In 1676, during the last phases of King Philip's War, which is considered to be the most important Indian war in New England, a group of Nipmunk and Narragansett Indians attacked the frontier town of Lancaster, Massachusetts, burned the town and captured many of the settlers. King Philip is the name of the chief of the Wampanoag Indians. Mary Rowlandson, the wife a minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and her three children were among the unfortunate captives.
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Mary Rowlandson suffered the intense tribulations of capture for about three months, as the Indians moved around trying to avoid capture by the colonial troops. Her captivity narrative (published 1682), which was the first of its genre and by far the most popular, describes the massacre of the colonists and members of her family, as well as her capture, captivity and eventual rescue. Each section of the narrative is called a "remove," chronicling the constant retreat of the Indians before the white men.
Mary Rowlandson took succor from her reading of Bible and faith in the providence of God, in order to morally and spiritually sustain herself during the testing period of her captivity. Mrs. Rowlandson’s narrative is replete with scriptural quotes, and she looks to the biblical accounts of exile and sacrifice to find hope in her own predicament.
Captivity narratives usually gave a religious message about the value of faith in times of adversity, but Mrs. Rowlandson’s account rings with particularly strong religious overtones. The original title of her book makes the central religious thrust of her narrative very clear: 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.
Mary Rowlandson’s descriptions of her ordeal are frequently interspersed with ponderings on the power and mercy of the Lord, especially as demonstrated by His constant renewal of her strength and stamina. Despite her sore tribulations, she rejoices in the “wonderful goodness” and kindness of God in preserving her life and her hope.
When she thinks she must surrender to despair and give up the struggle to survive, God preserves her spirit 'that [she] might see more of His power.' Through the torment and deprivations of her experience of captivity, Mary Rowlandson's faith in God's absolute power and sovereignty is only reinforced and she emerges out of her ordeal as a transformed and more mature person. She has renounced her earlier selfish and complacent ways, and has become more capable of surrender to the inscrutable will and ways of God.
Owing to her exceeding faith in God, she even welcomes and embraces affliction. She expresses the confidence that those who pass through difficult times holding steadfastly unto their faith will eventually emerge as 'gainers'.
Her story can be seen as bearing a deeply religious symbolism wherein her physical redemption mirrors her spiritual redemption as well. Mrs. Mary Rowlandson's ordeal tests her commitment to both spiritual and physical redemption. Thus her ordeal assumes a double significance as both a physical and a spiritual trial, from which she emerges triumphant, by the infinite grace of God.
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