1161: Mary Rowlandson

Early Colonial Eyewitness Author

Born: c.1637, Somerset, England (Present-day Somerset, United Kingdom)

Died: c.1710/1711, Massachusetts Bay Colony (Present-day Wethersfield, Connecticut, United States of America)

Also Known As: Mary Talcott

Mary and her family moved to the New World when she was a small child, and Mary herself was the sixth of ten children. Until 1653, they lived in the settlement of Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, so they moved to the new frontier village of Lancaster. Three years later, Mary married for the first time, and a few years after that, her husband became the Puritan minister for Lancaster.

Details of the next twenty years of her life are few and far between. She lived and worked as a Puritan wife and mother would for her time and had at least three children.

Mary was captured by the Nipmuc Wampanoag during King Philip’s War in February 1676, along with three of her children. One of her children would die while in captivity only a week later, succumbing to the wounds she had sustained during the attack (the child, a girl named Sarah, was only six years old and according to Mary had been shot through her intestines by a musket ball—a horrific way to die no matter the age). Mary and the kids were actually among the twenty-four captives who were seized when the Wampanoag people attacked the Puritans.

Mary and her family were held for eleven harrowing weeks before being ransomed back to English society. During their time as captives, Mary and her people were taken as far north as present-day New Hampshire. They survived on little to eat, and Mary was given better treatment than the others thanks to her sewing skills. One of the native people was also kind enough to give Mary a copy of the Bible they had obtained somewhere. At one point, Mary was even introduced to “King Philip” himself—the Wampanoag Chief Metacom.

Mary’s ransom amount was £20, two coats, a half a bushel of feed corn, and some tobacco, paid by her husband (or another man named Joan Hoar—sources differ [sources also differ on whether or not it was the £20 in cash or whether or not the items in total added up to £20]). Their children were returned soon after. In 1678, Mary’s husband died.

After her release, Mary authored an account of her capture providing detail on Native American culture and conflict between the Puritans. The account was reprinted four times in 1682 and has been reprinted over thirty times over the years. The entire account can now be read, for free, online thanks to Project Gutenberg. If you would like to read it yourself, click here or at the source linked below.

Mary married for the second time in 1679, to an English colonial captain from King Philip’s War. Unfortunately, her second husband did not live long after the wedding, and Mary lived the last twenty-odd years of her life as a widow.

Badges Earned:

Find a Grave Marked

Located In My Personal Library:

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins