The English colonies in 1675 desperately were unprepared for a war with the indigenous tribes of New England, led by King Philip.
The colonists believed that they were God’s chosen people. They believed that God had created a profound agreement with them, whereupon he would grant them good fortune if they would follow the Scriptures, Reform the Anglican Church, and be a good example to others that would lead others away from their sins. This is where I drew the inspiration for the first installment of The Metacom Saga. ‘A City On A Hill’ refers to a sermon given by John Winthrop in 1630. Drawing from the verse Mathew 5:13, John Winthrop is tasking his peers: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”
The English colonies still considered themselves to be subject to the King of England. They believed this relationship trickled down to the Indians. The treaties asked for their protection. In the magistrates’ minds, this meant that the natives were subject to English ways and English laws. They looked at the natives like children. Instead of attempting to coexist as two cultures, the English demanded that natives bend to accommodation. Disputes leaned in favor of the English. The natives did not know how to navigate English law. They settled disputes with native leaders with new restrictive treaties. Philip tried to accommodate and keep the peace until it was impossible to do so.
There was a great fear amongst the settlements because the colonies were not prepared to fight the warfare that the natives mastered. They constructed defenses, such as stockades and garrison houses, but not prepared for hit and run tactics. There would be incidents of violence, such as killings of livestock and burnings of barns, but there had not been up to that point any bloodshed. Settlements were isolated outposts in neighboring native lands.
When the attacks came, they were swift and brutal. The English at first were at a great disadvantage because the natives knew the land, they knew how to move amongst the woods; they used their hunting and tracking skills, and kept mobile.
In the early morning of February 10, 1676, a large force of four hundred natives led by the sachem Monoco attacked the settlement of Lancaster. They burned the bridge on the road leading into the town to impede English reinforcements. John Rowlandson, the town’s pastor, had left days before with a party to bring back help and needed supplies. They cut any hope of help off.
The townspeople abandoned their homes to garrisons. The indians set fire to the buildings. Mary Rowlandson, the pastor’s wife, had taken refuge in her family’s garrison. After two hours of defending the garrison, they abandoned the house because its roof was on fire. Most of the defenders survived the fire. Fourteen settlers had died, and twenty-three taken prisoner. Mary and three of her children were amongst them. But her son, William, had lay dead, and her six-year-old daughter would later die in her arms a few days later of a mortal wound. The Indians separated Mary from her children. They then forced her to accompany them into the wilderness.
The natives took English prisoners for a number of reasons. The hostages were bartered with for supplies, powder, and negotiated release of relatives. They also followed a custom where they would take a captive to replace a member of their tribe. They were adopted into the tribe. This typically would happen with women and children. Although some men were taken to perform labor.
Mary travelled with her captives for eleven weeks as they were constantly on the move between attacks and evading colonial troops. Mary’s story, which she would later publish, gives us insight into how the natives lived as a community. Despite a few incidents, Mary was treated well, even kindly, by her captives. She met Philip, who treated her well. She found that as long as you proved yourself useful, you would be accepted by the tribe. She had done this by using her sewing skills to make and repair clothing.
The natives were not travelling as a band of warriors, but were accompanied by their families. The constant movement and the fear of being hunted down by the English was hard on them.
After the Sudbury Fight on April 21, 1676, fortunes had taken a negative turn. The colonial leaders had sent an offer for peace. If any Indian and their family were to turn themselves in, they would be forgiven for past acts of violence. The offer also included a thirty shilling bounty for the heads of combatant leaders. Great numbers began turning themselves in. In one well documented a case a large group, led by their sachem, surrendered in Cambridge.
Some natives, who had just surrendered themselves, switched sides and became scouts. The colonial leadership finally began to heed the advice of their military commanders, such as Benjamin Church, to make use of Indian allies. These scouts taught the English how to move in the woods, how to track, and how to make use of the terrain to fight and defend.
Enter John Hoar
John Hoar was a lawyer and an Indian missionary from Concord, Massachusetts. He was sent to the frontier to negotiate for the release of any captives. Accompanied by two native guides, Hoar made contact with Philip’s camp at Wachusett Mountain. Philip was initially against the deal, but he was overruled by the elders of the camp.
After several weeks of back-and-forth negotiations, he could secure Mary Rowlandson’s release for supplies and twenty pounds of silver the women of Boston had raised that. On May 2, 1676, the parties agreed to meet at a glacial stone outcropping near Wachusett Lake. This meeting place today is called “Redemption Rock” and is a popular tourist spot amongst the hiking trails surrounding Mount Wachusett.
They would reunite Mary with her children and her husband, who moved them to Wethersfield, Connecticut. He would die the following year in 1677.
Having undergone the loss of her sister and two children at the attack of Lancaster, and her later captivity, many urged her to tell her story. When she relented, she described the attack in vivid detail.
But there was another side to the narrative. She described a first-hand account of living with the natives. She would speak of some of them as treating her with kindness. They did not rape her. In fact, they treated all the captives well. This dispelled the images she had in her mind that these “savages” were animals. But, I think this book is important because it also gives insight into the Puritan perspective through personal testimony.
But the underlying theme of her narrative is the “RESTORATION” given to her by her faith to God. throughout her book Mary cites passages from the Bible from which she drew strength during her captivity. The book, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, was published in 1682 to great acclaim in both Boston and London. It became the archetype of future captivity stories.