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Rare Book and Special Collections Division



The Domestic Sphere
Religion and Spirituality
arrow graphicIndian Capitivity Narratives
Shakers, Christian Scientists, and Sabbath School Founders
Reform Efforts
Women in Popular Culture
Collections Formed by Women
Literary Works



Indian Capitivity Narratives
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Hand-colored woodcut frontispiece and title page. From An Affecting Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Mrs. Mary Smith (Providence, R.I., [1815]; E87.S663) Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

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Women played a central role in many of the Indian captivity narratives as participants and in some cases as narrators. Mary Rowlandson's narrative was the earliest account published separately. The division has a photostat of one of the rare 1682 editions and several eighteenth-century printings of this classic narrative, including the 1720 edition entitled The Soveraignty & Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (Boston: T. Fleet, 1720; E87.R862 1720 Am Imp) . Rowlandson describes her captivity as a spiritual experience and attributes her return to God's providence. Similar religious messages are found in many of the narratives that followed hers, whether written by Puritans, Catholics, or Quakers.

Some of the female captives offer a positive view of Indian culture. Notably, Mary Jemison, captured at twelve in 1755, recounts the kindness and generosity of her adopted Seneca family in A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (Canandaigua, N.Y.: J.D. Bemis, 1824; E87.J46) . Captivity narratives published after the American Revolution became a popular source of anti-Indian propaganda. Many describe the brutal torture of young girls and women. Presented as fact, such narratives were frequently exaggerated and sometimes, like Mary Smith's sensational account, completely fabricated.

Ann Eliza Bleecker (1752-1783), drawing on her perilous experiences on the New York frontier, first adapted the Indian captivity theme to a popular literary genre. Her sentimental novel The History of Maria Kittle (Hartford: E. Babcock, 1797; PZ3.B6156 1797 Am Imp) , set during the French and Indian War, was published first in 1790.

In contrast to the negative image of Native Americans depicted in the majority of captivity narratives, some of the missionary literature attempts to describe native cultures and traditions, but also stresses the importance of education. Beginning in 1830, Sarah Tuttle produced a series of missionary tracts, Letters and Conversations on the Indian Missions, for the Massachusetts Sabbath School Union that describes mission life among the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seneca, and Sioux and appeals to Sunday school youth to collect money to support mission schools.

While sympathetic to the zeal and courage of most missionaries, Mary Henderson Eastman (1818-1890) also recognizes their failure to understand the native culture. In her works, Dahcotah, or, Life and Legends of the Sioux around Fort Snelling (New York: J. Wiley, 1849; E99.D1 E19) and American Aboriginal Portfolio (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1853; E77.E125) , Eastman attempts to celebrate the moral character of the Dakota and to preserve their legends and character traits both through prose descriptions from her observations and the drawings of her husband, Capt. Seth Eastman. Julia Moss Seton's Indian Costume Book (Santa Fe, N.M.: Seton Village Press, 1938; E98.C8 S5) includes descriptions and photographs of women's ritual and everyday clothing, hair designs, and beadwork.

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