Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Mary Rowlandson (c. 1637–1711)

Mary Rowlandson (c. 1637-1711)Edit

Mary Rowlandson - née White, later Mary Talcott – was a 17th Century colonial American woman, and is considered a primitive contributor to the literary genre of captivity narratives through her work The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Rowlandson’s singular transformative work details the 11-week captivity of Rowlandson and her 4 children by Native Americans in 1676, during King Phillip’s War, and was published six years after being ransomed. Rowlandson garnered minor fame after her work acquired a large following in both England and in the New England colonies, however is posthumously considered a pivotal figure in women’s writing pre 1900’s, with her work being held in consideration as the original American “bestseller”.

BiographyEdit

Early LifeEdit

Mary White was born in Somerset, England c. 1637. At 2 years of age, Mary’s family joined the Puritan migration to America, settling in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After a few years, Mary and her family moved once more to Lancaster, the new frontier settlement, consisting of 50 families and 6 garrisons. It was in Lancaster that she married ordained Puritan minister, Reverend Joseph Rowlandson (1631-1678), in 1656. It was there the couple enjoyed sizeable landholdings, and bore 4 children (Mary, Joseph, Mary, Sarah) between 1658 and 1669.[1]

CaptivityEdit

Rowlandson’s life was abruptly interrupted at dawn on the 10th of February, 1676, when Lancaster came under attack by Narragansett, Wampanoag, and Nashaway/Nipmuc Native Americans, led by Monoco. The attack and burning of Lancaster saw 17 people killed and 24 taken captive – including Rowlandson and her 4 young children. After a week of captivity, Rowlandson lost her 6-year old daughter Sarah, after she succumbed to wounds sustained in the attack and captivity.[2]

During the 11 weeks of captivity, Rowlandson and her 3 remaining children were treated poorly as prisoners, being forced to accompany their captors through the wilderness as far to the west as the Connecticut River and north into modern day New Hampshire, carrying out more raids and eluding the English militia[3].

The details of their times as captives are recounted in Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, where she describes how she acclimated to her new life and her captors’ traditional diet. Rowlandson further recounts on how her skills in sewing and knitting garnered her lesser severity in treatment than other captives, and saw Rowlandson meeting “King Phillip” – the Wampanoag Chief, Metacom. However, it was the Bible and her religious zeal that was her true saviour throughout her ordeal[4].

Rowlandson’s captivity ended on May 2, 1676 when she was ransomed for £20. Funds for Rowlandson’s ransom was raised by the local women of Boston, Massachusetts, in the form of a public subscription, and were paid by John Hoar of Concord at Redemption Rock in Princeton, Massachusetts. Rowlandson’s two surviving children were returned to their family sometime later[5].

Life After CaptivityEdit

Due to Lancaster’s destruction in the attack, Mary and her family moved to Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1677, where Joseph Rowlandson became the town’s Pastor. Joseph Rowlandson died in November 1678, upon which Mary was granted a pension of £30 a year by Church officials.[6]

After her husbands death, Mary Rowlandson moved the family to Boston, Massachusetts, where she met and married Captain Samuel Talcott in 1679, taking his surname. It is here Mary is thought to have written her captivity narrative, reflecting upon her experiences, however the original manuscript does not remain. Rowlandson’s narrative was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in London, England, in 1682, were it became wildly popular amongst Puritan society.[7]

DeathEdit

It was originally believed Mary died before her work was published, but is now known that she died on January 5, 1711, at the age of approximately 73, outliving Talcott by almost 20 years.

The Sovereignty and Goodness of GodEdit

Rowlandson’s account was printed 4 times in 1682, with the second and third being published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the fourth in London. It was the second edition published posthumously in 1720, that displayed the title The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.

The Importance of Rowlandson's WorkEdit

Rowlandson’s vividly written narrative was amongst the most prevalent 17th Century style works and shaped the conventions of the captivity narrative genre and colonial literature, genre’s that influenced the development of novel and autobiographical writings in America. Rowlandson’s work has over 30 editions throughout the years and has been included in many anthologies of American literature[8].

Rowlandson’s work is considered pivotal as it was the first publication written by a living woman, and the second work by any woman in North America.  

The work is also invaluable as the narrative details the intercultural contact at the height of Puritan influence in New England, along with providing a minute snapshot of early modernity, laying witness to religious, social, and gender norms[9].

ReputationEdit

Rowlandson’s publication and fame that established her a formative figure of 17th century and modern-day literature, are considerable due to the nature of her writing and historical gender norms. The preface of Rowlandson’s narrative is signed Per Amicum, as justification for Rowlandson’s “writerly transgressions” of Puritan gender norms, asserting it as essential, labelling it a testimony to “the sovereignty and goodness of God” and the “faithfulness of His promises”[10]. New England society was not opposed to banishing women for opposing Puritan views, or for challenging the patriarchal orthodoxy[11].

ReferencingEdit

  • Annenberg Learner (2000), American Passages: A Literary Survey, Utopian Promise, Mary Rowlandson (c.1636-1711), Annenberg Foundation, https://www.learner.org/series/american-passages-a-literary-survey/utopian-promise/mary-rowlandson-c-1636-1711/
  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Mary Rowlandson". Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Jun. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mary-Rowlandson.
  • Derounian-Stodola, Kathryn Zabelle; Levernier, James Arthur (1993), The Indian Captivity Narrative, 1550-1900, New York: Twayne Publishers, ISBN 0-8057-7533-1
  • Neubauer, Paul (January 2001), "Indian Captivity in American Children's Literature: A Pre-Civil War Set of Stereotypes", The Lion and the Unicorn, 25 (1): 70–80, doi:10.1353/uni.2001.0009, S2CID 145274016
  • Rowlandson, Mary (1997), Salisbury, Neal (ed.), The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, ISBN 0-312-11151-7
  • Waldrup, Carole Chandler (1999), Colonial Women: 23 Europeans Who Helped Build a Nation, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, ISBN 0-7864-0664-X
  • Wilson, Robert (2021), Open Anthology on American Literature: Mary Rowlandson (c.1637-1711), Press Rebus Community, https://press.rebus.community/openamlit/chapter/mary-rowlandson/

Further ReadingEdit

  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Puritanism". Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 May. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Puritanism.
  • "Captivity Narratives ." American History Through Literature 1820-1870. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Apr. 2021 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.
  • Johnson, Kendall (February 25, 2016), Captivity Narratives, Oxford Bibliographies, DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199827251-0115, https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199827251/obo-9780199827251-0115.xml
  • Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Mary White Rowlandson." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, https://www.thoughtco.com/mary-white-rowlandson-3529397
  • MacNeil D.M. (2009) Mary Rowlandson, Puritan Hero. In: The Emergence of the American Frontier Hero 1682–1826. American Literature Readings in the 21st Century. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230103993_3
  • "Mary Rowlandson." Oxford Reference. . . Date of access 30 Apr. 2021, <https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100431130>
  • “The Puritans”(July 30, 2019). History. A&E Television Networks. https://www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/puritanism
  1. Waldrup, Carole Chandler (1999), Colonial Women: 23 Europeans Who Helped Build a Nation, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, ISBN 0-7864-0664-X
  2. Derounian-Stodola, Kathryn Zabelle; Levernier, James Arthur (1993), The Indian Captivity Narrative, 1550-1900, New York: Twayne Publishers, ISBN 0-8057-7533-1
  3. Rowlandson, Mary (1997), Salisbury, Neal (ed.), The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, ISBN 0-312-11151-7
  4. Rowlandson, Mary (1997), Salisbury, Neal (ed.), The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, ISBN 0-312-11151-7
  5. Annenberg Learner (2000), American Passages: A Literary Survey, Utopian Promise, Mary Rowlandson (c.1636-1711), Annenberg Foundation, https://www.learner.org/series/american-passages-a-literary-survey/utopian-promise/mary-rowlandson-c-1636-1711/
  6. Annenberg Learner (2000), American Passages: A Literary Survey, Utopian Promise, Mary Rowlandson (c.1636-1711), Annenberg Foundation, https://www.learner.org/series/american-passages-a-literary-survey/utopian-promise/mary-rowlandson-c-1636-1711/
  7. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Mary Rowlandson". Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Jun. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mary-Rowlandson.
  8. Wilson, Robert (2021), Open Anthology on American Literature: Mary Rowlandson (c.1637-1711), Press Rebus Community, https://press.rebus.community/openamlit/chapter/mary-rowlandson/
  9. Wilson, Robert (2021), Open Anthology on American Literature: Mary Rowlandson (c.1637-1711), Press Rebus Community, https://press.rebus.community/openamlit/chapter/mary-rowlandson/
  10. "Mary Rowlandson." Oxford Reference. . . Date of access 30 Apr. 2021, <https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100431130>
  11. Wilson, Robert (2021), Open Anthology on American Literature: Mary Rowlandson (c.1637-1711), Press Rebus Community, https://press.rebus.community/openamlit/chapter/mary-rowlandson/