Mary (White) Rowlandson was born in England between 1635 and 1637. She was the daughter of John White, an early settler in Lancaster. She married the Reverend Joseph Rowlandson in Lancaster around 1656, just three years after the Town of Lancaster was incorporated (1653). She spent twenty-three of the first thirty-eight years of her life in Lancaster.
The early colonists hoped to convert the Indians to Christianity. The colonists supported missionaries and trained willing converts in their faith. Often Christian Indians lived among the colonists, electing their own leaders. However, not all of the Indians were willing to accept the faith of Christ or the government of the English colonies. Many Indians did not want their customs and way of life to come to an end. Although several tribes remained loyal to the English, the Wampanoag Sachem (leader), Philip, was able to persuade many other tribes to revolt against the English colonists.
"On the tenth of February, 1676, came the Indians in great numbers upon Lancaster...it was the dolefulest day that ever mine eyes saw". So begins The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Thirty-seven people were believed to be in the garrison when it was attacked at sunrise. The Reverend Joseph Rowlandson had gone to Boston to ask the Governor for help when rumors of an Indian attack were heard. However, the Indians attacked before help could arrive. Twelve people in the house were killed and the rest, including Mary, were taken captive by the Indians. Mary was held captive for over eleven weeks and was released when her husband paid a ransom of 20 pounds. In 1682, Mary Rowlandson's account of the attack and her captivity was published. Mary Rowlandson became Lancaster's first published author as well as the first woman in America to have a book published. In The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, the author tells of the terrible ordeal she endured until she was ransomed.
There were twelve people killed in the Rowlandson garrison and approximately 20 others were captured before the garrison was burned to the ground. Among the captives were Mary Rowlandson and her three children, Mary, age 10, Sarah, age 6, and Joseph, age 13. Mrs. Rowlandson and her daughter Sarah were injured in the attack. Mary Rowlandson was separated from the two other children but was able to see them occasionally as they traveled with their captors.
The first night in captivity was spent at what is now known as Rowlandson Rock on George Hill in Lancaster. Cold and hunger caused much suffering for Mary Rowlandson and her severely wounded daughter. The only treatment available was oak leaves - which she laid on their wounds. The Indians kept on the move with their captives as they were pursued by soldiers from the English Army. On the ninth day Sarah died from her wounds in the town of New Braintree. The Indians were constantly on the move, traveling from Lancaster, west to the Connecticut River, and north to Vermont and New Hampshire, and back to Lancaster again.
Mary Rowlandson was a very devout Christian. After an Indian raid in the town of Medfield, Massachusetts, a bible was taken as plunder and it was given to Mrs. Rowlandson. Reading scriptures was of great comfort to her during her ordeal.
When the group she traveled with reached the Connecticut River, Mary Rowlandson met with King Philip. He gave her sewing and mending projects for his family (often from clothing of the colonists killed by the Indians) for which he paid her. The small amount of bear meat or peas she managed to obtain did little to ease her terrible hunger. She was owned, and subject to, a number of masters and mistresses, most of whom were very cruel to her. Her bible continued to be her guide by day and pillow by night. Her readings continued to comfort her during the time when she was lied to and told her son Joseph was dead.
During the travels or "removes" as they were called, the wigwam provided shelter at night where a fire was kept for warmth and cooking. A little cooked venison, horse meat, beaver, or wild bird was given to Mary Rowlandson. She and the Indians survived mostly on ground nuts, acorns, lily-roots, weeds, and roots.
Finally, after over eleven weeks in captivity, the Indians accepted twenty pounds for the ransom of Mary Rowlandson. This negotiation was conducted at the site of what is now known as Redemption Rock, in Princeton. Since all of his property was destroyed during the Indian raid, Rev. Rowlandson had to raise the price of his wife's ransom from his friends in Boston. Mary Rowlandson was released and reunited with her husband in Boston, however both were distressed over the death of their daughter, Sarah, and the uncertainty of the well-being of their captured children, Mary and Joseph. A week after Mary's return the Governor and the Council met with the Indians and were able to obtain the release of Mary's sister. Soon afterwards the Rowlandson children were released. Joseph was ransomed for seven pounds but Mary was released without having to pay any ransom. The reunited family lived in Boston for a short while where Mary reflected on her terrible afflictions and her deep faith in God. In the spring of 1677, the Rowlandson family "removed" from Boston to Wethersfield, Connecticut.
The story of Mary Rowlandson's captivity and restoration has endured for well over 300 years. Very few books of any age or tongue have been distinguished with more editions and are a testament to the popular interest of this modest story of personal experience. The Lancaster Collection of the Thayer Memorial Library possesses perhaps the finest collections of these editions. A large pine tree known as the Rowlandson Pine marked the site of the Rowlandson parsonage until 2002. It stood opposite the Middle Cemetery until it was toppled by high winds. The stone marker that designates this historic spot stands close to Main Street (Route 70) in Lancaster.
By Mrs. Ogborn, Library Teacher
The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Lancaster Tercentenary Edition, 1953
The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, National Bicentennial Edition, 1975
The Captive, An Early American Classic, Mary Rowlandson, 1988
"When Lancaster Observed Its Centennial America Still Had a King", Text by Dr. Thomas D. Wintle, 1987
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