MARY ROWLANDSON - CAPTIVE IN 1675/76
THE OLD TRAIL TO KING PHILIP'S FORT AT SQUAKEAG-
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Thursday, February 10, 1675/76 -- A state of alertness
prevailed in the town of Lancaster, Massachusetts. Its 50
families were always ready to crowd into the 5 or 6 garrison
houses in case of an Amerindian attack. The continual war
between King Philip's forces and colonial troops made everyone
aware of imminent danger. Joseph Rowlandson, minister to the
small frontier town, was in Boston appealing, once again, to the
colonial government for protection. His appeal fell on deaf
ears; the danger from attack was rated as minor.
Amerindians who had been driven from their territory by colonial
troops were in desperate need of supplies. Lancaster would have
all that was needed and, being undermanned, would not be able to
resist the attack effectively. Thus while Reverend Rowlandson
appealed for aid, warriors attacked his home and family.
Sunrise: Thirty-seven people were housed in the Rowlandson
garrison house. Abruptly gun shots were heard, three other
houses were under attack. It was not long before the warriors
turned to the Rowlandson's house. Amid a flurry of bullets,
three men were killed. Suddenly the smell of smoke permeated the
inside of the house; the attackers had succeeded in setting fire
As the inhabitants came out, the warriors attacked them. Mrs.
"Then I took Children (and one of my sisters, hers) to go
forth and leave the house: but as soon as we came to the dore and
appeared, the Indians shot so thick that the bulletts rattled
against the House, as if one had taken an handfull of stones and
threw them, so that we were fain to give back." (p. 119, A
Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary
Finally Mary Rowlandson was forced to leave the burning house.
Immediately she saw her brother-in-law fall, dead from wounds;
her nephew, whose leg was broken, killed, and her sister shot.
All around her was carnage. She was shot through her side and
the child she carried in her arms was struck by the same bullet.
There were 13 killed and 24 taken captive. According to Mary
"I had often before this said, that if the Indians should
come, I should chuse rather to be killed by them then taken alive
but when it came to the tryal my mind changed; their glittering
weapons so daunted my spirit, that I chose rather to go along ...
then that moment to end my days ... ." (p. 121)
So began Mary Rowlandson's journey as a servant with her captors,
a journey that would take her westward to the Connecticut River
and northward into Vermont and New Hampshire and would last for
almost three months.
Wounded in her side and carrying a wounded child, Mrs. Rowlandson
began her arduous trek. For the first three days, there was
nothing to eat, no roof over her head. At times a warrior
carried the child; later she and the child were put up on a horse
but she fell off because she couldn't ride bareback. Finally she
and her feverish child were put up behind a warrior. On the
fourth day, she met Robbert Pepper, a man captured during the
ambush at Beers Plain in Northfield the previous September. He
suggested she place oak leaves on her wounded side, a practice
that had cured his own leg wound earlier. On February 18, Mary's
child died in her arms and was buried on a hillside by the
Amerindians. Her other daughter now belonged to another warrior
and she soon found out her son was in a nearby encampment. It
seems that although she was a captive, the Amerindians did not
prevent her seeing her children and gave her a Bible to read.
At the end of February, Mary Rowlandson and her master and
mistress left the main body of warriors behind. She would not
see her daughter again until she was ransomed. In March the
small warrior band traveled on to the Miller's River in Orange,
Massachusetts, followed closely by a troop of English. Again,
according to the Rowlandson account,
"... then they made a stop, and chose some of their stoutest
men, and sent them back to hold the English Army in play whilst
the rest escaped: And then, like Jehu, they marched on furiously,
with their old, and with their young: some carried their old
decrepit mothers, some carried one, and some another." (p. 130)
When the group reached the Miller's River (Baquaug), everyone
fell to cutting dry trees to make rafts to cross the river. Mrs.
Rowlandson rejoiced that she was able to cross without getting
even a foot wet on that very cold day.
When Mary Rowlandson was first captured she felt she simply could
not eat Amerindian food,
"The first week of my being among them, I hardly ate
anything; the second week, I found my stomach grow very faint for
want of something; and yet it was very hard to get down their
filthy trash: but the third week, though I could think how
formerly my stomach would turn against this or that, and I could
starve and dy before I could eat such things, yet they were sweet
and savoury to my taste." (pp. 130-131)
What kind of food was available to Mrs. Rowlandson?
"The chief and commonest food was Ground-nuts : They eat also
Nuts and Acorns, Harty-choaks, Lilly roots, Ground-beans, and
several other weeks and roots, that I know not.
They would pick up old bones, and cut them to pieces at the
joynts, and if they were full of wormes and magots, they would
scald them over the fire to make the vermine come out, and then
boile them, and drink up the Liquor, and then beat the great ends
of them in a Morter, and so eat them. They would eat Horses
guts, and ears, and all sorts of wild Birds which they could
catch: also Bear, Vennison, Beaver, Tortois, Frogs, Squirrels,
Dogs, Skunks, Rattle-snakes; yea, the very Bark of Trees; besides
all sorts of creatures, and provision which they plundered from
the English." (pp. 159-160)
At this point, Mary Rowlandson was part of a very large
Amerindian encampment at Squakeag (Northfield, Massachusetts).
LOOKING TOWARD KING PHILIP'S FORT AT SQUAKEAG ON THE
While the group remained there, Mrs. Rowlandson's son Joseph came
on a short visit. During her stay in this area, she was taken to
meet King Philip. When he offered her a pipe of tobacco to
smoke, she refused. She relates that
"... though I had formerly used Tobacco, yet I had left it
ever since I was first taken. It seems to be a Bait, the Devil
layes to make men loose their previous time: I remember with
shame, how formerly, when I had taken two or three pipes, I was
presently ready for another, such a bewitching thing it is. But
I thank God, he has now given me power over it; surely there are
many who may be better imployed than to ly sucking a stinking
Tobacco-pipe." (p. 134)
Mrs. Rowlandson made clothes and sold them to the members of the
tribe. King Philip paid her a shilling to make a shirt for his
boy. Although she offered her payment to her master, he told her
to keep the money. She received payment in various forms: a
knife or broth thickened with the bark of a tree for instance.
From Squakeag, the tribe moved up into New Hampshire, near the
Ashuelot valley and then up to Chesterfield. Mrs. Rowlandson
never knew exactly how she would be treated by the Amerindians.
Although there were many acts of kindness, there also were many
incidences of unkindness. During this period of her captivity,
Mary saw her son several times, but then he was sold to a new
master so she didn't see him again until he was finally ransomed
Finally, when Mrs. Rowlandson thought she would never be taken
eastward again, the tribe began to retrace its route to the
Miller's River, to Petersham and, finally, to Mount Wachusett.
Here negotiations for her ransom began toward the end of April.
On May 2, 1676, Mary Rowlandson was exchanged at Redemption Rock
Photograph courtesy of Michael A. Chouinard
for a ransom of
twenty English pounds.
Photograph courtesy of Michael A. Chouinard
When she returned to Lancaster, there was
not one European to be seen or one house left standing.
THE TREE MARKS THE SITE OF THE ROWLANDSON HOUSE IN 1676
Mary Rowlandson published her experiences with the Amerindians in
1682. Her memoir commanded intense interest in Great Britain as
well as in the colonies for its portrayal of the daily danger of
life in the colonies.
Reference for Mary Rowlandson's account of her captivity:
Lincoln, Charles H. 1913. Narratives of the Indian Wars.
Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York, reprinted 1966.
A new edition of Mrs. Rowlandson's narrative of her captivity has been recently published under the title,
THE NARRATIVE OF THE CAPTIVITY AND RESTORATION OF MRS. MARY
ROWLANDSON by Mrs. Mary
Rowlandson, 0939218208. It is available for $9.95 plus $1.50 postage from Chapman Billies, Inc., P.O. Box 819,
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