PURITANS AMONG THE INDIANS: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724 by Alden T. & Edward W. Clark--Eds. Vaughan

PURITANS AMONG THE INDIANS: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724

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An anthology of eight early Indian captivity narratives that affords a good introduction, on the whole, to this once-flourishing and influential genre of American literature. The editors, both authorities on Puritan New England, suggest in an opening essay that the characteristic structure of all such narratives (defeat and capture; prolonged suffering and cultural disorientation; release and redemption) can be traced to a late 17th-century convergence of essentially Puritan traditions: spiritual autobiography, lay preaching, and those God-has-forsaken-New England sermons called jeremiads, along with doses of sentimentalism and wild-west adventure. The choice of these eight narratives in particular seems to have been aimed chiefly at illustrating this argument rather than making obscure materials more accessible, for most of the eight are readily available elsewhere: those of Mary Rowlandson, John Gyles, and Hannah Dustin have been anthologized especially often, while that of John Williams was in fact reprinted as recently as 1968 by co-editor Clark. Here, however, they appear with extremely valuable annotations and an extensive bibliography (the publishing record of the narratives; secondary literature) that should prove indispensable for further reading on the subject. More to the point, and rather in spite of the editors' comments, the narratives' principal attraction for the modern reader is likely to lie in their testimony to the fragility and fierceness of life on the 17th-century New England frontier--the sudden bloody violence; the terrible cruelties practiced by whites and Indians alike; the brooding contempt with which each regarded the other's civilization; the relentless struggle of all for food and shelter that could lead, in truly luminous moments, to understanding and even friendship between them. In the end, these are accounts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things--Hannah Dustin, who slew and scalped ten of her captors, or John Gyles, who amputated his own frost-bitten toes and endured six years of hardship and torture in captivity--and it is good to be reminded that their stories still survive. What they tell us far outweighs the editors' solemn-scholar literary exegetics.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press