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Classic American Autobiographies

Classic American Autobiographies

by William L. Andrews (Editor)

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This classic collection of American autobiographies brings together five frequently-taught texts that offer the widest variety of the American experience: A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson; The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Four Autobiographical Narratives by Gertrude Bonnin; and


This classic collection of American autobiographies brings together five frequently-taught texts that offer the widest variety of the American experience: A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson; The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Four Autobiographical Narratives by Gertrude Bonnin; and Mark Twain's Old Times on the Mississippi.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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4.44(w) x 6.82(h) x 0.81(d)
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Autobiography occupies “an astonishingly large proportion of the slender shelf of so-called American classics,” according to James M. Cox, one of the genre’s most astute critics. Cox suggests that this predominance has something to do with the fact that autobiography emerged as a literary form about the same time the United States came into being as a new nation. In a sense, we might say, autobiography and America were made for each other. The revolutions in the United States and shortly thereafter in France demanded a radically new form of self-expression. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (written between 1764 and 1770 and published posthumously from 1781 to 1788) epitomized this new form in France, while Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (which its author left incomplete in 1789, a year before his death) came to represent a similar new departure in the eyes of Americans.

What made these books unprecedented, however, was not the fact that they had an autobiographical agenda. The literature of selfhood, what we have come to term “life writing,” had had a long and notable history before Rousseau and Franklin made their contributions to it. In the West, autobiography in the most general sense of the word is usually traced back to St. Augustine, who wrote his Confessions of sin and salvation between A.D. 397 and 401. It is not by accident that Rousseau’s autobiography bears the same title as Augustine’s. For all his individuality, Rousseau wanted his story to be recognized and valued as part of a distinguished tradition. Though some, he admitted, would see him as breaking with that tradition, Rousseau was convinced that he was actually fulfilling its most fundamental demand for an unsparing examination of self.

Yet to speak of a tradition of autobiography in the time of Rousseau and Franklin is a little misleading, since the term was not known during either man’s life. It was not until 1809 that this amalgam of three Greek words meaning “self-life-writing” came into currency, having been coined apparently by the British poet Robert Southey in a review of Portuguese literature. Neither Rousseau nor Franklin thought of himself as writing autobiography as we understand it today. Franklin’s life story is known as his Autobiography because of the decision of editors who, well after Franklin’s death, preferred the more modern term to the more old-fashioned “memoir,” the word Franklin himself used to refer to his book. Rousseau and Franklin were traditional enough to affiliate themselves with two of the most established genres of life writing in Western literature: the confession—an inner-directed, soul-searching mode of self-examination—and the memoir—an externally focused history and justification of a public life. What was revolutionary about Rousseau’s Confessions and Franklin’s self-styled “Memoirs” was not the form in which each author addressed his world, but the ways in which each author reshaped and expanded his chosen form to create models of expression that forecast a new form: American autobiography.

From Augustine to Rousseau, the purpose of writing a confession was to take stock of oneself, morally and spiritually, so as to consider seriously the state of one’s relationship to God. In revealing one’s sins one broke down barriers between sinner and God and thus opened the door to divine redemption. Like Augustine, Rousseau was determined to confess as fully as possible his moral transgressions— and there were many of them—but unlike anyone in Christian confessional literature before him, Rousseau claimed special credit from his readers for baring his soul so completely, so honestly, so shamelessly. Instead of thanking God for leading him to confession, as Augustine did, Rousseau denounced society for forcing him to choose between his natural sense of right and the rules of conventional behavior. While admitting that at times he had violated the laws of God and the social order, Rousseau insisted that he should not be condemned by those more culpable than he, namely, those who had capitulated to society’s corrupt standards, against which he had struggled, in his view, so heroically. Anyone who would judge him, therefore, was probably hiding behind a mask of suspect respectability and was too false or too fearful to be as open and honest as Rousseau claimed he had proven himself to be. Through this line of argument Rousseau turned the confession of a socially alienated man into an act of self-justification for his own nonconformist individuality. In the end society, not the self, is weighed in the balance and found wanting in this immensely influential model for American autobiography.

What Franklin called his “Memoirs” also provided a precedent for American autobiography by presenting the life of a nobody who became a somebody, a provincial outsider who became a cosmopolitan insider, a poor boy who made good and then tried to advise others on how to do the same. Writing a memoir, an account of his rise to success and public leadership, was for Franklin a way of promulgating a view of the individual that stressed humanity’s potential to do good rather than its propensity to succumb to evil. Franklin did not look to divine redemption to set men free to do right, as Augustine did, nor did he hold with Rousseau that the individual’s innermost feelings and intuition would serve as his or her most reliable guide to the good. Instead, the pragmatic American placed his trust in common sense enhanced by a reasoned, systematic appraisal of what lay in the best interests of the individual and the social order together.

Like his Puritan New England ancestors Franklin believed that God’s will was for everyone to have a calling, a vocation, through which each person would seek not only to fulfill the self but also to benefit the community. Unlike Rousseau, Franklin wrote his autobiography to show how the needs and desires of self and society could be balanced and reconciled so that true progress for all could be effected. Franklin made his life illustrate how a respect for social norms helped him curb the excesses of unrestrained self-regard. At the same time the autobiography bears witness to Franklin’s conviction that individual leadership could provide the dynamism needed by the social order to enable it to improve. Thus Franklin’s example, though sometimes linked to such rampant individualists as Jay Gatsby, the gaudy hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, has little to do with the glorification of crass, single-minded self-seeking. Franklin’s story of how a colonial handyman remade himself into an American everyman is told with such mixed self-satisfaction and ironic self-deprecation that most readers are left wondering just how seriously to take Franklin as the archetypal American apostle of success.

Franklin’s retailing of his public successes along with his homely advice on how to make it in the world are not what is most original in the Autobiography. What is fundamentally new is that nowhere in his story does Franklin imply that the act of remaking oneself, the perpetual reinvention of one’s role and image in the social order, is in any way revolutionary or even abnormal—certainly not for an American. The real American, the true student of schoolmaster Ben, remakes himself not in spite of, or in opposition to, what America is but because he is an American. America is the land of inventors, and the greatest of Americans is the self-inventor—and the self-reinventor.

The most famous expressions of American autobiography in the nineteenth century—such works as the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), Mary Chesnut’s blend of Civil War novel and diary, composed in the early 1880s but published a century later as Mary Chesnut’s Civil War (1981), and The Education of Henry Adams (1907)—grew out of a hybridization of confession and memoir, self-revelation and self-celebration. Before the advent of autobiography in the United States, confession and memoir were seen as contrasting, even diametrically opposed, modes of life writing. The impulse to strip the psyche bare and to ask ultimate questions of the self led in one direction. The desire to represent the self in full dress, socially and historically, and to ask of it an accounting of its contribution to the making of the world steered a life history on quite a different course. Yet in the colonies and later the states of North America, the evolving ideology of democracy demanded that the self be regarded as both unique and typical, both the capital of its own spiritual sphere and the cohort of everyone else in the sociopolitical realm. Thus when Americans wrote autobiography they felt the need to explain and justify the self in accordance with inner and external identifications that were by no means easily reconciled. When the American who attempted autobiography was someone other than the white male, in whose interests the ideology of democracy had been designed, the problems of self-representation only intensified as questions arose about the legitimacy of one’s claim to selfhood and the willingness of the social order to claim one as a member.

These conflicting attitudes toward self and society that emerge in the confession and the memoir inform the classics of American autobiography. Those marginalized by race and sex seem to rely more on internal standards of self-evaluation and to picture themselves as pitted against hostile forces intent on robbing them of their carefully nurtured sense of inner worth. The African-American Frederick Douglass and the American Indian Zitkala-Sa, for instance, cast themselves in a Rousseauesque mold, demonstrating strong affinities with the idea that true individuality is forged in an inevitable struggle with the conformism and oppressiveness of a corrupt society. Douglass predicates the “resurrection” of his self-respect and his “manhood” on his hand-to-hand battle with a southern slave-breaker, the symbol of all that was tyrannical in the antebellum American social order. In her autobiographical essay, “Why I Am a Pagan” (1902), Zitkala-Sa takes a bold stand in publicly resisting the orthodox religion of most white Americans and even her own mother, a converted Sioux. Zitkala-Sa pities the Christianized Indians because they have lost their God, their sense of oneness with Nature, and in a cultural sense, themselves, in the process of accepting the white spiritual norm. What links Douglass and Zitkala-Sa to the confessional tradition is not an apologetic view of self but rather a sense of spiritual obligation to chart the self’s quest for fulfillment in accordance with its God-given mission—to resist white America’s denial of colored America’s identity.

As a seventeenth-century Puritan minister’s wife, Mary Rowlandson believed that God had brought about her captivity by Narragansett Indians in order to test her faith and her moral fortitude. In her True History (1682), Rowland-son confesses her own waverings and weakness of will, but her story concludes with an affirmation of God’s redemptive power. Her experience in the wilderness teaches her to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord,” a message that she proclaims to her reader as a spokesperson for God. Rowlandson’s sufferings at the hands of the “heathen” give her special authority to tell her story and to call attention to herself as one of the favored of God. Yet the ultimate hero of Rowlandson’s story is God, who not only delivers her but enables her to read her individual experience as a verification of the principles that held the Puritan social order together. Rowlandson’s focus on her individual spiritual quest under the strain of alienation and captivity by the Other links her with the likes of Douglass and, ironically, Zitkala-Sa. But the dovetailing of that spiritual quest with the myths and ideals of the society Rowlandson longed to rejoin after her captivity anticipates the uses to which Franklin would put his autobiography.

Mark Twain’s Old Times on the Mississippi (1875) shows more obvious affinities with the Franklinesque tradition. The former “cub,” or apprentice pilot, who reminisces about the antebellum heyday of steamboating, recalls his training in the art and science of riverboat piloting partly to celebrate a lost era in American history and partly to show how Sam Clemens became Mark Twain. To graduate from the provincial backwater of his boyhood and be accepted into the grand fraternity of Mississippi riverboat pilots was, for Mark Twain, a metaphoric expression of the American drive for success. Like young Ben Franklin, the unlikely hero of Old Times must undergo an initiation that prepares him for a world in which the prize goes to the quick-witted and the adaptable, not the stolid follower of conventional wisdom. Divested of the comforting dependencies of the landsman, the newly made riverman gains a new self-confidence, which enables him to supplant the pilot who taught him, and a new realism, which shows him how to navigate the ever-shifting currents of American life for himself. Thus like Franklin’s account of his own youthful development, Mark Twain’s initiation story becomes a living lesson in pragmatic American values, a guide for a society that renews and defines itself primarily by rejecting its guides.

Placing the classic American autobiographies, whether by a Douglass, a Mark Twain, or a Zitkala-Sa, under a single rubric, either the confession or the memoir, can be a bit risky, however. What reader of Douglass’s Narrative would deny that in some important ways this former slave’s autobiography incorporates a pattern of successes reminiscent of Franklin’s, particularly in the rise of the once-marginalized African-American to economic independence and public prominence? Certainly Douglass intended to offer his rebellion against slavery as a testimonial, an unconquerable selfhood arrayed against the inhumanity of the southern social order. Yet as the fugitive slave proudly recalls his resistance to exploitation in the South, he lays a claim to acceptance and integration in the socioeconomic order of the North, where presumably every self-respecting individual is recognized and rewarded regardless of skin color. Perhaps Douglass was a Rousseauesque autobiographer to his southern enemies and a Franklinesque one in the eyes of his northern supporters. Yet one might wonder: though Douglass had “that aversion to arbitrary power” that Franklin claims stuck with him throughout his adult life, would Franklin have counseled the outspoken black man to decry in such extreme ways the failures of his America to live up to the ideals that Franklin helped draft into the language of the Declaration of Independence?

Similar questions about the dual allegiances of American autobiography arise when thinking about Old Times on the Mississippi. How much does Mark Twain’s image of the imperious riverboat pilot have in common with Franklin’s idea of the democratic hero dedicated to the betterment of his fellows? It would seem that the pilot’s aristocratic disdain for the thinking and expression of ordinary landsmen affiliates him with a tradition of lordly individualism that Franklin would never have endorsed because it was inimical to the formation of a new egalitarian society. Yet the United States in its infancy was much different from the country that had gone through the trauma of a civil war. In the aftermath of that war, with the pieties of antebellum America open to challenge, Mark Twain’s vision of the pilot, “the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth,” may have been less an exercise in nostalgia than a prediction of what was to come in the rough-and-tumble world of the Gilded Age. The conclusion is inescapable in Old Times that the pilot is (or at least makes every effort to be) a law unto himself; he desires power and status and will do what is necessary to ensure his possession of both. What the cub—and Mark Twain—are most fascinated by and long to emulate is the pilot’s authority, the power he wields through the art of his words. Though Franklin also argued the fundamental importance of effective writing and speaking to the man who wishes to get things done, by the time of Mark Twain there seems very little for the artist in language to do other than live by his code and make sure that no one infringes on his territory. The initiation of the pilot thus becomes the story of the making of an artist as well, an artist whose loyalty is much greater to his mystique and his craft than to the society that views him from such an awed distance.

The autobiographical essays of Zitkala-Sa (published in the Atlantic Monthly from 1900 to 1902) also deserve consideration as an example of the cross-breeding of confession and memoir in classic American autobiographical expression. Clearly the Sioux writer assumed the posture of the alienated, embittered critic of a racist social order whose imposition of “civilization” amounts to the destruction of the integrity of traditional Indian culture. Yet the moment Zitkala-Sa chose to write about herself in English, she could not help but identify herself to some extent as an assimilated Indian. Part of the confessional aspect of her story is her acknowledgment of her pursuit and attainment of some of the most treasured symbols of success imaginable to her white fellow-students in college. On the one hand, she chose to publish her autobiography in the Atlantic, synonymous with literary respectability among turn-of-the-century white Americans. On the other hand, she used her forum in the Atlantic to inveigh against the very culture that gave her the means to satisfy what she recalled as her youthful “ambition for Letters.” Thus the means of thinking about and writing autobiography became for the mature Zitkala-Sa both a blessing and a curse. When she returned to her Sioux mother dwelling on the prairie, she found little solace and even less direction in how to live as a culturally displaced and socially marginalized person in the twentieth century.

Had the Sioux writer been able to interpret her enticed captivity by white missionaries as a message from God to her people, as Mary Rowlandson understood her captivity by Indians in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, then Zitkala-Sa might have found a way to view her experience as meaningful to her peers and revelatory of some larger divine plan. But even though Mary Rowlandson’s narrative won a large readership partly because she could transform her tale of individual suffering into a parable of the redemption of Puritan society, a careful reading of her True History betrays lingering uncertainties about what she had become after her long sojourn with the Other, the Indians. Rowlandson knew she had a society to return to, unlike Zitkala-Sa, whose captivity forecast the ultimate dispersal and demoralization of her family and her people. But like Zitkala-Sa, Rowlandson could not return to Puritan society the same person who left it. Despite her attempt to make her story conform to the official ideology of her God-fearing, Indian-hating society, Rowlandson could not help but show how her time among the Narragansetts had not only taught her spiritual lessons but had required her to re-create herself in response to a new reality. Here again Rowlandson prefigures the story Zitkala-Sa told of initiation into a new world, the result of which was both loss and discovery, distortion and insight, alienation and empowerment.

This complex, ambivalent response to initiation into a new self-consciousness is what underlies all the narratives collected in this text. The distinguishing features of this new consciousness cannot be easily generalized except by using the term American, though to invoke this national designation brings with it as many disadvantages as advantages. Certainly one cannot call the autobiographical writings of Rowlandson, Franklin, Douglass, Mark Twain, and Zitkala-Sa American in any normative sense, as though beneath all their differences they share some fundamental set of beliefs that bond them as typical or representative of true Americans. Yet perhaps one may still call these works classic American autobiographies in the sense that each tells a story fundamental to the ongoing myth of America, the story of the making of an American. Obviously the variety of these five writers’ initiation experiences and their diversity of outcome point up the multiple routes and resolutions of the process of making Americans in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, in some important respects these five narratives agree that America, however historically rendered or mythologically evoked, has been the self’s great arena, offering both unprecedented room for its expression and unimagined contingencies for its extinction. The themes of the making and the unmaking of Americans play off against each other in these narratives, and it is not always easy to say whether to be made or unmade is the more desirable condition.

“You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man,” wrote Frederick Douglass at the climax of one of the most dramatic and memorable accounts we have of the making of an American hero. In Douglass’s Narrative, the fight with Covey instances a sudden and thoroughgoing transformation: “However long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” In Old Times on the Mississippi Mark Twain describes a similar kind of sea-change in his outlook on life after developing a pilot’s perspective on life on the river. “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book—a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve.” With this wonderful insight and knowledge, the pilot becomes “entirely free,” self-liberated from the blinders and fetters that “master” everyone else. These representations of the making of Americans suggest how much influence a secularized form of the Protestant idea of conversion has had on American autobiography. From eighteenth-century religious tracts to today’s weight-loss advertisements, the familiar “before-and-after” representation of the self triumphant over its past promises Americans that they can be transformed profoundly and permanently by an act of will. No doubt Twain and Franklin and, in his own way, Douglass gave their America reason to believe in the national ideal of the new Adam regenerated by a new land and with an irresistible destiny to remake the world, politically as well as spiritually, in his own image.

In the narratives of Mary Rowlandson and Zitkala-Sa, however, the idea of the American as a “made man,” who has undergone a liberating self-discovery and goes forth to ring greater changes on the world around him, receives, we might say, its unmaking. As the European version of the American Eve, Rowlandson experiences a profound unsettling of identity in her encounter with the Other, and one cannot see at the end of her narrative just how the person she has become will meld finally with the community from which she was separated. Though she assures herself that she has been saved and restored, she cannot help but acknowledge that “I can remember the time, when I used to sleep quietly without workings in my thoughts, whole nights together; but now it is otherwise with me.” Rowlandson’s sojourn in the wilderness brought her to frontiers of consciousness that she was not fully prepared to understand, let alone explain to her reader. “Oh the wonderful power of God that mine eyes have seen,” Rowlandson maintains, but what are the emotions that kept her sleeplessly weeping at night when everyone else in her house was peacefully asleep? If this hint of unexpressed, and perhaps unexpressable, anxiety is the sign of this former Englishwoman’s Americanization, then the popular male formulations of the making of Americans must be reconsidered to take it into account.

As a Native American version of the American Eve, tempted by whites with “big, red apples” who lure her to tragic knowledge in their eastern schools, Zitkala-Sa also tells a story of Americanization for which there seem to have been few if any models. In several important respects the Sioux writer is both converted and unconverted by her long encounter with white culture. “Like a slender tree, I had been uprooted from my mother, nature, and God,” she states, yet somehow she preserved within her a “dream of vent for a long-pent consciousness.” Does that consciousness eventually find release through autobiographical expression? Zitkala-Sa assures her reader that after a long period of struggle and frustration she has embarked upon “a new way of solving the problem of my inner self.” Yet she does not state in her Atlantic essays what that solution was or whether she has been able to effect it fully. If the writing of her autobiography was the solution, did she consider the four essays she published in the Atlantic sufficient to her purpose? Or were they just an opening address, a way of introducing herself and her project to a prospective American audience? We have no certain answer to these questions.

Perhaps, however, our lack of clarity on these matters points to the larger significance of Zitkala-Sa’s experiment in autobiography. Her Atlantic essays, loosely knit together into an open-ended narrative that seems deliberately to leave many of its own questions unanswered, describe an American still in the making. From total identification with her Native American mother, Zitkala-Sa was remade, albeit reluctantly, into an exemplar of successful Indian assimilation into the white world. But her essays describe a mature woman emerging from the other end of this process of Americanization and seeking an alternative to it. She knows she cannot fully return to the people of her childhood, for they themselves have undergone a degree of Americanization in her absence, a process that, ironically, accentuates her sense of alienation and loss. Yet in explaining why she has become a “pagan,” an unbeliever, despite the religious indoctrination she received from whites and the pressure from her own people to conform to their recently adopted Christian faith, Zitkala-Sa represents herself as upholding an unchanging standard in the face of seemingly inevitable change. In order to be true to her Native American heritage, she must resist the changes demanded by the Euro-American ideology of uniformity. She must insist on her right to re-form herself in accordance with intuitive spiritual promptings, not external societal directives. Her deliberately incomplete record of her lonely efforts to reclaim and re-form herself forecasts the challenge that would face twentieth-century Americans who define themselves in opposition to their country’s accelerating demand for the finished article, the made man, the “well-adjusted individual.” Having been taught the bitter lessons of Americanization that few autobiographers before her had to reckon with, Zitkala-Sa tried to suggest a path beyond the dead end of being “made in [and by] America.” Her story speaks eloquently to the first priority of American autobiography—to show not just the making of an American but the necessity of making up for oneself what “American” must mean.



Author of the first and most famous Indian captivity narrative in Anglo-American letters, Mary Rowlandson was born in Somerset, England, to Joan and John White, who were among the first settlers of the town of Lancaster in the Massachusetts Bay colony. Raised in New England, Mary White married Joseph Rowlandson, the Harvard-educated minister of the town, in 1656. For the next twenty years she attended to her duties as a mother of three and a minister’s wife. In 1675, war broke out between the confederated colonies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Plymouth, and Connecticut and the Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Nipmuck Indians. On February 10, 1676, Mary Rowlandson and her children were taken captive by a band of Narragansetts during a raid on Lancaster. Separated from her two older children almost immediately, Rowlandson lived and traveled with the Narragansetts for eleven weeks and five days before being released to colonial authorities. A year after her husband’s death in 1677 Rowlandson married a leader of the Connecticut colony. She died in 1711.

A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was first published in 1682. The present text follows Amy Schrager Lang’s edition of the True History in William L. Andrews, et al., eds. Journeys in New Worlds: Early American Women’s Narratives (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).

A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of
Mrs. Mary Rowlandson,

A Minister’s Wife in New-England:
Wherein is set forth, The Cruel and
Inhumane Usage she underwent amongst the Heathens for Eleven Weeks time: And her Deliverance from them. Written by her own Hand, for her Private Use: and now made Public at the earnest Desire of some
Friends, for the Benefit of the Afflicted.

Printed first at New-England: And Re-printed at London; and sold by Joseph Poole, at the Blue Bowl in the Long-Walk, by Christ’s-Church Hospital. 1682.


It was on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 1675, in the afternoon, when the Narrhagansets’ Quarters (in or toward the Nipmug Country, whither they were now retired for fear of the English Army, lying in their own Country) were the second time beaten up by the Forces of the United Colonies, who thereupon soon betook themselves to flight, and were all the next day pursued by the English, some overtaken and destroyed. But on Thursday, Feb. 3, the English, having now been six days’ on their March from their Headquarters in Wickford, in the Narrhaganset Country, toward and after the enemy, and Provision grown exceeding short; insomuch that they were fain to kill some Horses for the supply, especially of their Indian Friends, they were necessitated to consider what was best to be done; and about noon (having hitherto followed the Chase as hard as they might) a Council was called, and though some few were of another mind, yet it was concluded, by far the greater part of the Council of War, that the Army should desist the pursuit, and retire; the forces of Plimouth and the Bay to the next town of the Bay, and Connecticut forces to their own next towns, which determination was immediately put in execution: The consequent whereof, as it was not difficult to be foreseen by those that knew the causeless enmity of these Barbarians against the English, and the malicious and revengeful spirit of these Heathen; so it soon proved dismal.

The Narrhagansets were now driven quite from their own Country, and all their Provisions there hoarded up, to which they durst not at present return, and being so numerous as they were, soon devoured those to whom they went, whereby both the one and the other were now reduced to extreme straits, and so necessitated to take the first and best opportunity for supply, and very glad no doubt of such an opportunity as this, to provide for themselves, and make spoile of the English at once; and seeing themselves thus discharged of their pursuers, and a little refreshed after their flight, the very next week, on Thursday, Feb. 10, they fell with a mighty force and fury upon Lancaster: which small Town, remote from aid of others, and not being Garrison’d as it might, the Army being now come in, and as the time indeed required (the design of the Indians against that place being known to the English some time before) was not able to make effectual resistance; but notwithstanding the utmost endeavour of the Inhabitants, most of the buildings were turned into ashes, many People (Men, Women, and Children) slain, and others captivated. The most solemn and remarkable part of this Tragedy may that justly be reputed which fell upon the Family of that Reverend Servant of God, Mr Joseph Rowlandson, the faithful Pastor of the Church of Christ in that place, who, being gone down to the Council of the Massachusets, to seek aid for the defence of the place, at his return found the Town in flames or smoke, his own house being set on fire by the Enemy, through the disadvantage of a defective Fortification, and all in it consumed; his precious yoke-fellow, and dear Children, wounded and captivated (as the issue evidenced, and the following Narrative declares) by these cruel and barbarous Savages. A sad Catastrophe! Thus all things come alike to all: None knows either love or hatred by all that is before him. ’Tis no new thing for God’s precious ones to drink as deep as others, of the Cup of common Calamity: take just Lot (yet captivated) for instance, beside others. But it is not my business to dilate on these things, but only in few words introductively to preface to the following script, which is a Narrative of the wonderfully awful, wise, holy, powerful, and gracious providence of God, toward that worthy and precious Gentlewoman, the dear Consort of the said Reverend Mr Rowlandson, and her Children with her, as in casting of her into such a waterless pit, so in preserving, supporting, and carrying through so many such extream hazards, unspeakable difficulties and disconsolateness, and at last delivering her out of them all, and her surviving Children also. It was a strange and amazing dispensation that the Lord should so afflict his precious Servant, and Hand-maid: It was as strange, if not more, that he should so bear up the spirits of his Servant under such bereavements, and of his Hand-maid under such Captivity, travels, and hardships (much too hard for flesh and blood) as he did, and at length deliver and restore. But he was their Savior, who hath said, When thou passest through the Waters, I will be with thee, and through the Rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the Fire, thou shalt not be burnt, nor shall the flame kindle upon thee, Isai. xliii ver. 3; and again, He woundeth, and his hands make whole; he shall deliver thee in six troubles, yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee: In Famine he shall redeem thee from death; and in War from the power of the sword, Job v. 18, 19, 20. Methinks this dispensation doth bear some resemblance to those of Joseph, David, and Daniel, yea, and of the three children too, the stories whereof do represent us with the excellent textures of divine providence, curious pieces of divine work: And truly so doth this, and therefore not to be forgotten, but worthy to be exhibited to, and viewed and pondered by all, that disdain not to consider the operation of his hands.

The works of the Lord (not only of Creation, but of Providence also, especially those that do more peculiarly concern his dear ones, that are as the apple of his eye, as the signet upon his hand, the delight of his eyes, and the object of his tenderest care) are great, sought out of all those that have pleasure therein; and of these, verily, this is none of the least.

This Narrative was Penned by this Gentlewoman her self, to be to her a Memorandum of God’s dealing with her, that she might never forget, but remember the same, and the several circumstances thereof, all the daies of her life. A pious scope, which deserves both commendation and imitation. Some Friends having obtained a sight of it, could not but be so much affected with the many passages of working providence discovered therein, as to judge it worthy of publick view, and altogether unmeet that such works of God should be hid from present and future Generations; and therefore though this Gentlewoman’s modesty would not thrust it into the Press, yet her gratitude unto God, made her not hardly perswadable to let it pass, that God might have his due glory, and others benefit by it as well as her selfe.

I hope by this time none will cast any reflection upon this Gentlewoman, on the score of this publication of her Affliction and Deliverance. If any should, doubtless they may be reckoned with the nine Lepers, of whom it is said, Were there not ten cleansed? where are the nine? but one returning to give God thanks. Let such further know, that this was a dispensation of publick note and of Universal concernment; and so much the more, by how much the nearer this Gentlewoman stood related to that faithful Servant of God, whose capacity and employment was publick, in the House of God, and his Name on that account of a very sweet savour in the Churches of Christ. Who is there of a true Christian spirit, that did not look upon himself much concerned to this bereavement, this Captivity in the time thereof, and in this deliverance when it came, yea, more than in many others? And how many are there to whom, so concerned, it will doubtless be a very acceptable thing, to see the way of God with this Gentlewoman in the aforesaid dispensation, thus laid out and pourtrayed before their eyes.

To conclude, Whatever any coy phantasies may deem, yet it highly concerns those that have so deeply tasted how good the Lord is, to enquire with David, What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? Psal. cxvi. 12. He thinks nothing too great: yea, being sensible of his own disproportion to the due praises of God, he calls in help: O magnifie the Lord with me, let us exalt his Name together, Psal. xxxiv. 3. And it is but reason that our praises should hold proportion with our prayers; and that as many have helped together by prayer for the obtaining of this mercy, so praises should be returned by many on this behalf; and forasmuch as not the general but particular knowledge of things makes deepest impression upon the affections, this Narrative particularizing the several passages of this providence, will not a little conduce thereunto: and therefore holy David, in order to the attainment of that end, accounts himself concerned to declare what God had done for his Soul, Psal. lxvi. 16. Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what God hath done for my Soul, i.e. for his Life. See ver. 9, 10. He holdeth our soul in life, and suffers not our feet to be moved; for thou our God hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Life-mercies are heart-affecting mercies; of great impression and force, to enlarge pious hearts in the praises of God, so that such know not how but to talk of God’s acts, and to speak of and publish his wonderful works. Deep troubles, when the waters come in unto the Soul, are wont to produce vows: Vows must be paid: It is better not vow, than to vow and not pay. I may say, that as none knows what it is to fight and pursue such an enemy as this, but they that have fought and pursued them: so none can imagine, what it is to be captivated, and enslaved to such Atheistical, proud, wild, cruel, barbarous, brutish, (in one word,) diabolical Creatures as these, the worst of the heathen; nor what difficulties, hardships, hazards, sorrows, anxieties, and perplexities, do unavoidably wait upon such a condition, but those that have tried it. No serious spirit then (especially knowing any thing of this Gentlewoman’s Piety) can imagine but that the vows of God are upon her. Excuse her then if she come thus into the publick, to pay those Vows. Come and hear what she hath to say.

I am confident that no Friend of divine Providence, will ever repent this time and pains spent in reading over these sheets, but will judge them worth perusing again and again.

Here Reader, you may see an instance of the Sovereignty of God, who doth what he will with his own as well as others; and who may say to him, what dost thou? here you may see an instance of the Faith and Patience of the Saints, under the most heart-sinking Tryals; here you may see, the Promises are breasts full of Consolation, when all the World besides is empty, and gives nothing but sorrow. That God is indeed the supream Lord of the World: ruling the most unruly, weakening the most cruel and savage: granting his People mercy in the sight of the most unmerciful: curbing the lusts of the most filthy, holding the hands of the violent, delivering the prey from the mighty, and gathering together the out-casts of Israel. Once and again, you have heard, but here you may see, that power belongeth unto God: that our God is the God of Salvation; and to him belong the issues from Death. That our God is in the Heavens, and doth whatever pleases him. Here you have Samson’s riddle exemplified, and that great promise, Rom. viii. 28, verified: Out of the Eater comes forth meat, and sweetness out of the strong; The worst of evils working together for the best good. How evident is it that the Lord hath made this Gentlewoman a gainer by all this Affliction, that she can say, ’tis good for her, yea better that she hath been, than she should not have been, thus afflicted.

Oh how doth God shine forth in such things as these!

Reader, if thou gettest no good by such a Declaration as this, the fault must needs be thine own. Read, therefore, peruse, ponder, and from hence lay up something from the experience of another, against thine own turn comes: that so thou also through patience and consolation of the Scripture mayest have hope,



On the tenth of February, 1675, came the Indians with great number upon Lancaster. Their first coming was about Sun-rising. Hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several Houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to Heaven. There were five persons taken in one House, the Father and the Mother, and a sucking Child, they knock’d on the head; the other two they took, and carried away alive. There were two others, who, being out of their Garrison upon some occasion, were set upon; one was knock’d on the head, the other escaped. Another there was, who, running along, was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his Life, promising them Money, (as they told me;) but they would not hearken to him, but knock’d him on the head, stripped him naked, and split open his Bowels. Another, seeing many of the Indians about his Barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same Garrison who were killed. The Indians, getting up upon the Roof of the Barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their Fortification. Thus these murtherous Wretches went on, burning and destroying before them.

At length they came and beset our own House, and quickly it was the dolefullest day that ever mine eyes saw. The House stood upon the edge of a Hill; some of the Indians got behind the Hill, others into the Barn, and others behind any thing that would shelter them; from all which Places they shot against the House, so that the Bullets seemed to fly like Hail; and quickly they wounded one Man among us, then another, and then a third. About two Hours (according to my observation in that amazing time) they had been about the House before they could prevail to fire it, (which they did with flax and Hemp, which they brought out of the Barn, and there being no Defence about the House, only two Flankers, at two opposite Corners, and one of them not finished). They fired it once, and one ventured out and quenched it; but they quickly fired it again, and that took. Now is that dreadful Hour come that I have often heard of, (in the time of the War, as it was the Case of others,) but not mine Eyes see it. Some in our House were fighting for their Lives, others wallowing in their Blood; the House on fire over our Heads, and the bloody Heathen ready to knock us on the Head if we stirred out. Now might we hear Mothers and Children crying out for themselves and one another, Lord, what shall we do? Then I took my Children (and one of my Sisters, hers) to go forth and leave the House; but as soon as we came to the Door and appeared, the Indians shot so thick that the Bullets rattled against the House as if one had taken an handful of Stones and threw them; so that we were fain to give back. We had six stout Dogs belonging to our Garrison, but none of them would stir, though another time, if an Indian had come to the Door, they were ready to fly upon him, and tear him down. The Lord hereby would make us the more to acknowledge his Hand, and to see that our Help is always in him. But out we must go, the Fire increasing and coming along behind us roaring, and the Indians gaping before us with their Guns, Spears, and Hatchets to devour us. No sooner were we out of the House but my Brother-in-Law (being before wounded, in defending the House, in or near the Throat) fell down dead, whereat the Indians scornfully shouted and hallowed, and were presently upon him, stripping off his Clothes. The Bullets flying thick, one went thorow my side, and the same (as would seem) thorow the Bowels and Hand of my dear Child in my Arms. One of my eldest Sister’s Children (named William) had then his Leg broken, which the Indians perceiving, they knock’d him on the head. Thus were we butchered by those merciless Heathen, standing amazed, with the Blood running down to our Heels. My elder sister, being yet in the House, and seeing those woful Sights, the Infidels hauling Mothers one way and Children another, and some wallowing in their Blood, and her elder son telling her that (her Son) William was dead, and myself was wounded; she said, And, Lord, let me die with them! which was no sooner said but she was struck with a Bullet, and fell down dead over the Threshold. I hope she is reaping the Fruit of her good Labours, being faithful to the Service of God in her Place. In her younger years she lay under much trouble upon Spiritual accounts, till it pleased God to make that precious Scripture take hold of her Heart, 2 Cor. xii. 9, And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee. More than twenty years after, I have heard her tell how sweet and comfortable that Place was to her. But to return: the Indians laid hold of us, pulling me one way and the Children another, and said, Come, go along with us. I told them they would kill me. They answered, If I were willing to go along with them, they would not hurt me.

O the doleful Sight that now was to behold at this House! Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolation he has made in the earth. Of thirty seven Persons who were in this one House, none escaped either present Death or a bitter Captivity, save only one, who might say as he, Job i. 15, And I only am escaped alone to tell the news. There were twelve killed, some shot, some stabb’d with their Spears, some knock’d down with their Hatchets. When we are in prosperity, oh the Little that we think of such dreadful Sights; and to see our dear Friends and Relations lie bleeding out their Heart-blood upon the Ground! There was one who was chopped into the Head with a Hatchet, and stripp’d naked, and yet was crawling up and down. It was a solemn Sight to see so many Christians lying in their Blood, some here and some there, like a company of Sheep torn by Wolves; all of them stript naked by a company of hell-hounds, roaring, singing, ranting, and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out; yet the Lord, by his Almighty power, preserved a number of us from death, for there were twenty-four of us taken alive; and carried Captive.

I had often before this said, that if the Indians should come, I should chuse rather to be killed by them than taken alive; but when it came to the trial my mind changed; their glittering Weapons so daunted my Spirit, that I chose rather to go along with those (as I may say) ravenous Bears, than that moment to end my daies. And that I may the better declare what happened to me during that grievous Captivity, I shall particularly speak of the several Removes we had up and down the Wilderness.

The first Remove.—Now away we must go with those Barbarous Creatures, with our bodies wounded and bleeding, and our hearts no less than our bodies. About a mile we went that night; up upon a hill, within sight of the Town, where they intended to lodge. There was hard by a vacant house; (deserted by the English before for fear of the Indians;) I asked them whether I might not lodge in the house that night? to which they answered, What, will you love English-men still? This was the dolefullest night that ever my eyes saw: oh the roaring, and singing, and dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell! And as miserable was the waste that was there made of Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Swine, Calves, Lambs, Roasting Pigs, and Fowls, (which they had plundered in the Town,) some roasting, some lying and burning, and some boyling, to feed our merciless Enemies; who were joyful enough, though we were disconsolate. To add to the dolefulness of the former day, and the dismalness of the present night, my thoughts ran upon my losses and sad bereaved condition. All was gone; my Husband gone, (at least separated from me, he being in the Bay; and, to add to my grief, the Indians told me they would kill him as he came homeward,) my Children gone, my Relations and Friends gone, our house and home, and all our comforts within door and without, all was gone, (except my life,) and I knew not but the next moment that might go too.

There remained nothing to me but one poor wounded Babe, and it seemed at present worse than death that it was in such a pitiful condition, bespeaking Compassion, and I had no refreshing for it, nor suitable things to revive it. Little do many think what is the savageness and brutishness of this barbarous Enemy, even those that seem to profess more than others among them, when the English have fallen into their hands.

Those seven that were killed at Lancaster the summer before, upon a Sabbath-day, and the one that was afterward killed upon a week day, were slain and mangled in a barbarous manner by one-eyed John, and Marlberough’s Praying Indians, which Capt. Mosely brought to Boston, as the Indians told me.

The second Remove.—But now (the next morning) I must turn my back upon the Town, and travel with them into the vast and desolate Wilderness, I know not whither. It is not my tongue or pen can express the sorrows of my heart and bitterness of my spirit that I had at this departure: but God was with me in a wonderful manner, carrying me along, and bearing up my Spirit, that it did not quite fail. One of the Indians carried my poor wounded Babe upon a horse: it went moaning all along, I shall die, I shall die! I went on foot after it, with sorrow that cannot be exprest. At length I took it off the horse, and carried it in my arms, till my strength failed, and I fell down with it. Then they set me upon a horse, with my wounded Child in my lap; and there being no Furniture upon the horse back; as we were going down a steep hill, we both fell over the horse’s head, at which they, like inhuman creatures, laught, and rejoiced to see it, though I thought we should there have ended our dayes, as overcome with so many difficulties. But the Lord renewed my strength still, and carried me along, that I might see more of his power, yea, so much that I could never have thought of had I not experienced it.

After this it quickly began to Snow; and when night came on they stopt; and now down I must sit in the Snow, (by a little fire and a few boughs behind me,) with my sick Child in my lap; and calling much for water, being now (thorough the wound) fallen into a violent Fever; (my own wound also growing so stiff that I could scarce sit down or rise up;) yet so it must be, that I must sit all this cold winter night upon the cold snowy ground, with my sick Child in my arms, looking that every hour would be the last of its life; and having no Christian Friend near me, either to comfort or help me. Oh I may see the wonderful power of God, that my Spirit did not utterly sink under my affliction!—still the Lord upheld me with his gracious and merciful Spirit, and we were both alive to see the light of the next morning.

The third Remove.—The morning being come, they prepared to go on their way. One of the Indians got up upon a horse, and they set me up behind him, with my poor sick Babe in my lap. A very wearisome and tedious day I had of it; what with my own wound, and my Child’s being so exceeding sick, and in a lamentable Condition with her wound. It may easily be judged what a poor feeble condition we were in, there being not the least crumb of refreshing that came within either of our mouths from Wednesday night to Saturday night, except only a little cold water. This day in the afternoon, about an hour by Sun, we came to the place where they intended, viz. an Indian town called Wenimesset, Northward of Quabaug. When we were come, Oh the number of Pagans (now merciless Enemies) that there came about me, that I may say as David, Psal. xxvii. 13. I had fainted, unless I had believed, &c. The next day was the Sabbath: I then remembered how careless I had been of God’s holy time; how many Sabbaths I had lost and mispent, and how evilly I had walked in God’s sight; which lay so close upon my Spirit, that it was easie for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut off the thread of my life, and cast me out of his presence for ever. Yet the Lord still shewed mercy to me, and upheld me; and as he wounded me with one hand, so he healed me with the other. This day there came to me one Robert Pepper, (a Man belonging to Roxbury,) who was taken in Capt. Beers his fight; and had been now a considerable time with the Indians; and up with them almost as far as Albany, to see King Philip, as he told me, and was now very lately come with them into these parts. Hearing, I say, that I was in this Indian Town, he obtained leave to come and see me. He told me he himself was wounded in the Leg, at Capt. Beers his fight; and was not able sometime to go, but as they carried him, and that he took oaken leaves and laid to his wound, and through the blessing of God he was able to travel again. Then I took oaken leaves and laid to my side, and with the blessing of God it cured me also; yet before the cure was wrought, I may say as it is in Psal. xxxviii. 5, 6, My wounds stink and are corrupt, I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly, I go mourning all the day long. I sate much alone with a poor wounded Child in my lap, which mourned night and day, having nothing to revive the body or chear the Spirits of her; but, instead of that, sometimes one Indian would come and tell me one hour, And your Master will knock your Child in the head, and then a second, and then a third, Your Master will quickly knock your Child in the head.

This was the Comfort I had from them; miserable comforters are ye all, as he said. Thus nine dayes I sat upon my knees, with my babe in my lap, till my flesh was raw again. My child, being even ready to depart this sorrowful world, they bad me carry it out to another Wigwam; (I suppose because they would not be troubled with such spectacles;) whither I went with a very heavy heart, and down I sate with the picture of death in my lap. About two hours in the Night, my sweet Babe, like a Lamb, departed this life, on Feb. 18, 1675 [1676] it being about six years and five months old. It was nine dayes (from the first wounding) in this Miserable condition, without any refreshing of one nature or other, except a little cold water. I cannot but take notice how, at another time, I could not bear to be in the room where any dead person was; but now the case is changed; I must and could lye down by my dead Babe, side by side, all the night after. I have thought since of the wonderful goodness of God to me, in preserving me so in the use of my reason and senses in that distressed time, that I did not use wicked and violent means to end my own miserable life. In the morning, when they understood that my child was dead, they sent for me home to my Master’s Wigwam; (by my Master, in this writing, must be understood Quannopin, who was a Saggamore, and married King Philip’s wife’s Sister; not that he first took me, but I was sold to him by another Narrhaganset Indian, who took me when first I came out of the Garrison). I went to take up my dead Child in my arms to carry it with me, but they bid me let it alone; there was no resisting, but go I must and leave it. When I had been a while at my Master’s wigwam, I took the first opportunity I could get to go look after my dead child. When I came, I asked them what they had done with it. They told me it was upon the hill; then they went and shewed me where it was, where I saw the ground was newly digged, and there they told me they had buried it; there I left that child in the Wilderness, and must commit it, and myself also, in this wilderness condition, to Him who is above all. God having taken away this dear child, I went to see my daughter Mary, who was at the same Indian Town, at a Wigwam not very far off, though we had little liberty or opportunity to see one another: she was about ten years old, and taken from the door at first by a Praying Indian, and afterward sold for a gun. When I came in sight she would fall a-weeping; at which they were provoked, and would not let me come near her, but bade me be gone, which was a heart-cutting word to me. I had one child dead, another in the wilderness I knew not where, the third they would not let me come near to: Me (as he said) have ye bereaved of my children; Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin also, all these things are against me. I could not sit still in this condition, but kept walking from one place to another: and as I was going along, my heart was even overwhelmed with the thoughts of my condition, and that I should have Children and a Nation which I knew not ruled over them; whereupon I earnestly intreated the Lord that he would consider my low estate, and shew me a token for good, and, if it were his blessed will, some sign and hope of some relief: and indeed quickly the Lord answered, in some measure, my poor Prayer; for, as I was going up and down, mourning and lamenting my condition, my Son came to me, and asked me how I did. I had not seen him before since the destruction of the Town; and I knew not where he was till I was informed by himself, that he was amongst a smaller parcel of Indians, whose place was about six miles off. With tears in his eyes, he asked me whether his sister Sarah was dead, and told me he had seen his Sister Mary; and prayed me that I would not be troubled in reference to himself. The occasion of his coming to see me at this time was this: There was, as I said, about six miles from us a small Plantation of Indians, where it seems he had been during his Captivity; and at this time there were some Forces of the Indians gathered out of our company, and some also from them, (amongst whom was my Son’s Master,) to go to assault and burn Medfield: in this time of the absence of his Master, his Dame brought him to see me. I took this to be some gracious Answer to my earnest and unfeigned desire. The next day, viz. to this, the Indians returned from Medfield, (all the Company, for those that belonged to the other smaller company came thorow the Town that now we were at). But before they came to us, Oh the outragious roaring and hooping that there was! They began their din about a mile before they came to us. By their noise and hooping, they signified how many they had destroyed; (which was at that time twenty-three). Those that were with us at home were gathered together as soon as they heard the hooping, and every time that the other went over their number, these at home gave a shout, that the very Earth rang again; and thus they continued till those that had been upon the expedition were come up to the Saggamore’s Wigwam; and then, Oh the hideous insulting and triumphing that there was over some Englishmen’s Scalps that they had taken (as their manner is) and brought with them! I cannot but take notice of the wonderful mercy of God to me in those afflictions, in sending me a Bible: one of the Indians that came from Medfield fight, and had brought some plunder; came to me, and asked me if I would have a Bible, he had got one in his Basket. I was glad of it, and asked him whether he thought the Indians would let me read. He answered, yes. So I took the Bible, and in that melancholy time it came into my mind to read first the 28th Chapter of Deuteronomie, which I did; and when I had read it, my dark heart wrought on this manner, that there was no mercy for me; that the blessings were gone, and the curses came in their room, and that I had lost my opportunity. But the Lord helped me to go on reading till I came to Chap. xxx, the seven first verses; where I found there was mercy promised again, if we would return to him by repentance; and though we were scattered from one end of the earth to the other, yet the Lord would gather us together, and turn all those curses upon our Enemies. I do not desire to live to forget this Scripture, and what comfort it was to me.

Now the Indians began to talk of removing from this place, some one way and some another. There were now, besides myself, nine English Captives in this place, (all of them Children, except one Woman). I got an opportunity to go and take my leave of them; they being to go one way and I another. I asked them whether they were earnest with God for deliverance; they all told me they did as they were able; and it was some comfort to me that the Lord stirred up Children to look to him. The Woman, viz. Good wife Joslin, told me she should never see me again, and that she could find in her heart to run away. I wisht her not to run away by any means, for we were near thirty miles from any English Town, and she very big with Child, and had but one week to reckon; and another Child in her arms two years old; and bad rivers there were to go over, and we were feeble with our poor and coarse entertainment. I had my Bible with me; I pulled it out; and asked her whether she would read; we opened the Bible, and lighted on Psal. xxvii, in which Psalm we especially took notice of that, ver. ult. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.

The fourth Remove.—And now must I part with that little company that I had. Here I parted from my daughter Mary, (whom I never saw again till I saw her in Dorchester, returned from Captivity,) and from four little Cousins and Neighbors, some of which I never saw afterward; the Lord only knows the end of them. Amongst them also was that poor woman beforementioned, who came to a sad end, as some of the company told me in my travel: she having much grief upon her Spirit about her miserable condition, being so near her time, she would be often asking the Indians to let her go home; they, not being willing to that, and yet vexed with her importunity, gathered a great company together about her, and stript her naked, and set her in the midst of them; and when they had sung and danced about her (in their hellish manner) as long as they pleased; they knockt her on the head, and the child in her arms with her. When they had done that they made a fire, and put them both into it; and told the other Children that were with them, that if they attempted to go home, they would serve them in like manner. The Children said she did not shed one tear, but prayed all the while. But, to return to my own Journey,—we travelled about half a day, or a little more, and came to a desolate place in the Wilderness; where there were no Wigwams or Inhabitants before; we came about the middle of the afternoon to this place; cold, and wet, and snowy, and hungry, and weary, and no refreshing (for man) but the cold ground to sit on, and our poor Indian cheer.

Heart-aking thoughts here I had about my poor Children, who were scattered up and down amongst the wild Beasts of the Forest: my head was light and dizzy, (either through hunger, or hard lodging, or trouble, or all together,) my knees feeble, my body raw by sitting double night and day, that I cannot express to man the affliction that lay upon my Spirit; but the Lord helped me at that time to express it to himself. I opened my Bible to read, and the Lord brought that precious Scripture to me, Jer. xxxi. 16, Thus saith the Lord, refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears, for thy work shall be rewarded, and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. This was a sweet Cordial to me when I was ready to faint; many and many a time have I sate down and wept sweetly over this Scripture. At this place we continued about four days.

The fifth Remove.—The occasion (as I thought) of their moving at this time was the English Army, its being near and following them; for they went as if they had gone for their lives for some considerable way; and then they made a stop, and chose out 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. Four of them carried a great Indian upon a bier; but going through a thick Wood with him they were hindered, and could make no haste; whereupon they took him upon their backs, and carried him, one at a time, till we came to Bacquaug River. Upon a Friday, a little after noon, we came to this River. When all the Company was come up, and were gathered together, I thought to count the number of them; but they were so many, and being somewhat in motion, it was beyond my skill. In this travel, because of my wound, I was somewhat favoured in my load; I carried only my knitting-work, and two quarts of parched Meal. Being very faint, I asked my Mistress to give me one spoonful of the meal, but she would not give me a taste. They quickly fell to cutting dry trees, to make rafts to carry them over the River; and soon my turn came to go over. By the advantage of some brush, which they had laid upon the Raft to sit on; I did not wet my foot, (when many of themselves at the other end were mid-leg deep,) which cannot but be acknowledged as a favour of God to my weakened body, it being a very cold time. I was not before acquainted with such kind of doings or dangers.—When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee. Isai. xliii. 2. A certain number of us got over the river that night, but it was the night after the Sabbath before all the company was got over. On the Saturday they boyled an old Horse’s leg, (which they had got,) and so we drank of the broth; as soon as they thought it was ready, and when it was almost gone, they filled it up again.

The first week of my being among them I hardly eat any thing; the second week I found my stomach grow very faint for want of something; and yet ’twas 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 die before I could eat such things, yet) they were pleasant and savoury to my taste. I was at this time knitting a pair of white Cotton Stockings for my Mistress; and I had not yet wrought upon the Sabbath-day: when the Sabbath came, they bade me go to work; I told them it was Sabbath-day, and desired them to let me rest, and told them I would do as much more tomorrow; to which they answered me, they would break my face. And here I cannot but take notice of the strange providence of God in preserving the Heathen: They were many hundreds, old and young, some sick and some lame; many had Papooses at their backs, the greatest number (at this time with us) were Squaws; and they travelled with all they had, bag and baggage, and yet they got over this River aforesaid; and on Monday they set their Wigwams on fire, and away they went: on that very day came the English Army after them to this River, and saw the smoke of their Wigwams; and yet this River put a stop to them. God did not give them courage or activity to go after us; we were not ready for so great a mercy as victory and deliverance; if we had been, God would have found out a way for the English to have passed this River, as well as for the Indians, with their Squaws and Children, and all their Luggage.—Oh that my people had hearkened to me, and Israel had walked in my wayes, I should soon have subdued their Enemies, and turned my hand against their Adversaries, Psal. lxxxi. 13, 14.

The sixth Remove. —On Monday (as I said) they set their Wigwams on fire and went away. It was a cold morning; and before us was a great Brook with Ice on it; some waded through it up to the knees and higher; but others went till they came to a Beaver-Dam, and I amongst them, where, thorough the good providence of God, I did not wet my foot. I went along that day mourning and lamenting, leaving farther my own Countrey, and travelling into the vast and howling Wilderness; and I understood something of Lot’s Wife’s Temptation, when she looked back. We came that day to a great Swamp; by the side of which we took up our lodging that night. When I came to the brow of the hill that looked toward the Swamp, I thought we had been come to a great Indian Town, (though there were none but our own Company,) the Indians were as thick as the Trees; it seemed as if there had been a thousand Hatchets going at once: if one looked before one there was nothing but Indians, and behind one nothing but Indians; and so on either hand; I myself in the midst, and no Christian Soul near me, and yet how hath the Lord preserved me in safety! Oh the experience that I have had of the goodness of God to me and mine!

The seventh Remove.—After a restless and hungry night there, we had a wearisome time of it the next day. The Swamp by which we lay was, as it were, a deep Dungeon, and an exceeding high and steep hill before it. Before I got to the top of the hill, I thought my heart and legs and all would have broken and failed me; what through faintness and soreness of Body, it was a grievous day of Travel to me. As we went along, I saw a place where English Cattle had been; that was a comfort to me, such as it was. Quickly after that we came to an English path, which so took with me that I thought I could there have freely lyen down and died. That day, a little after noon, we came to Squaukheag; where the Indians quickly spread themselves over the deserted English Fields, gleaning what they could find; some pickt up Ears of Wheat that were crickled down; some found ears of Indian Corn; some found Ground-nuts, and others sheaves of wheat, that were frozen together in the Shock, and went to threshing of them out. Myself got two Ears of Indian Corn; and whilst I did but turn my back, one of them was stollen from me, which much troubled me. There came an Indian to them at that time with a Basket of Horse-liver. I asked him to give me a piece. What, (says he) can you eat Horse-liver? I told him I would try, if he would give me a piece; which he did; and I laid it on the coals to roast; but before it was half ready, they got half of it away from me; so that I was fain to take the rest, and eat it as it was, with the blood about my mouth, and yet a savory bit it was to me; for to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. A solemn sight me thought it was to see whole fields of Wheat and Indian Corn forsaken and spoiled; and the remainders of them to be food for our merciless Enemies. That night we had a mess of Wheat for our supper.

The eighth Remove.—On the morrow morning we must go over the River, i.e. Connecticut, to meet with King Philip. Two Cannoos full they had carried over, the next turn I myself was to go; but as my foot was upon the Cannoo to step in, there was a sudden outcry among them, and I must step back; and, instead of going over the River, I must go four or five miles up the River farther northward. Some of the Indians ran one way, and some another. The cause of this rout was, as I thought, their espying some English Scouts who were thereabout.

In this travel up the River, about noon the Company made a stop, and sat down; some to eat, and others to rest them. As I sate amongst them, musing of things past, my Son Joseph unexpectedly came to me; we asked of each others welfare; bemoaning our doleful condition, and the change that had come upon us: we had Husband and Father, and Children and Sisters, and Friends and Relations, and House and Home, and many Comforts of this life; but now we might say as Job, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. I asked him, whether he would read? he told me he earnestly desired it. I gave him my Bible, and he lighted upon that comfortable Scripture, Psal. cxviii. 17, 18, I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord: the Lord hath chastened me sore, yet he hath not given me over to death. Look here, Mother, (says he) did you read this? And here I may take occasion to mention one principal ground of my setting forth these few Lines; even as the Psalmist says, To declare the works of the Lord, and his wonderful power in carrying us along, preserving us in the Wilderness, while under the Enemies hand, and returning of us in safety again; and his goodness in bringing to my hand so many comfortable and suitable Scriptures in my distress. But, to Return: we travelled on till night, and, in the morning, we must go over the River to Philip’s Crew. When I was in the Cannoo, I could not but be amazed at the numerous Crew of Pagans that were on the Bank on the other side. When I came ashore, they gathered all about me, I sitting alone in the midst; I observed they asked one another Questions, and laughed, and rejoyced over their Gains and Victories; then my heart began to faile; and I fell a-weeping; which was the first time, to my remembrance, that I wept before them. Although I had met with so much Affliction, and my heart was many times ready to break, yet could I not shed one tear in their sight; but rather had been all this while in a maze, and like one astonished; but now I may say, as Psal. cxxxvii. 1, By the rivers of Babylon, there we sate down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion. There one of them asked me, why I wept? I could hardly tell what to say; yet I answered, they would kill me: No, said he, none will hurt you. Then came one of them and gave me two spoonfuls of Meal to comfort me, and another gave me half a pint of Pease, which was more worth than many Bushels at another time. Then I went to see King Philip; he bade me come in and sit down, and asked me, whether I would smoak it? (an usual Compliment now-a-days amongst Saints and Sinners.) But this no way suited me; for 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 lose their precious 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 lye sucking a stinking Tobacco-pipe.

Now the Indians gather their Forces to go against Northhampton; over night one went about yelling and hooting to give notice of the design; whereupon they fell to boyling of Ground Nuts, and parching of Corn, (as many as had it) for their Provision; and, in the morning, away they went. During my abode in this place Philip spake to me to make a shirt for his Boy, which I did; for which he gave me a shilling; I offered the money to my Master, but he bade me keep it; and with it I bought a piece of Horse flesh. Afterwards I made a Cap for his Boy, for which he invited me to Dinner; I went, and he gave me a Pancake about as big as two fingers; it was made of parched Wheat, beaten and fryed in Bears grease, but I thought I never tasted pleasanter meat in my life. There was a Squaw who spake to me to make a shirt for her Sannup,* for which she gave me a piece of Bear. Another asked me to knit a pair of Stockings, for which she gave me a quart of Pease. I boyled my Pease and Bear together, and invited my Master and Mistress to Dinner; but the proud Gossip, because I served them both in one Dish, would eat nothing, except one bit that he gave her upon the point of his Knife. Hearing that my Son was come to this place, I went to see him, and found him lying flat upon the ground; I asked him how he could sleep so? he answered me, that he was not asleep, but at Prayer; and lay so, that they might not observe what he was doing. I pray God he may remember these things, now he is returned in safety. At this place (the Sun now getting higher) what with the beams and heat of the Sun, and the smoak of the Wigwams, I thought I should have been blind: I could scarce discern one Wigwam from another. There was here one Mary Thurston of Medfield, who, seeing how it was with me, lent me a Hat to wear; but as soon as I was gone, the Squaw (who owned that Mary Thurston) came running after me, and got it away again. Here there was a Squaw who gave me one spoonful of Meal; I put it in my Pocket to keep it safe; yet, notwithstanding, somebody stole it, but put five Indian Corns in the room of it; which Corns were the greatest Provision I had in my travel for one day.

The Indians returning from North-hampton, brought with them some Horses and Sheep, and other things which they had taken; I desired them that they would carry me to Albany upon one of those Horses, and sell me for Powder; for so they had sometimes discoursed. I was utterly hopeless of getting home on foot the way that I came. I could hardly bear to think of the many weary steps I had taken to come to this place.

The ninth Remove.—But instead of going either to Albany or homeward, we must go five miles up the River, and then go over it. Here we abode a while. Here lived a sorry Indian, who spake to me to make him a shirt; when I had done it, he would pay me nothing. But he living by the River side, where I often went to fetch water, I would often be putting him in mind, and calling for my pay; at last, he told me, if I would make another shirt, for a Papoos not yet born, he would give me a knife, which he did, when I had done it. I carried the knife in, and my Master asked me to give it him, and I was not a little glad that I had any thing that they would accept of, and be pleased with. When we were at this place, my Master’s Maid came home; she had been gone three Weeks into the Narrhaganset country to fetch Corn, where they had stored up some in the ground; she brought home about a peck and half of Corn. This was about the time that their great Captain (Naananto) was killed in the Narrhaganset Country.

My son being now about a mile from me, I asked liberty to go and see him; they bade me go, and away I went; but quickly lost myself, travelling over Hills and through Swamps, and could not find the way to him. And I cannot but admire at the wonderful power and goodness of God to me, in that though I was gone from home, and met with all sorts of Indians, and those I had no knowledge of, and there being no Christian Soul near me; yet not one of them offered the least imaginable miscarriage to me. I turned homeward again, and met with my Master; he shewed me the way to my Son: when I came to him I found him not well; and withal he had a Boyl on his side, which much troubled him; we bemoaned one another a while, as the Lord helped us, and then I returned again. When I was returned, I found myself as unsatisfied as I was before. I went up and down moaning and lamenting; and my spirit was ready to sink with the thoughts of my poor Children; my Son was ill, and I could not but think of his mournful looks; and no Christian Friend was near him and to do any office of love for him, either for Soul or Body. And my poor Girl, I knew not where she was, nor whether she was sick or well, or alive or dead. I repaired under these thoughts to my Bible (my great comforter in that time) and that scripture came to my hand, Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee. Psal. lv. 22.

But I was fain to go and look after something to satisfie my hunger; and going among the Wigwams, I went into one, and there found a Squaw who shewed herself very kind to me, and gave me a piece of Bear. I put it into my pocket, and came home; but could not find an opportunity to broil it, for fear they would get it from me, and there it lay all that day and night in my stinking pocket. In the morning I went again to the same Squaw, who had a Kettle of Ground nuts boyling; I asked her to let me boyle my piece of Bear in her Kettle, which she did, and gave me some Ground nuts to eat with it, and I cannot but think how pleasant it was to me. I have seen Bear baked very handsomely amongst the English, and some liked it, but the thoughts that it was Bear made me tremble: but now that was savoury to me that one would think was enough to turn the stomach of a bruit Creature.

One bitter cold day I could find no room to sit down before the fire; I went out, and could not tell what to do, but I went into another Wigwam where they were also sitting round the fire; but the Squaw laid a skin for me, and bid me sit down; and gave me some Ground Nuts, and bade me come again; and told me they would buy me if they were able; and yet these were Strangers to me that I never knew before.

The tenth Remove.—That day a small part of the Company removed about three quarters of a mile, intending farther the next day. When they came to the place where they intended to lodge, and had pitched their Wigwams; being hungry, I went again back to the place we were before at, to get something to eat, being incouraged by the Squaw’s kindness who bade me come again; when I was there, there came an Indian to look after me; who, when he had found me, kickt me all along; I went home, and found Venison roasting that night, but they would not give me one bit of it. Sometimes I met with Favour, and sometimes with nothing but Frowns.

The eleventh Remove.—The next day in the morning they took their Travel, intending a dayes journey up the River; I took my load at my back, and quickly we came to wade over a River, and passed over tiresome and wearisome Hills. One Hill was so steep, that I was fain to creep up upon my knees; and to hold by the twigs and bushes to keep myself from falling backward. My head also was so light, that I usually reeled as I went, but I hope all those wearisome steps that I have taken are but a forwarding of me to the Heavenly rest. I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Psal. cxix. 75.

The twelfth Remove.—It was upon a Sabbath-day morning that they prepared for their Travel. This morning, I asked my Master, whether he would sell me to my Husband? he answered, Nux, which did much rejoyce my spirit. My Mistress, before we went, was gone to the burial of a Papoos; and returning, she found me sitting and reading in my Bible; she snatched it hastily out of my hand, and threw it out of doors; I ran out and catcht it up, and put it into my pocket, and never let her see it afterward. Then they packed up their things to be gone, and gave me my load; I complained it was too heavy, whereupon she gave me a slap in the face, and bade me go; I lifted up my heart to God, hoping the Redemption was not far off; and the rather, because their insolency grew worse and worse.

But the thoughts of my going homeward (for so we bent our course) much cheared my Spirit, and made my burden seem light, and almost nothing at all. But (to my amazement and great perplexity) the scale was soon turned; for, when we had gone a little way, on a sudden my Mistress gives out she would go no further, but turn back again, and said I must go back again with her, and she called her Sannup, and would have had him gone back also, but he would not, but said, he would go on, and come to us again in three dayes. My Spirit was upon this (I confess) very impatient and almost outragious. I thought I could as well have died as went back. I cannot declare the trouble that I was in about it; but yet back again I must go. As soon as I had an opportunity, I took my Bible to read, and that quieting Scripture came to my hand, Psal. xlvi. 10, Be still, and know that I am God, which stilled my spirit for the present; but a sore time of trial I concluded I had to go through. My Master being gone, who seemed to me the best Friend that I had of an Indian, both in cold and hunger, and quickly so it proved; down I sat, with my Heart as full as it could hold, and yet so hungry, that I could not sit neither; but going out to see what I could find, and walking among the Trees, I found six Acorns and two Chesnuts, which were some refreshment to me. Towards night I gathered me some sticks for my own comfort, that I might not lye a Cold; but when we came to lye down, they bade me go out and lye somewhere else, for they had company (they said) come in more than their own; I told them I could not tell where to go, they bade me go look; I told them, if I went to another Wigwam they would be angry, and send me home again. Then one of the company drew his Sword, and told me he would run me through if I did not go presently. Then was I fain to stoop to this rude Fellow, and to go out in the Night, I knew not whither. Mine eyes have seen that fellow afterwards walking up and down in Boston, under the appearance of a Friend-Indian, and several others of the like Cut. I went to one Wigwam, and they told me they had no room; then I went to another, and they said the same: at last an old Indian bade me come to him, and his squaw gave me some Ground nuts; she gave me also something to lay under my head, and a good fire we had; and, through the good Providence of God, I had a comfortable lodging that Night. In the morning, another Indian bade me come at night, and he would give me six Ground nuts, which I did. We were at this place and time about two miles from Connecticut river. We went in the morning (to gather Ground nuts) to the River, and went back again at Night. I went with a great load at my back (for they, when they went, though but a little way, would carry all their trumpery with them). I told them the skin was off my back, but I had no other comforting answer from them than this, that it would be no matter if my Head were off too.

Meet the Author

William L. Andrews is the Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Professor of American Literature at the University of Kansas. A prizewinning scholar of African-American literature, Andrews is the author of To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760–1865. He is the editor of Collected Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt, Three Classic Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt, Three Classic African-American Novels, and The African-American Novel in the Age of Reflection: Three Classics.

Paul John Eakin, Ruth N. Halls Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University, is the author of several books on autobiography, including Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention, Touching the World: Reference in Autobiography, How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves, and Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative. He is also the editor of American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect.

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