Conference PaperPDF Available

James Smith's Account: Re-thinking the Significance of the Captivity Narrative



Roy Harvey Pearce's essay of 1947 "The Significance of the Captivity Narrative" has had a lasting impact on scholarship, resulting in an inordinate amount of scholarly and classroom attention devoted to Mary Rowlandson and other Puritan captives to the neglect of a set of remarkable captivity narratives set mainly in the American Midwest. This essay focuses of James Smith's invaluable Account, but other captives such as John Tanner, Mary Jemison, Jonathan Alder, Oliver Spencer, John Hunter, and others deserve much more attention as well.
James Smith’s Account and the Significance of the Captivity Narrative
In 1947, Roy Harvey Pearce published “The Significance of the Captivity
Narrative,” an essay that has shaped scholarship ever since. Pearce argued that “the first,
and greatest, of the captivity narratives are simple, direct religious documents…affecting
stories concerning the gracious providence of God.” In these narratives “the details of
the captivity experience…figure forth a larger, essentially religious experience, the
captivity has symbolic value.” In sum they are allegories and follow a Biblical typology.
Mary Rowlandson’s account is the preeminent example. In the eighteenth century, Pierce
continues, the French and Indian War fostered propagandistic anti-Indian “tales of
barbarity and bloodshed,” followed by sentimental and sensationalistic fictions featuring
“noble” or “savage” Indian stereotypes. “By 1800 the captivity narrative had all but
completed its decline and fall” and was the province of “hack writers gone wild.”1
While this pattern may be true for most of some five-hundred captivity narratives,
the reverse is the case for the best works. For Pierce “the captivity narrative is interesting
and valuable to us…not because it can tell us a great deal about the Indian, but rather
because it enables us to see more deeply and clearly into popular American culture,
popular American issues, and popular American tastes.”2 In other words, it’s all about
us, not them. Reader-response is important, but learning about “the Other” is not. Yet to
categorize the best of these narratives as sermons in disguise, vicious propaganda, or pulp
thrillers is ludicrous. Pierce fails to discriminate, establish criteria for judging, and select
an exceptional few, almost all focused on the Midwest—such as those by John Tanner,
1 Roy Harvey Pearce,” The Significance of the Captivity Narrative,” American Literature (1947), 2, 10, 16.
2 Ibid., 20
Mary Jemison, Jonathan Alder, Oliver Spencer, John Hunter, and James Smith, among
others—written precisely during the time Pierce claims the genre was degenerating.
Mary Rowlandson’s The Sovereignty & Goodness of God (1676) is the most
studied and taught of all American captivity narratives. For many scholars her account
established the basic paradigm of suffering leading to redemption. That she is a rare
female author for the time adds interest. Feminist critics scrutinize her text for the least
sign of subversiveness. Yet her narrative chiefly demonstrates the Puritan mind at work;
she quotes the Bible over sixty-five times, views her experiences as part of God’s
providential design, and discusses her own ordeal in moving detail. Her story is an
exercise in Puritan typology; whatever happens has biblical precedent and divine
sanction. Hers is a tale of godly “us” versus diabolical “them.” To explain what caused
the hostilities and her captivity, she cites being a “careless person” guilty of religious
backsliding and Sabbath-skipping; for penance she gives up tobacco and pipe smoking.3
All this is touching, but also delusional. In truth, Puritan land-grabbing and mistreatment
of nearby Indian nations were the key catalysts for Metacom’s (or King Philip’s) War
(1675-1676). Rowlandson tells the harrowing story of a Puritan woman while providing
tantalizing hints of tribal life. Some passages in her text contain valid information
detailing who Rowlandson’s captors actually were.
From the gory depiction of the violent attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts, in
February of 1676, to the genial handshakes with her captors that mark her redemption
some eleven weeks later, Rowlandson’s story displays a disconnect between providential
beliefs and pragmatic survival strategies. The horrors of that “dolefullest” day and night
3 Mary Rowlandson, “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God,” in Puritans Among the Indians: Accounts of
Captivity and Redemption 1676-1724, edited by Alden T. Vaughan & Edward W. Clark (Cambridge: MA:
Harvard University Press, 1981), 38. Subsequent quotes cited parenthetically in the text.
are vividly evoked: “bullets rattled” her house like “an handful of stones,” the wounded,
including Mary and her daughter, feel “the blood running down to our heels” as “a
company of hell-hounds” slaughter 14 people and take 23 captives (33-36). Of possible
fates, adoption or annihilation (either swiftly or by slow torture) were the extremes.
Others like Mary face servitude and being held for ransom. Thus her time as a captive
will be temporary, her status provisional. Yet her condition is neither comfortable nor
stable, since the Indians frequently “remove” to evade pursuing New England forces.
To survive Mary relies on the kindness of strangers; her captors give her and her
fatally-wounded child Sarah a horse to ride and repeatedly offer food. Her hunger is so
great “their filthy trash” quickly becomes “sweet and savory to my taste” (44). A theme
of piety versus appetite emerges. In her daily life she is obsessed with what to eat. But
kind treatment is rarely acknowledged. When an Indian gives her a Bible, for example, it
is due to “the wonderful mercy of God” (41). Because Mary’s sewing and knitting skills
are useful, she gains a certain amount of agency in Indian society. Her master and
mistress as well as other captors come to her with tasks. Goods and services are
exchanged. She is no longer a mere commodity to be ransomed. Excerpt A illustrates
this new situation, dramatizing the fascinating human complexity of her interactions with
her captors. This and a few other notable set-pieces represent Mary Rowlandson’s
writing at its best. Michelle Burnham argues that such transcultural scenes open “a
feminist space within the dominant patriarchal order.”4 How conscious Mary is of this
subversive and transgressive sub-text is another question.
4 Michelle Burnham, Captivity & Sentiment: Cultural Exchange in American Literature, 1681-1861
(Dartmouth, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997), 31.
Over her twenty “removes,” Rowlandson observes the ways New England Indians
go on the warpath. During the siege of her house, she notes how they seek strategic
positions to fire from and ruthlessly use their tomahawks to “knock us on the head.”
Days later, when a victorious war party returns, she realizes their “outrageous roaring and
whooping” tells the camp “how many they had destroyed” in order to prepare for their
triumph (40-41). She recalls how the Indians “choose some of their stoutest men” for a
rear guard action to delay the “English army” (43). After another “great victory,” where
“they had killed two captains and almost an hundred men,” she sees them return “like
dogs (so they say)” although they’ve lost “a few men” (64). What she does not
understand, but which James Smith explains in his Account, is that when Indians went to
war the goal was to kill as many of the enemy as possible, while the loss of any of their
own required communal mourning. Before an expedition, Rowlandson tells how the
leaders meet in council to discuss it. When they return a council assesses the results. If
victorious, a large building is constructed for the festivities. In excerpt B, Rowlandson
describes in splendid detail how her master and mistress, both important sachems, don
proper attire for dancing.
The Indians held another council to determine Rowlandson’s ransom, asking her
to name a sum, twenty pounds, which secures her release. At the end of her tale, she
discusses five “remarkable passages of providence which I took special notice of in my
afflicted time” (68). She ponders why the Indians like “so many ravenous wolves” were
allowed to rend the Lord’s chosen “lambs,” and concludes: “God strengthened them to be
a scourge to his people” for their backsliding ways (68-69). As usual, she cites
Providence to explain her world, but in the process (see excerpt C) she provides
memorable detail about how the Indians found food to sustain themselves in the “vast and
howling wilderness” (44). Thus almost in spite of Rowlandson’s otherworldly
interpretations of her captivity, her observations of the specifics of this world become a
“redeeming” feature of her narrative, making it worthy of study, although her knowledge
of her captors is very limited.
What if we take Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación (1542) of how he was transformed by
his captivity as an alternative paradigm? His account predates Rowlandson’s by more than
a century. The first European to travel across the American South, from Florida to
California, his tale is unforgettable. He is part of an expedition of some 600 that leave
Spain in 1527; after a hurricane and other hardships, 300 reach Tampa Bay. Their ships
lost in a storm, decimated by sickness, starvation, and Indian attacks, the desperate men
build makeshift boats, melting armor into nails, using pine tree sap for tar, manes and tales
of horses for rope, shirts for sails. Beset by bad weather, only eighty make it to Galveston
Island in November of 1628. Seeing their appalling condition, the natives with “great grief
and pity…weep loudly.”5 The Spaniards are reduced to slavery by these naked people who
are destitute themselves and barely survive by scavenging. After a year Cabeza de Vaca
escapes and becomes a trader able to travel freely and receive “good treatment and food on
account of my merchandise” (52). Six years later he is again enslaved by a tribe that
hunted buffalo. He escapes and becomes a medicine man. His method of healing
combines the methods of shamans with Christian prayers. His greatest test comes when he
is asked to raise a person from the dead. Excerpt D details his success—if not a literal
miracle, astonishing none the less. Now famous as a faith healer, he and three companions
5 Castaways: The Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, edited by Enrique Pupo-Walker, translated by
Frances M. Lopez-Morillas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 42. Subsequent quotes cited
parenthetically in the text.
(the last survivors) trek across the American southwest, his devotees escorting them from
village to village, while Cabeza de Vaca distributes all gifts he receives and spreads peace.
The capstone of these adventures comes in northern Mexico when he meets
Spaniards intent on enslaving Indians, who, in a masterfully ironic passage, refuse to see
Cabeza de Vaca as a “Christian” (excerpt E). In fact his behavior, shaped by eight years
among the Indians, is far more Christ-like than that of these ruthless Spanish conquistadors.
He has become a new man. Unfortunately, he is not a powerful one, and the Spaniards,
after promising kind treatment, enslave his followers at the first opportunity.
Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative describes what anthropologists call “going native.”
What he learns from his captivity changes who he is. Yet his transformation is not
complete. He remains an agent of empire, in his later life using his new-found knowledge
against the Indians. This is also true of James Smith, whose Account (1799) is perhaps the
best to come out of the Midwest. Based on a journal he kept, it was not published sooner
because he thought he would not be believed. Building a road for the Braddock campaign
of 1755, Smith, age eighteen, is captured by a Mohawk from Canada. Beaten unconscious
running the gauntlet, he revives to witness prisoners from Braddock’s horrendous defeat
being burned alive. He fears a similar fate, but is told “I…must be made an Indian
myself.”6 Taken to a town in central Ohio, his detailed description of the adoption process
is invaluable (excerpt F). Few passages in captivity narratives can match the way Smith
makes this initiation ceremony come alive.
Becoming “a white Indian” is a multi-step process that takes years. Adopted to
replace “a great man,” Smith is expected to fill his shoes; when he fails to do so, he is made
6 Scoouwa: James Smith’s Indian Captivity Narrative (Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1978), 24.
Subsequent quotes cited parenthetically in the text.
to feel ashamed. This can be light-hearted, as when he mistakes bear meat for that of an elk
and is chided: “he laughed and said, ho, all one fool you, beal now elly pool” [bear now
very poor] (36). As a sign of trust, Smith is given a gun to hunt with, but he gets lost in the
woods and it is taken away. When he complains about having to carry a heavy load, his
companions laugh at him and give part to an already over-burdened girl: “This kind of
reproof,” Smith notes, “had a greater tendency to excite me to exert myself in carrying
without complaining, than if they had whipped me for laziness” (47). Another time, Smith
is mocked for helping women at work in a cornfield, since he was “adopted in the place of
a great man, and must not hoe corn like a squaw” (59-60). When a Wyandot comes to visit,
Smith is chastised for acting “like a Dutchman,” and not offering this stranger “the best that
we have” (58-59). His redemption comes when he is lost in the woods during a winter
storm, finds shelter in a hollow tree, and a day later returns to camp. His older brother asks
for “a particular account of what happened” and praises his courage and ingenuity (excerpt
H). No longer shamed by acting badly, Smith is now behaving as a great man should.
Another key aspect of Smith’s acculturation is the kind treatment he receives. From
the first the Indians share equally all the food that they have. Although theirs is a world of
feasting and fasting, in good times their diet is more diverse and tasty than that of most
colonists. Smith comes to savor such delicacies as “potatoes peeled and dipped in
raccoon’s fat” (42); bear liver wrapped in fat and roasted on a spit; roasted venison or
beaver meat dipped in a blend of bear fat and maple sugar; broiled or roasted geese, ducks,
and swans; not to mention such staples as fruits, nuts, wild rice, and maize. Whenever he
feels hungry in times of plenty a pot of hominy is always available. One act of kindness
especially impresses Smith. Early in his captivity he is given a Bible and other books, and
permitted to keep a journal. After returning from a hunt, he can’t find them and assumes
the Indians “were displeased at my pouring over my books” (43-44). Months later, his
books are returned (excerpt G), and Smith feels his “heart warm toward the Indians.”
He becomes close friends with this brothers, Tontileaugo and Tecaughretanego.
The first teaches him how to hunt and earn respect; while the second displays a profound
wisdom about matters both secular and sacred. Hunting is an essential part of Indian life,
and Smith’s account provides a wealth of information about how this was done. His
expeditions start in central Ohio and extend to Lake Erie, including the vicinities of
present-day Akron, Youngstown, Cleveland, Lorain, Elyria, Sandusky, and Detroit. We
learn along with him how to hunt buffalo, elk, bear, deer, raccoons, beaver, as well as
waterfowl. In late fall the Indians separate into small hunting camps. At that time bears are
hibernating under the snow or in hollow trees. In the latter case, someone has to climb a
trunk and smoke them out. In winter, the lodges of the beavers are smashed, holes cut in
the ice, and when the animals come up for air they are grabbed by a hind leg and
tomahawked. Methods of trapping and fishing are also detailed, as well as how women
plant corn, make maple sugar, prepare meals, and other tasks. In sum, Smith recreates the
mid-eighteenth-century world of the Ohio Indians; he puts us there and takes us through
their daily lives and seasonal cycles. He goes native, and so do we.
His is not a pastoral world, however; while for the most part the Indians are able to
sustain their traditional way of life, fur traders cause trouble and war rages on the horizon.
When Smith goes to Detroit to trade his furs, special arrangements have to be made to keep
his drunken companions from mayhem (exerpt I). Smith never accompanies them, yet
every year war parties, comprising teenage boys to men in their sixties, attack the frontiers
and return with scalps, prisoners, and plunder. While usually game is plentiful, some
winters starvation is near. Although his wise older brother tells him that during hard times
Owaneeyo provides for believers, Smith feels “intolerably hungry” and decides to “run off
to Pennsylvania, my native country” (106-107). As he flees, however, he kills a buffalo
and feels remorse for abandoning his friends. Upon his return, his brother’s speech of
consolation is memorable (excerpt J). Indeed, their discussions demonstrate an impressive
depth of characterization and thought. Once Smith laughs at his brother praying for more
tobacco and is promptly reprimanded for feeling superior: “You ought in a friendly
manner…instruct me, and not make sport of sacred things” (111-12).
Smith’s five year captivity is during the French and Indian War, and he is aware of
crucial engagements. In 1759 he travels to a Mohawk town near Montreal, leaves the
Indians, and returns to Mercersburg only to find his “sweetheart was married a few days
before I arrived” (120). Back on the Pennsylvania frontier, he becomes a leader of the
notorious Black Boys, fighting against Indians and traders who supply them. When he and
his men capture Fort Bedford to rescue a few companions, their rebellious actions are a
precursor of the American Revolution. Throughout his captivity and his years defending
the frontier, Smith’s constant theme is that Americans must learn from Indians how to fight
in the woods. He convincingly argues how disciplined and skilled Indian warriors are
(excerpt K). His narrative is among the best to show us how the Indians actually lived,
and later editions contain an appendix providing an overview of Indian manners, customs,
and modes of warfare.
In sum, there are at least six or seven full-length narratives and two dozen shorter
ones, which if time permitted I could discuss, that vividly depict the interactive world of
colonists and Indians in the American Midwest. These narratives constitute a lamentably
neglected literature of great value that merits critical attention and deserves to be taught in
high school and college classrooms.
Mary Rowlandson, “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God,” in Puritans Among the
Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption 1676-1724 (Harvard University Press,
1981). See also The Sovereignty and Goodness of God with Related Documents edited
and with an Introduction by Neal Salisbury (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997).
A Philip [Metacom] spoke to me to make a shirt for his boy, which I did, for which he gave me a
shilling. I offered the money to my master [Quinnapin], but he bade me keep it, and with it I
bought a piece of horseflesh. Afterwards he asked me to make a cap for his boy, for which he
invited me to dinner. I went, and he gave me a pancake about as big as two fingers, it was made of
parched wheat, beaten and fried in bear’s grease, but I thought I never tasted pleasanter meat in my
life. There was a squaw who spoke to me to make a shirt for her sannup [husband], for which she
gave me a piece of bear. Another asked me to knit a pair of stockings, for which she gave me a
quart of peas. I boiled my peas and bear together and invited my master to dinner, but the proud
gossip [his wife Weetamoo] refused, because I served them both in one dish, would eat nothing
except one bit that he gave her upon the point of his knife. 47-48
(A splendid set-piece, based on a series of specific observations and telling details—note
the knife point. We see how Mary Rowlandson uses her sewing and knitting skills to make herself
useful, thus gaining a certain amount of agency in Indian society. Goods and services are
exchanged. She is no longer a mere commodity to be ransomed. Also, note how she has learned
to savor the best Indian dishes, when once she dismissed them all as “filthy trash.” Her offering of
her earnings to her “master” Quinnapin, a Narragansett sachem, is also a shrewd move in this gift-
giving society, but rivalry with Weetamoo, herself a sachem, remains a constant a problem.)
B My master…was dressed in his Holland shirt with great laces sewed at the tail of it; he had his
silver buttons, his white stockings, his garters were hung round with shillings, and he had girdles
of wampum upon his head and shoulders. She had a kersey coat and [was] covered with girdles of
wampum from the loins upward; her arms from her elbows to her hands were covered with
bracelets, there were handfuls of necklaces about her neck and several sorts of jewels in her ears.
She had fine red stockings and white shoes, her hair powdered and face painted red that was
always before black. And all the dancers were after the same manner. There were two others
singing and knocking on a kettle for their music. They kept hopping up and down one after
another with a kettle of water in the midst, standing warm upon some embers, to drink of when
they were dry. They held on till it was almost night, throwing out wampum to the standersby. 66-
67 (Note that both her master and mistress are high status sachems)
C They would pick up old bones and cut them to pieces at the joints, if they were full of worms
and maggots, they would scald them over the fire to make the vermin come out and then boil them
and drink up the liquor and then beat the great ends of them in a mortar and so eat them. They
would eat horses’ guts and ears, and all sorts of wild birds which they could catch; also bear,
venison, beaver, tortoise, frogs, squirrels, dogs, skunks, rattlesnakes, yea, the very bark of trees,
besides all sorts of creatures and provision which they plundered from the English. I can but stand
in admiration to see the wonderful power of God in providing for such a vast number of our
enemies in the wilderness where there was nothing to be seen but from hand to mouth…. Our
perverse and evil carriages in the sight of the Lord have so offended Him that instead of turning
His hand against them the Lord feeds and nourishes them to be a scourge to the whole land. 69
(What the Indians ate in their desperate situation; Rowland’s pious interpretations)
Castaways: The Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, edited by Enrique Pupo-Walker,
translated by Frances M. Lopez-Morillas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). See
also, “The Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca,” in Spanish Explorers in the Southern
United States, edited by Frederick W. Hodge and Theodore H. Lewis (New York: Barnes & Noble,
DThe Indians told me that I should go and heal them, for they loved me and remembered
that I had cured them during the time of nut gathering…. And when I came near to their
settlements I saw the sick man whom we were going to heal, who was dead, for many people were
around him weeping and his house had been pulled down, which is a sign that the owner has died.
And so when I got there I found the Indian with his eyes rolled up and without any pulse and with
all the signs of being dead, as it seemed to me, and Dorantes said the same. I took off a reed mat
with which he was covered, and as best I could implored Our Lord to be pleased to give health to
that man and all others who had need of it.
And after I had made the sign of the cross and blown on him many times, they brought
me his bow and gave it to me, and a bag of crushed prickly pears, and took me to heal many others
who were lying in a stupor…. And that night they returned to their homes and said that the man
who was dead and whom I had healed had stood up in their presence entirely well and had walked
and eaten and spoken with them, and that all those whom I had cured were healthy and very happy.
This caused great astonishment and consternation, and in all the land no one talked of anything
else. All those who heard this news came to look for us, to have us heal them and sign their
children with the cross….During all this time the Indians came from many places to seek us and
said that we were truly children of the sun…. They believed that as long as we were there none of
them would have to die. 72-73
(Note how Cabeza de Vaca employs syncretistic methods, combining blowing on the
person with reciting Catholic prayers)
E After five days Andrés Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo arrived with the men who had
gone after them, and they brought with them more than six hundred persons belonging to that tribe
whom the Christians had forced to go into the thickets and hide in the land…. And after this we
had many and great altercations with the Christians, because they wanted to make slaves of the
Indians we had brought…. We had great trouble persuading the Indians to return home and to feel
safe there and to plant their maize. They wanted nothing but to go with us until they had left us
with other Indians, as their custom was, for if they returned without doing this they were afraid
they would die, and because they were with us they feared neither the Christians nor their lances.
The Christians were angry at this, and had their interpreter tell them that we were men of
their race and that we had been lost for a long time, that we were unlucky and cowardly people,
and that they were the masters of that land, whom the Indians must obey and serve. But the
Indians paid little or no heed to what they were told; rather, they talked with one another saying
that the Christians were lying, for we came from where the sun rises and they from where it sets;
and that we cured the sick and they killed the healthy; and that we had come naked and barefoot
and they well dressed and on horses and with lances; and that we did not covet anything, rather we
returned everything that they gave us and were left with nothing, and the only aim of the others
was to steal everything they found, and they never gave anything to anyone; and so they told us
our deeds and praised them, in contrast to the others. 112-14
(After eight years among the Indians, Cabeza de Vaca has been transformed into a
New Man)
Scoouwa: James Smith’s Indian Captivity Narrative, including William M. Darlington’s
illustrative notes from the 1870 Clarke edition with additional annotation by John J.
Barsotti. (Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1978).
F …a number of Indians collected about me, and one of them began to pull the hair out of my
head. He had some ashes on a piece of bark, in which he frequently dipped his fingers in order to
take the firmer hold, and so he went on, as if he had been plucking a turkey, until he had all the
hair clean out of my head, except a small spot about three or four inches square on my crown; this
they cut off with a pair of scissors, excepting three locks, which they dressed up in their own
mode. Two of these they wrapped round with a narrow beaded garter made by themselves for
that purpose, and the other they platted at full length, and then stuck it full of silver brooches.
After this they bored my nose and ears, and fixed me off with ear rings and nose jewels, then they
ordered me to strip off my clothes and put on a breech-clout, which I did; they then painted my
head, face and body in various colors. They put a large belt of wampum on my neck, and silver
bands on my hands and right arm; and so an old chief led me out in the street and gave the alarm
halloo, coo-wigh, several times repeated quick, and on this all that were in the town came running
and stood round the old chief, who held me by the hand in their midst.
As I…knew nothing of their mode of adoption, and had seen them put to death all they
had taken…I made no doubt but they were about putting me to death in some cruel manner. The
old chief holding me by the hand, made a long speech very loud, and when he had done he
handed me to three young squaws, who led me by the hand down the bank into the river until the
water was up to our middle. The squaws then made signs to me to plunge myself into the water,
but I did not understand them; I thought that the result of the council was that I should be
drowned, and that these young ladies were to be the executioners. They all three laid violent hold
of me and I for some time opposed them with all my might, which occasioned loud laughter by
the multitude that were on the bank of the river. At length one of the squaws made out to speak a
little English (for I believe they began to be afraid of me) and said no hurt you; on this I gave
myself up to their ladyships, who were as good as their word; for though they plunged me under
water, and washed and rubbed me severely, yet I could not say they hurt me much.
These young women then led me up to the council house, where some of the tribe were
ready with new cloths for me. They gave me a ruffled shirt, which I put on, also a pair of
leggings done off with ribbons and beads, likewise a pair of moccasins, and garters dressed with
beads, Porcupine-quills, and red hair—also a tinsel laced cappo. They again painted my head and
face with various colors, and tied a bunch of red feathers to one of these locks they had left on the
crown of my head, which stood up five or six inches. They seated me on a bear skin, and gave
me a pipe, tomahawk, and polecat skin pouch, which had been skinned pocket fashion, and
contained tobacco—also spunk, flint and steel…The Indians came in dressed and painted in their
grandest manner…there was a profound silence, everyone was smoking,—but not a word was
spoken among them.—At length one of the chiefs made a speech: “My son, you are now flesh of
our flesh, and bone of our bone. By the ceremony which was performed this day, every drop of
white blood was washed out of your veins; you are taken into the Caughnewago nation…; you
are now adopted into a great family…in the room and place of a great man…you are now one of
us by an old strong law and custom—My son, you have now nothing to fear, we are now under
the same obligations to love, support and defend you, that we are to love and defend one another,
therefore you are to consider yourself as one of our people.” 28-31
(Adoption ceremony)
G They called me by my Indian name, which was Scoouwa, repeatedly. I ran to see what was
the matter, they showed me my books, and said they were glad they had been found, for they
knew I was grieved at the loss of them, and that they now rejoiced with me because they were
found. As I could then speak some Indian, especially Caughnewaga (for both that and the
Wyandot tongue were spoken in this camp) I told them that I thanked them for the kindness they
had always shown me, and also for finding my books. They asked me if the books were
damaged…. The print was not much injured, though the binding was.—This was the first time
that I felt my heart warm towards the Indians. Though they had been exceedingly kind of me, I
still before detested them, on account of the barbarity I beheld after Braddock’s defeat. Neither
had I ever before pretended kindness, or expressed myself in a friendly manner; but I began now
to excuse the Indians on account of their want of information. 54-55
H “Brother, your conduct on this occasion hath pleased us much; you have given us an evidence
of your fortitude, skill and resolution: and we hope you will always go on to do great actions; as it
is only great actions that can make a great man.”
I told my brother Tecaughretanego, that I thanked them for their care of me, and for the
kindness I always received. I told him that I always wished to do great actions, and hoped I never
would do any thing to dishonor any of those with whom I was connected. 80
I We bought ourselves fine clothes, ammunition, paint, tobacco, &c, and, according to promise,
they purchased me a new gun: yet we had parted with only about a third of our beaver. At length,
a trader came to town with French Brandy: We purchased a keg of it, and held a council about
who was to get drunk, and who was to keep sober. I was invited to get drunk, but I refused the
proposal—then they told me to take care of the drunken people. I did not like this; but of two
evils I chose that which I thought was the least—and fell in with those who were to conceal the
arms, and keep every dangerous weapon we could, out of their way, and endeavor, if possible to
keep the drinking club from killing each other, which was a very hard task. Several times we
hazarded our own lives, and got ourselves hurt, in preventing them from slaying each other….
[The Ottawa] frolic ended worse than ours: five were killed… 90-91
J He thanked me for my exertion, and bid me sit down, as I must certainly be fatigued…. When
we were all refreshed, Tecaughretanego delivered a speech upon the necessity and pleasure of
receiving the necessary supports of life with thankfulness, knowing that Owaneeyo is the great
giver. Such speech from an Indian, may be tho’t by those who are unacquainted with them,
altogether incredible; but when we reflect on the Indian war, we may readily conclude that they
are not an ignorant or stupid sort of people, or they would not have been such fatal enemies.
When they came into our country they outwitted us—and when we sent armies into their country,
they outgeneraled, and beat us with inferior force…. Tecaughretanego was no common person,
but was among the Indians, as Socrates in the ancient Heathen world; and it may be, equal to him
—if not in wisdom and learning, yet, perhaps, in patience and fortitude. 108-109
K I have often heard the British officers call the Indians the undisciplined savages, which is a
capital mistake—as they have all the essentials of discipline. They are under good command, and
punctual in obeying orders; they can act in concert, and when their officers lay a plan and give
orders, they will cheerfully unite in putting all their directions into immediate execution; and by
each man observing the motion or movement of his right hand companion, they can communicate
the motion from right to left, and march a-breast in concert, and in scattered order, though the line
may be more than a mile long, and continue, if occasion requires, for a considerable distance
without disorder or confusion…. Their officers plan, order and conduct matters until they are
brought into action, and then each man is to fight as though he was to gain the battle himself.
Indian Captivity Narratives: Primary Sources (out of print, visit
Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, ed., Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives. (Penguin)
The introduction is of limited value, although there is a useful bibliography. Contains the
Rowlandson and Jemison narratives; the other eight are not as valuable.
Frederick Drimmer, ed., Captured by the Indians. (Dover) Scalps and Tomahawks (Coward-
McCann). Contains excellent narratives by James Smith, Alexander Henry, John Tanner, and
Charles Johnston. Abridged and edited without documentation, for classrooms not scholars.
Larry L. Nelson, ed., A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians
(University of Akron Press, 2002). An impressive job of blending several second and third-hand
versions into a compelling and informative narrative.
Alexander Henry, Travels and Adventures In Canada... A very useful narrative, one of the best,
excerpted in Drimmer’s anthology. Also printed in paperback as Attack at Michilimackinac.
John D. Hunter, Manners & Customs of Several Indian Tribes West of the Mississippi (Ross &
Haines, 1957). John Dunn Hunter, Memoirs of a Captivity.... Frederick Drimmer, ed., (Shocken
Books, 1973. Hunter’s authenticity has been questioned, see White Savage, by Drimmer.
James E. Seaver, A Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison (available in various editions). This is a
significant narrative from a woman’s point of view; the crucial problem is that it is actually
written by a man who distorts some of her perceptions.
James Smith, Scoouwa, (Ohio Historical Society Publication, 1978). A useful edition of one of
the best narratives, with a clear text, extensive notes and maps; lacks an updated scholarly
Introduction. Also available in Gordon Sayre, ed., American Captivity Narratives (see below).
Oliver Spencer, The Indian Captivity of O. M. Spencer, edited by Milo Milton Quaife. (The
Citadel Press, 1968, hardback; Dover, paperback). Spencer was only with the Shawnee for eight
months, but he writes well; fine descriptions of Indians and Indian customs.
John Tanner, A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner. Tanner lived for thirty
years among the Indians; shows the Indians in a complex light, especially their relationships
among themselves. Paperback edition, Falcon (Penguin), there is also a biography, The Falcon.
Richard VanDerBeets, ed., Held Captive by Indians (The University of Tennessee Press). A much
more scholarly anthology than Drimmer’s, but also one that omits several of the best narratives.
It does contain the Rowlandson and Johnson accounts.
Aldren T. Vaughan and Edward W. Clark, eds., Puritans Among the Indians (Harvard University
Press, 1981). The best scholarly edition of the main Puritan captivities.
Gordon M. Sayre, ed., American Captivity Narratives (New Riverside Editions, Houghtn Mifflin,
2000). Contains Rowlandson and Smith narratives, but none of the others noted above.
John F. Maginnes, Francis Slocum: The Lost Sister of Wyoming (Zebroski Historical Services);
Rev. John Todd, The Lost Sister of Wyoming: An Authentic Tale (J. R. Butler, 1842). As with the
Jemison narrative, the problem is that her valuable story is being told by a male minister
Secondary Sources on Captivity Narratives
Erwin H. Ackerknecht, “‘White Indians,’ Psychological and Physiological peculiarities of White
Children Abducted and Reared by North American Indians,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine,
15 (1944), 15-36. Cites John Tanner as “by far the best” description of a captured white child.
James Axtell, The Invasion Within (Oxford University Press, 1985). A major study of the
complex interactions of the French, British and Indians in the colonial period. Contains his essay,
“The White Indians.” See also his essays in After Columbus and The Europeans and the Indian.
Michelle Burnham, Captivity and Sentiment (Dartmouth College, 1997). A sophisticated feminist
reading of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity and the literature of Sentimentality.
Colin G. Calloway, Being and Becoming Indian (Dorsey, 1989). See essay on Simon Girty.
Philip J Deloria, Playing Indian (Yale University Press, 1998). Native-American critique.
Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola and James Arthur Levernier, The Indian Captivity Narrative
1550-1900 (Twayne, 1993). The standard overview, inadequate discussion Midwest narratives.
Gary L. Ebersole, Captured by Texts: Puritan to Postmodern Images of Indian Captivity
(University Press of Virginia, 1995). An extensive study.
Tom Harmer, Going Native (U. of New Mexico Press, 2001). A contemporary shaman’s view.
James D. Hartman, Providence Tales and the Birth of American Literature (Johns Hopkins, 1999).
Irving Hallowell, “American Indians, White and Black: The Phenomenon of Transculturalization,
Current Anthropology, Vol. 4., No. 5 (Dec. 1963), 519-531; “The Impact of the American Indian
on American Culture,” American Anthropologist (1959), 201-217. Valuable early studies.
William Heath, William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest (U. of Oklahoma Press,
2015). See in particular Chapter 2, “Becoming Miami.”
Annette Kolodny, The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience on the American Frontiers,
1630-1860 (U. of North Carolina Press, 1984). A valuable chapter on Jemison and others.
June Namias, White Captives (U. of North Carolina Press, 1995). Focus on female captives.
Andrew Newman, Allegories of Encounter: Colonial Literacy and Indian Captivities (U. of North
Carolina, 2019). Smith discussed, main focus on Rowlandson. Electronic bibliography only!
Roy Harvey Pearce, The Savages of America (Johns Hopkins, 1965). See “The Significance of
the Captivity Narrative,” originally published in American Literature (1947), 1-20.
Gordon M. Sayre, Les Sauvages Americains: (U. of North Carolina Press, 1997). This study of
how the French wrote about the Indians is a valuable contrast to New England accounts.
Billy J. Stratton, Buried in the Shades of Night (U. Of North Carolina Press). King Philip’s War.
R. W. G. Vail, The Voice of the Old Frontier (Octagon Books, 1970). Bibliography of narratives
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.