The Impact Of New England Puritan Captivity Narratives
The Impact of New England Puritan Captivity Narratives
“I hope I can say in some measure, As David did, It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”
The mentality that existed amongst Puritans that sought to account for God’s reasons for affliction by captivity was that it was His punishment. Thus their subsequent redemption was viewed as His mercy. They saw the many occurrences of captivities as a warning that all of New England must heed the lessons to be learned by captivity or they will continue to be afflicted with suffering. The narratives themselves not only revealed the history of the Indian wars against the people of New England, namely Puritans or settlers of the seventeenth century, but also revealed much about the Puritan way of thought.
The Captivity Narrative is one of the oldest literary forms coming from America. The earliest American captives were most certainly not settlers, they were natives held captive by Spaniards who were looking for riches, guides and interpreters. It was not long before the American Indians began to retaliate and take their own captives. However, since Europeans already had an established literary from and publication technique, the first captivity narratives told of the horrors of American Indians as captors. For three hundred years what came to be known as “Captivity Narratives” flourished in the New World and the Old World, which made the new genre exceedingly popular.
The latter part of the seventeenth century began to mark the beginnings of captivity narratives as a separate literary genre. Before then, they existed purely as smaller portions of larger literary endeavors, such as the many explorers’ accounts of captivity, i.e. Cabeza de Vaca or John Smith’s Voyage…. In the last quarter of the seventeenth century began the marked occurrence of the New England Puritan captivity accounts.
Initially Puritans approached their accounts of captivity with much discretion. They were usually written approximately five years or more after they had occurred and were privately printed. When the Public of the day ultimately got a hold of them, they became incredibly popular and afterwards were more readily written and printed. One could say that the Puritan captivity narrative truly began in 1682 with Mary Rowlandson’s account during what was known as King Philip’s war. Rowlandson’s Soveraingty and Goodness of God…Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson is an account that can be classified by the insight it provides into the mentality and driving forces of what makes up the essence of Puritanical society. Her narrative is drenched in comments of God’s role in the life of one person and His role on the whole of society. Rowlandson’s concentration in her narrative is not based upon deliverance but upon affliction itself, “In sum, the Rowlandson’s publisher promised an intensely personal account of God’s testing and eventual salvation of a tormented soul, and a broad hint that her experience might foretell in the microcosm, the fate of all Puritans.” (Vaughn 4)
Spiritual autobiography such as Mary Rowlandson’s was encouraged by Puritanical standards since it aided in the search for “personal salvation.” The spiritual autobiography by way of Indian captivity narratives was incredibly popular amongst Puritans because the captive’s journey was an obvious mirror-situation to the search for salvation itself, as said by Howard Peckham in his introduction to a compilation of captivity narratives, “The former appetite for these accounts is astonishing. The seventeenth and early eighteenth century narratives were read as tests of religious faith by people with a Christian concern.” (viii)
There were groups of narrators who, by their captivity, gained empathy towards their forced Indian captivity and proceeded to relate it in their account. One of these is John Gyles, who found there to be much to admire about the Indians hunting skill and spiritual accuracy, although he maintained his personal doctrines of thought. Most captives like Gyles wrote about the parts of the Native American way of life that they respected, however they more often than not maintained personal imbedded Puritanical views.
Some of the Puritanical narratives are of cases or accounts in which former captives could no longer return to their previous way of life. James Smith’s Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in
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