Merriam-Webster defines war as “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations”. Mary Rowlandson, author of “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”, is a survivor and the author of a first-hand account of King Philip’s War in 1675, where she was captured, sold into slavery, and then ransomed back. The account by Mrs. Rowlandson exemplifies the conflict between the New England colonists and shows how it began, how the war was conducted, and the results of the colonial victory. Mrs. Rowlandson gives insight on the mindset the Puritans had of the natives which will lead to the beginnings of the war.
The beginning of King Philips War is formally cited as being started by “the execution in Plymouth, Massachusetts, of three of Philip’s Wampanoag tribesmen” (Rowlandson 126). While the formal cause of conflict between the natives and Puritans was for murder, the Puritan perception of the natives may have influenced the decision the use force. Mary Rowlandson often describes her Indian captors in less than endearing terms, calling them: “ravenous beasts” (129), “barbarous creatures” (130), “pagans (now merciless enemies)” (131), and “a scourge of the whole land” (139). Although it must be conceded that Mrs. Rowlandson was in great emotional distress due to the loss of her daughter and sister, her captivity narrative was published in 1682, six years after the war ended. It can be assumed that many colonists had the same perception of the natives before the beginning of the war and is what indirectly allowed the colonists to mercilessly retaliate, killing around “three thousand American Indians” (Rowlandson 126). While the natives themselves were not the example of gentleness, they at least conducted warfare in a somewhat humane manner.
Mrs. Rowlandson experienced directly how the Indians attacked, captured prisoners, and ransomed them back. On the tenth of February 1675, her town was attacked and many men, women, and children were killed indiscriminately. In the following weeks, she was to be moved to an Indian encampment where they allowed Rowlandson to see her daughter. This allowance was contrary to what colonists allowed for Native or African slaves as many families were split apart and never seen again. In many ways, the “barbarous creatures” were more civilized than the colonists who so despised them. In the following weeks, Mrs. Rowlandson was finally ransomed for the sum of twenty pounds. It is incredibly difficult to conceptualize the worth of a British pound in the 17th century compared to modern currency, but, what can be identified is that it was a considerable sum of money that Mr. Rowlandson had to pension for (140). What is important to note is that the natives did not capture out of spite but gain money to purchase necessary provisions as they “were starving and desperate to retain their lands” (126). Lands that were taken by the colonists in the first place.
The war finally came to an end a year and a half after Rowlandson was captured when “Philip [was] slain and his wife and children sold into slavery in the West Indies…” (127). This was not the end of the conflict between Native Americans and the colonists but marked the beginning of the end of Indians in New England. The colonial victory caused many thousands to die while many migrated from the area. Mary Young, from the Journal of American Ethnic History, gives another reason why Native Americans were no longer to be seen in New England, saying, “Another road to disappearance was intermarriage, since by the racist standards that came to prevail in the nineteenth century, Indians who married non-Indians, especially African Americans, became themselves non-Indian, and so did their children” (Young 188). Throughout Rowlandson’s narrative, there is not one time where she shows empathy for the situation the natives are put in which goes hand in hand with the euro-centric belief in manifest destiny. The belief that white Christian colonists were destined to inherit the whole of the American continent, even though there were nations of people who lived there first.
The captivity narrative that Rowlandson produced is only a small part of a larger American narrative that chronicles the decline of Native American nations and culture. What follows King Philip’s War are a number of small armed conflicts, the French and Indian war which the French leveraged tribes to fight against the English, the Trail of Tears, and so on and so forth to present day. It is important to note that there was brutality and aggression on both sides, but, Rowlandson and the colonists were products of their time and conflicts between the two groups may have been unavoidable. The only thing to do now is to recognize the causes of the struggle between Native Americans and colonists and try to amend and help the suffering inflicted.
Rowlandson, Mary, Baym, Nina, et al. “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, pp. 126–143
“War.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2017.
Young, Mary. “After King Philip’s War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 18, no. 4, Summer99, pp. 187-189. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=48107640&site=ehost-live.