On May 2, 1676, almost exactly 100 years before America declared its own independence, another kind of liberty was won. On that day, the freedom of one woman who had spent three months on a heart-wrenching, harrowing journey in Native American captivity, was finally returned to her. Her name was Mary Rowlandson, and today, we refer to this fateful […]
By Bethany Bourgault
Jul 27 2015
On May 2, 1676, almost exactly 100 years before America declared its own independence, another kind of liberty was won. On that day, the freedom of one woman who had spent three months on a heart-wrenching, harrowing journey in Native American captivity, was finally returned to her. Her name was Mary Rowlandson, and today, we refer to this fateful place as Redemption Rock.
Mary White Rowlandson was the beloved wife of Lancaster’s first town minister, Reverend Joseph Rowlandson. Together they had three children: Mary, Joseph, and Sarah. They were a picture-perfect family, respected by all and loved by many.
As Colonial Lancaster’s relations with nearby Natives strained to dangerous breaking points, it fell upon the shoulders of Rev. Rowlandson to appeal to Boston for aid. Unfortunately, this duty took him away from his family during the winter months of 1676. Looking in hindsight, this separation may have saved his life.
An army of 400 natives from the Nipmuc, Narragansett, and Wampanoag tribes, led by the Wampanoag sachem Metacom (also known as Philip, it was, after all, one of the battles of King Philip’s War), pillaged, burned, and destroyed the English settlement at sunrise of February 10th that year. Virtually no structures were left standing, few survived, and 24 were taken captive. Fortunately for Mrs. Rowlandson, she and her three children were four of those 24.
Rowlandson would spend the next three months following the Connecticut River up into Vermont and New Hampshire.
Her good fortune at having her children alive and by her side quickly ran out, when her youngest died of wounds sustained in the attack. Six-year-old Sarah lived eight days being carried sometimes by her mother, sometimes by the Natives, until succumbing to her injuries. The tribe helped Mrs. Rowlandson bury her child on a hillside near one of their settlements. She was soon separated from her two eldest children too, and only allowed to see them periodically throughout the trip.
Although she was initially disgusted by certain aspects of Native American life (namely, foraged forest food) her hunger made the wild nuts, berries, and woodland animals seem significantly more appetizing.
Some days she was treated kindly, other days not so much. On one of the kinder days, her captors gave her a Bible salvaged from another settlement raid. Rowlandson cited the gift as her source of strength and her inspiration to carry on. She also noted that once her captors discovered she could sew, the days she was treated kindly occurred much more frequently than not.
Meanwhile, Rowlandson’s husband frantically searched for news in Boston. He befriended a Concord man named John Hoar, who through his own logic and kindness served as a diplomat between the settlers and many of the area’s Native tribes. Hoar was instrumental in locating Rowlandson and many more of Lancaster’s surviving settlers.
John Hoar, joined by a few others for protection and company, met with the Native tribesmen at Redemption Rock on May 2, 1676. Some reports indicate Native hostility, but regardless of the sentiments expressed by either party, Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was ransomed back to the English for 20 pounds. She traveled with Hoar to Boston, where she was joyfully reunited with her husband, and later, with her two eldest children.
The Rowlandsons settled in Concord for some time before Rev. Rowlandson was called to serve a town in Connecticut. It was there in 1682 that Mrs. Rowlandson published a record of her experience. A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson quickly became a colonial bestseller. Captivity narratives fared extremely well during that time since the threat of Native attack was relevant to everyone.
What makes Rowlandson’s publication even more spectacular is her status as a female author. In Puritan, Colonial society where most women were not given proper education and were vehemently discouraged from any type of public self-expression, her achievement in publishing an entire novel was remarkable. As if surviving a three-month trek through virtually uncharted wilderness wasn’t enough.
Visitors can see Redemption Rock at Redemption Rock Trail North, Princeton, MA. 413-532-1631.
While you’re in the area, drive five minutes west to check out Wachusett Mountain and its various hiking trails. Maybe you’ll even encounter the Mount Wachusett Ghost!