, most notably Cotton Mather, were Puritans.  America was already a diverse place, however, in both religion and ethnicity.  The colony of Maryland, founded in 1634, was home to many Catholics.  In 1681, William Penn founded Pennsylvania, which would become home to numerous members of a religious denomination known as the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers.  The slave trade continued to bring Africans to America, and the many Native American tribes that had occupied the continent long before the Europeans arrived never left.  Indeed, the tensions between the Native Americans and the people of European ancestry erupted in 1675, when a Wampanoag named Metacomet launched an attack on the colonists in New England.  Named “King Philip’s War” after Metacomet, known to the colonists as King Philip, this conflict lasted until 1676.

Mary Rowlandson, c. 1636-1711

Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan wife and mother, published only one book during her life. That book, however, not only became one of the era's best-sellers, going through four editions in one year, but also earned her an important place in the history of American literature. A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, an account of her captivity among the Narragansett Indians during King Philip'sWar in 1676, is a frequently cited example of a captivity narrative, an important American literary genre used by James Fenimore Cooper, Ann Bleecker, John Williams, and James Seaver. Because of Rowlandson's intimate relationship with her Indian captors, her book also is interesting for its treatment of cultural contact. Finally, in its use of autobiography, typology, and the jeremiad, Rowlandson's book helps us to understand the Puritan mind.


As we end this lesson, we leave the era when the Puritans were at their height in influence.  It might be said, however, that America never really left them behind.  Indeed, Puritan thought lived on in the work of the next writer we will see, Jonathan Edwards.