Criticisms of Patriarchy in Mary Rowlandson’s The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682)


European-American ministers during the post-colonial era often used their interactions with Native Americans to assert that a patriarchal social structure should be maintained despite their recent geographic relocation from Europe to New England. One way they attempted to do this was by portraying the women in captivity narratives as passive victims whose circumstances supported the integrity of patriarchy. Mary Rowlandson’s narrative, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, is an example of how the European-American males attempted to use women’s captivity narratives to affirm their own social and political authority. However, a close reading of Rowlandson’s text in conjunction with historical evidence of women’s roles within a patriarchal social structure reveals that Rowlandson was an active victim who resisted patriarchy. She did this not by blatantly attacking patriarchy, but by acting within her socially accepted roles as a housewife, a deputy-husband, a mother, a deputy father, and a spiritual independent. 

Table of Contents: 


    New England during the late seventeenth century was marked by European-Americans’ strained relations with Native Americans. As the European-Americans continued to force the Native Americans to conform to “civilized…religious, political, and cultural institutions and practices” (Salisbury 3) without granting the Indians sovereignty over their land or people, animosity grew between the two groups. In 1675, John Sassamon, a Christian Massachusetts Indian who became an interpreter, counselor, and English-language scribe for the Pokanoket Wampanoag’s sachem Metacom, was mysteriously killed after trying to warn the Governor of Plymouth Colony, Josiah Winslow, that the Indians planned to wage war against the English. The English put three of Metacom’s allies on trial for Sassamon’s murder, found them guilty, and hanged them. Considering this yet another injustice against Indians’ sovereignty, Metacom prepared for war against the English (21). Metacom’s War, also called King Philip’s War, began in June of 1675 when Pokanoket Indians attacked the Plymouth colony Swansea, and it ended three years later in April 1678. One of the many towns the Indians attacked during King Philip’s War was Lancaster, Massachusetts. During the first attack on this town, the Indians killed seven colonists, and on the second attack they killed at least fourteen inhabitants and captured twenty three colonists (5).

    Mary Rowlandson and her children were among the people captured at Lancaster. Born in the south of England in 1637 to Mary and John White, Mary White and her family moved to Salem, Massachusetts in 1639, and then settled in Lancaster, Massachusetts in 1654. She married the Minister of Lancaster, Joseph Rowlandson, in 1656, and lived with him in Lancaster until she and her three children were captured on February 10, 1675. Rowlandson was held captive for eleven weeks until she was finally ransomed. Six years later in 1682, she wrote her captivity narrative The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. This narrative was the first among many English-American women’s captivity narratives, which detailed the experiences of non-Indian women who were held captive by Native Americans but eventually returned to their families.

     Ministers from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries often edited and promoted women’s captivity narratives like The Sovereignty and Goodness of God and, as scholars like Teresa A. Toulouse and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich have shown, these ministers represented women captives as passive, helpless victims in order to achieve their own political, religious, and social ends (Toulouse 7). However, the women that the ministers described as passive and helpless sometimes used the minister’s descriptions of their actions within their narratives to achieve their own goals of criticizing the English social structure of patriarchy. In this paper, I will apply historical knowledge of women’s social roles from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries to analyze Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. First, I will discuss the societal roles of women from 1650-1750. Then, I will describe how Mary Rowlandson used her roles as a housewife, a deputy husband, a mother, a deputy father, and a spiritual independent to criticize patriarchy. Rowlandson’s performance of these roles reveals that she criticized patriarchy by acting within the socially accepted roles of early New England’s society.

    Women’s Roles in Early New England

    The historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote the book Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750 in order to explain the gender roles of European-Americans from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries. According to Ulrich, an “internal economy” (9) could be furthered through a housewife’s “economic skills—service, manufacturing, agriculture, and trade” (15). These skills were meant to produce goods that the family would consume at home, such as butter or cheese. The women could also trade the goods they produced in order to obtain food or goods from other women in the community. In spite of her ability to earn a little money by using these economic skills, she still had “a limited area of authority (the internal economy of a family)” (9), and this “internal economy” (9) was ultimately just a part of the economy legally entitled to only the male family members (7).

    Women were also able to act as deputy husbands, which Ulrich defined as a colonial woman who, “under the right conditions…not only could double as a husband, she had the responsibility to do so” (38). This meant that when the men were unable to fulfill their patriarchal roles in business, farming, or any of their other duties, the wife was expected to fulfill these responsibilities for them. Under these circumstances, “almost any task was suitable for a woman as long as it furthered the good of her family and was acceptable to her husband” (37-38). It was, therefore, not unusual for women to negotiate simple business deals that would benefit the prosperity of their husbands. However, deputy husbands were only supposed to perform these duties “under the ‘wing, protection, and cover’ of a husband” (42) since the law granted ownership of each household’s finances only to the men (7).

    Mothers in early New England were responsible “for the very survival of children in their earliest and most vulnerable years; fathers [were responsible] for the hard decisions of emerging adulthood, the questions of land and livelihood” (Ulrich 155). It was therefore important that the fathers provided economically for the mothers so that the women could have the resources they needed in order to nurture their children. The woman’s nurturing would ensure that the children survived and grew up to inherit the “land and livelihood” (155). Mothering was also “extensive rather than intensive” (153), which meant that mothers were supposed to “extend the nurturing role into the community in the support of other women in childbearing, in casual surveillance of one another’s children” (158). When it came to disciplining the children, “mothers represented the affectionate mode in an essentially authoritarian system of child-rearing” (153).

    According to Ulrich, women in early New England were also considered spiritual independents because they “could be members of a gathered church. In a society in which church membership had to be earned, this was no small distinction. Furthermore, church membership was not contingent upon any other social role” (216). Women at this time embraced their spiritual independence and became active members in the church, where they “promoted the establishment of religion in outlying areas of older towns; using their influence within the village network as well as with their husbands, women served as guardians of ministerial reputation; and, finally, drawing upon the authority of their own powerlessness, certain women became vessels of the supernatural” (217). Spiritual independence was therefore a large part of the little independence granted to women during the seventeenth century.

    Although the positions of housewives, deputy husbands, mothers, deputy fathers, and spiritual independents were accepted roles in New England from 1650-1750, most of the concrete evidence of how women who returned to patriarchal New England performed these roles in captivity comes from the captivity narratives written by or about them. One example of this is Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, which gives insight into how a woman in colonial New England used these roles within captivity to criticize the idea that a patriarchal structure was in the best interest of the whole English society. Rowlandson did this by using her roles as a housewife, deputy husband, mother, deputy father, and spiritual independent in order to emphasize the failures of the English men, who did not fulfill their patriarchal duties. However, these failures allowed Rowlandson to act independently of the non-ministerial English men, and she used this independence, which increased throughout the course of the narrative, to criticize the English men’s actions and lack of action.

    Mary Rowlandson as a Housewife

    Rowlandson was devoted to her role as housewife in the beginning of her narrative. However, she used her devotion to this role in order to undermine the authority of patriarchy. She did this primarily by using her role as a housewife to gain protection from an unlikely source and therefore undermine key patriarchal beliefs. Before she did this, however, she established that the English men failed at performing their patriarchal duty of protecting the women and children at Lancaster. The English men during King Philip’s War “agreed on the clear superiority of their own culture to that of the natives” (Salisbury 3) and believed that they were superior to the Indians “by virtue of their religious, political, and cultural institutions and practices, and stood in sharp contrast to Native Americans and other ‘savages’ who were considered to be religiously superstitious” (3). However, during the attack on Lancaster, the English were devastated by the people they thought they had a divine mandate to civilize. Rowlandson described a

    Father, and the Mother and a suckling Child, [the Indians] knocked on the head… Another there who was running along was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them Money (as they told me) but they would not harken to him but knockt him in the head, and stript him naked, and split open his Bowels. Another seeing many of the Indians about his Barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same Garrison who were killed. (Rowlandson 68)

    The only men Rowlandson described during the attack were killed and were therefore unable to protect her. The only defensive move made by a man in this passage was when one man, who was at first attempting to run away, tried to secure his life by offering the Indians money. He did not offer to bribe the Indians for the lives of the women and children. Instead, he tried to bribe the Indians into allowing him to continue running away from the attack and the defenseless women and children. However, his bribe was ineffective, and the Indians still killed him. This passage described one of only two instances where the English men tried to defend themselves against the Indians. The only other instance where an English man may have tried to defend Lancaster occurred when the Indians tried to set the garrison on fire. One person, whose gender was not specified but who was probably male, “ventured out and quenched it, but [the Indians] quickly fired again, and that took” (69). With the garrison on fire, the inhabitants were forced to go outside and were either killed or captured by the Indians. Again, the only person who tried to defend Lancaster against the Indians failed to prevent the Indians from killing or capturing the inhabitants. Instead of naturally winning the battle due to the superiority the English thought they naturally had over the Indians, Rowlandson described the Indians as having the upper hand during the attack. Rowlandson, therefore, did not praise the English men for their defense of Lancaster, but instead she chose to detail their lack of resistance to their enemies, emphasizing their failure to accomplish the divine mandate they had to “civilize” the Indians.

    Rowlandson’s omission of evidence that the English men tried to defend Lancaster can be explained through historical context, which shows that the English men failed to protect Lancaster even before the attack began. Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Major-General Daniel Gookin was warned by the Nipmuc Indian James Quanapohit of the attack on Lancaster, but because of racial prejudices against Quanapohit, some of the English men thought he was lying about the attack. These prejudices caused the “colonial officials [to do] nothing toward augmenting the fourteen soldiers already stationed [at Lancaster]” (Salisbury 24-25). In addition to the army’s inaction, the men of Lancaster also took action too late, although they sent “several men, including Joseph Rowlandson, to Boston to plead for troops to defend the town” (24-25). The males’ actions, and lack of action, , caused the women and children to not have the military and male protection they needed at the time of the attack on Lancaster, this resulted in the death of seventeen of Lancaster’s inhabitants and the captives’ sufferings. This historical information, although absent from Rowlandson’s narrative, supports her description of the few men at Lancaster failing in their patriarchal duty to protect the women and children.

    Once Rowlandson was captured, the patriarchal order was fractured, and she realized that she had to depend on herself in order to survive because there were no English men to protect her. She was able to survive during captivity by using her skills as a housewife to further her Indian master’s “internal economy” (Ulrich 6). Although he was not her husband, Rowlandson described how she assumed her role as a housewife in captivity in order to put herself “under the ‘wing, protection, and cover’” (42) of her master, Quinnapin. She did this primarily by using her manufacturing skills to knit clothing. Rowlandson said,

    during my abode in this Place, Philip spake 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, but he bade me keep it; and with it I bought a piece of horse flesh. 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. (Rowlandson 83)

    King Philip was Quinnapin’s brother in law, and when Rowlandson used the knitting skills she learned as a housewife to promote the “internal economy of [her master’s] family” (Ulrich 6), Philip and Quinnapin chose to provide for her by giving her portions of the little food the Indians had, like the “pancake, about as big as two fingers” (Rowlandson 83). Quinnapin also indirectly provided for her by allowing her to keep the money she earned from Philip. She took this money and bought “a piece of horse flesh” (83). She used her skills as a housewife, therefore, to further the “internal economy” (Ulrich 6) of Quinnapin’s family, and he reciprocated these actions by providing for her. Rowlandson’s goal of using her skills as a housewife to earn Quinnapin’s provision is demonstrated again when she received a knife as payment for knitting a shirt for an Indian. She “carried the knife in, and [her] master asked [her] to give it him, and [she] was not a little glad that [she] had anything that they would accept of, and be pleased with” (Rowlandson 84). Rowlandson was not just “a little glad” (84) that Quinnapin took away the knife that she could have sold to earn food from the other Indians. Instead, she was extremely glad that her earnings pleased him. She wanted to please her master, and by doing this Rowlandson developed a reciprocal relationship with Quinnapin, in which she used her manufacturing skills as a housewife to please him, and he provided her with food.

    Quinnapin, however, became Rowlandson’s provider for more than just food. When her master had to temporarily leave her, she said that “a sore time of trial, I concluded, I had to go through, my master being gone, who seemed to me the best friend that I had of an Indian, both in cold and hunger, and quickly so it proved” (Rowlandson 1682, 86). This indicated that Quinnapin provided for her as a “friend,” and did his best to provide for her “both in cold and hunger” (86). After a long absence from her master, Rowlandson said,

    glad I was to see him. He asked me, when I washed me? I told him not this month. Then he fetched me some water himself, and bid me wash, and gave me the glass to see how I looked; and bid his squaw give me something to eat….I was wonderfully revived with this favor showed me. (96).

    Quinnapin, therefore, provided her with the comforts of personal hygiene and appearance, as well as for the food she needed, even though the Indians were also suffering from cold and starvation.

    However, instead of indicating the positive results of a patriarchal social structure, Rowlandson’s actions undermined the sovereignty of patriarchy because she used her role as a housewife to gain protection and provision from a non-patriarchal male. Paula Gunn Allen notes in her essay “When Women Throw Down Bundles: Strong Women Make Strong Nations” that the Indians at the time of Rowlandson’s narrative were mostly gynocentric, meaning that women were generally the decision-makers and at the top of the social hierarchy. However, the Indians eventually “fell under patriarchalization. No tribe escaped that fate, though some western groups retained their gynocentric egalitarianism until well into the latter half of the twentieth century” (33). In Marion Johnson Mochon’s article “Stockbridge-Munsee Cultural Adaptations: ‘Assimilated Indians,’” Monchon discussed how the eastern Algonquian Indians were gynocentric until the Mission Period of 1734-1820. Until the mid-eighteenth century, there was little evidence that “suggest[ed] that the matrilineal clan structure of village life, while vestiges of such may have been present, had been weakened” (194). Although eastern Algonquian Indians like Rowlandson’s captors eventually became patriarchal, they were most likely gynocentric or non-patriarchal at the time of Rowlandson’s captivity in 1675. When Rowlandson’s mistress Weetamoo demonstrated her authority over Rowlandson, it exemplified the Wampanoag’s non-patriarchal social structure. When preparing for the twelfth remove, Rowlandson said that

    on a sudden my mistress [gave] out, she would go no further, but turn back again, and said, I must go back again with her, and she called her Sannup, and would have had him gone back also, but he would not, but said, He would go on, and come to us again in three dayes. (Rowlandson 86)

    Weetamoo asserted her equal authority over Rowlandson in this instance, and also indicated that she expected that her husband might obey her command to go back with her as well. Although he did not obey her in this instance, this situation demonstrated that Weetamoo and Quinnapin had at least equal authority over Rowlandson when she was in captivity.

    When Rowlandson subjected herself to the protection of gynocentric Native American men, it was an action that undermined the idea that only in a patriarchal society can men adequately provide for and protect women. In early New England, “to provide for succeeding generations but also to protect the needs of the whole, including the aged, the orphaned, and the widowed, patriarchal order was seen as essential. Families could not be fed on sentiment” (Ulrich 154). When Rowlandson was fed and her needs were provided for by a non-patriarchal male, it undermined the idea that the wellbeing of citizens was completely dependent on a society’s patriarchal social structure. This also could explain why Rowlandson referred to Quinnapin as a “friend” (Rowlandson 86). As a non-patriarchal Indian, Quinnapin was not bound by a societal duty to protect and provide for Rowlandson. However, he was her friend “both in cold and hunger” (86) in spite of the fact that his society did not require him to take care of women. In fact, taking care of Rowlandson could have endangered Quinnapin. Weetamoo clearly did not like Rowlandson, and she expected her husband to obey her. In a gynocyntric society, women were on top of the social, political, and religious hierarchy. Therefore, by defying the obvious desire that Weetamoo had to make Rowlandson uncomfortable, Quinnapin risked social repercussions.

    Mary Rowlandson as a Deputy Husband

    Just as the fracture in the patriarchal order forced Rowlandson to act independently of the English men and use her skills as a housewife to find protection from a non-patriarchal Indian, the English men’s patriarchal failures forced Rowlandson to perform her role of a deputy husband independently. She also used her position as a deputy husband to criticize patriarchy by describing how the English men’s failures prevented her from accurately negotiating for her own release. Deputy husbands were required to place themselves “under the ‘wing, protection, and cover’ of a husband” (Ulrich 42) when they assisted in the affairs of their husbands. Rowlandson’s captivity, however, forced her to position herself “under the ‘wing, protection, and cover’” (42) of her Indian master, Quinnapin, instead of under her husband. Her husband’s inability to fulfill his role of overseer of Rowlandson’s actions put her in a dangerous situation when she “assist[ed] in the economic affairs of her husband” (49) by naming her own ransom. She said,

    Not knowing that all we had was destroyed by the Indians, I was in a great strait: I thought if I should speak of but a little, it would be slighted, and hinder the matter, if of a great sum, I knew not where it would be procured: yet at a venture, I said Twenty pounds, yet desired them to take less; but they would not hear of that, but sent the message to Boston, that for Twenty pounds I should be redeemed. (Rowlandson 98)

    She described her internal conflict of naming the perfect price that would match the expectations of the Indians and her husband’s wealth. Rowlandson knew that her performance of this role could “hinder” (98) her release or lead to a shorter captivity.

    When Rowlandson discovered that the price she named for her ransom was too high, she blamed her inability to accurately perform her duty as a deputy husband on the failures of the English men to protect Lancaster. She eventually found out that twenty pounds was too large a ransom because her husband’s property had been destroyed after the attack on Lancaster. As stated previously, it was the men’s failure to protect Lancaster that led to Rowlandson’s captivity, and Rowlandson now reveals that it also led to the destruction of their economic prosperity as well. If men during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not protect their property, which was under the legal control of the husband or the male heirs, the men essentially left their wives, children, or mothers with no economic security. Therefore, under normal circumstances, the destruction of her husband’s property meant that Rowlandson had no financial guarantees. However, the impacts of her husband’s failure to guard his economic provisions did not just affect Rowlandson economically. Instead, her husband’s lack of funds could have resulted in a longer captivity because he did not have the money to pay her ransom. She stated later in her narrative that “the twenty pounds, the price of my redemption, was raised by some Boston Gentlemen and Ms. Usher, whose bounty and religious charity, I would not forget to make mention of” (108). Her husband was, therefore, not able to provide the economic security that Rowlandson needed to save her life, and only at the expense of others were her negotiations for her release successful. This failure made it impossible for Rowlandson to accurately act as a deputy husband by performing a vital business negotiation with the Indians. Therefore, Rowlandson’s narrative suggests that her failure to accurately price her own ransom was a result of the men’s failures of their patriarchal duties to provide for her.

    Mary Rowlandson as a Mother and Deputy Father

    Rowlandson’s actions as a mother and deputy father throughout her captivity narrative demonstrated an increased independence that resulted from the English males’ failures to fulfill their patriarchal duties. Through her use of this increased independence and her descriptions of her role as a deputy father and mother, Rowlandson emphasized the English men’s failures. Ulrich did not use the term “deputy father” in her book. However, I propose this phrase based on the fact that deputy husbands could assume the roles of their husbands. Deputy fathers, therefore, are mothers who took on the roles of the fathers. They could do this by taking on an authoritative parenting style and by providing for their children, which were generally duties that belonged to the father. In early New England, when husbands did not adequately protect their wives, they forced the mothers to act as deputy fathers and take on the responsibility of providing the food and other resources for their children. Rowlandson mourned her inability to adequately fulfill her role as deputy father by providing for her wounded child. She said that

    there remained nothing to me but one poor wounded Babe, and it seemed at present worse than death that it was in such a pitiful condition, bespeaking compassion, and I had no refreshing for it, nor suitable things to revive it. (Rowlandson 71)

    Her concern was that she was unable to provide food, water, or medicine that would allow her child to survive. However, Rowlandson had just been sold to the master who would become her provider and protector (75), so no one had been providing for Rowlandson’s needs and she, therefore, had no way of providing for her child’s needs.

    However, Rowlandson continued to try to fill her role as a deputy father by providing for the rest of her children, although she had little to give them. When her son came to her covered in lice and hungry, Rowlandson removed the lice from his head. Since she “had nothing [else] to relieve him, [she] bid him go into the Wigwams as he went along, and see if he could get anything among them. Which he did” (Rowlandson 90). As a deputy father, therefore, Rowlandson had to take on the “authoritarian system of child-rearing” (Ulrich 153) that usually belonged to the father, and she ordered her son to go beg for food. This new authoritarian stance allowed her to provide for her child when there were no English males providing for her.  

    Although Mary Rowlandson acted as a deputy father, she used her stance as a mother to criticize patriarchy’s expectations of mothers and deputy fathers. At the beginning of her captivity, Rowlandson showed signs of the extensive mothering that was expected of women in early New England by attempting to care for the other English women and children. She encouraged Goodwife Joslin not to run away because they “were near thirty miles from any English Town, and she very big with Child, and had but one week to reckon; and another child in her Arms, two years old” (Rowlandson 77). This statement indicated that Rowlandson wanted to be sure that Goodwife Joslin acted in the best interest of herself and children. Goodwife Joslin had little chance of making the treacherous and long journey home through a land occupied by belligerent Indians, especially with a young child. Rowlandson encouraged her to stay in captivity because her survival rate was higher there than on her own in the wilderness. Rowlandson also demonstrated her devotion to the whole of the English society by taking care of John Gilberd, who was an English child who was kicked out of his wigwam because he fell ill with dysentery from eating too much blood from the undercooked meat. Rowlandson tried to ensure Gilberd’s survival just like she did for her own son; she took on an authoritarian stance and demanded that he do things that would allow him to survive. Rowlandson said,

    I advised John to go and get to some fire: he told me he cou’d not stand, but I perswaded him still, lest he should ly there and die: and with much adoe I got him to a fire, and went my self home. (Rowlandson 90)

    It is likely that Rowlandson saved John Gilberd’s life by ordering him to go sit by a fire so that he would not freeze to death. These situations showed how Rowlandson attempted to care for the “other women in childbearing” (Ulrich 158) and take care of the children when their mothers were unable to take care of them, which were key roles expected of women in early New England.  

    However, later evidence in the narrative indicated that Rowlandson forwent her patriarchal duty of caring for others within the English society in order to insure her own safety. At one point when her Indian master was away, Rowlandson suffered from extreme hunger. She noted that an Indian woman gave her and an English child a piece of meat. Rowlandson said that

    being very hungry I had quickly eat up mine, but the child could not bite it, it was so tough and sinewy, but lay sucking, gnawing, chewing and slobbering of it in the mouth and hand, then I took it of the Child, and ate it myself, and savoury it was to my taste. (96)

    Rowlandson offered no other explanation for her behavior except to say that “the Lord made that pleasant refreshing, which at another time would have been an abomination” (96). When Rowlandson acted selfishly and put her own needs before those of an English child, it indicated that even though she tried to fulfill her role as a mother in captivity, her circumstances were too severe for her to act according to patriarchal expectations by looking out for the rest of the English society. Even though Rowlandson fulfilled some of the English men’s duties as a deputy father and mother, when Rowlandson was in a non-patriarchal society that did not require her to act in the best interest of the whole English society, she chose to put her own needs above those of the other English captives.

    Mary Rowlandson as a Spiritual Independent

    Rowlandson exemplified even more independence from English societal pressures when she used her role as a spiritual independent in order to criticize the patriarchal English army and other non-ministerial English men. When Rowlandson used scripture to criticize the English army at the end of her narrative, she was acting outside of the behavior that the patriarchal system allowed spiritual independents. Rowlandson said that

    our English Army was so numerous, and in pursuit of the Enemy, and so near as to take several and destroy them: and the Enemy in such distress for food, that our men might track them by their rooting in the earth for Ground-nuts whilst they were flying for their lives. I say, that then our army should want Provision, and be forced to leave their pursuit and return homeward: and the very next week the Enemy came upon our Town, like Bears bereft of their whelps, or so many ravenous Wolves, rending us and our Lambs to death. But what shall I say? God seemed to leave His People to themselves, and order all things for His own holy ends. (104-105)

    Rowlandson clearly stated that the English were close enough “to take several [Indians] and destroy them” (104), and the Indians were starving. She stated that these circumstances led to the destruction of Lancaster and caused the English people, or “Lambs” (105) to be killed. By interpreting these events as results of the English army’s failures, Rowlandson acted out of the authority that her spiritual independence granted her. From 1650-1750, “women helped to shape religion in northern New England, but it is important to recognize that their effectiveness was dependent upon the approval of the men who voted the taxes, called the ministers, and interpreted the visions” (Ulrich 226). Women were allowed to participate in spiritual events, but they were not allowed to interpret spiritual matters. When Rowlandson directly linked the army’s actions to the death of English people, she was acting beyond the allowances of her role as a spiritual independent. However, when Rowlandson interpreted these events, she also deemphasized the fact that she was criticizing the English army’s actions, and she instead emphasized the fact that she was crediting God with control over these circumstances. She expressed the fact that it was God’s plan to “leave His People to themselves, and order all things for His own holy ends” (105). By saying this, she insinuated that she was simply stating God’s role in the war instead of criticizing the English men’s failures during the war. She used this technique again when she said,

    when the English Army with new supplies were sent forth to pursue after the enemy, and they understanding it, fled before them till they came to Baquaug River, where they forthwith went over to see the wonderful providence of God in preserving the heathen for further affliction to our poor Countrey. They could go in great numbers over, but the English must stop: God had an over-ruling hand in all those things. (105)

    She clearly stated that God’s will, not circumstances, was the only thing that prevented the English from being capable of crossing the river like the Indians, who were able to cross the river “in great numbers” (105). By emphasizing God’s role in these circumstances, she once again used her spiritual independence to deemphasize the fact that she was subtly criticizing the English for their failures. This demonstrated that Rowlandson had to qualify her criticisms by using spiritual references, but by doing so she essentially drew “upon the authority of [her] own powerlessness” (Ulrich 217) and appeared as though she was simply stating God’s role in the circumstances. She therefore prevented anyone from accusing her of criticizing the English men, because to question her criticisms of the English army’s failures would have entailed questioning her claims that God had a role in the war.

    Although Rowlandson acted outside of the behavior her role as a spiritual independent allowed, she also acted within the societally accepted behavior as a spiritual independent in order to keep her criticisms in her narrative and still have her narrative published. Several scholars have attributed Rowlandson’s insertion of scripture and Biblical references into her narrative as a result of ministerial editing (Toulouse 1). However, it could be that she was simply fulfilling her role “as [a] guardian of ministerial reputation” (Ulrich 217) in order to ensure that her narrative was published. Ministers like her husband, Joseph Rowlandson, and Increase Mather, who likely wrote the forward to her narrative, were at this time trying “to protect certain traditional New English charter and church privileges which den[ied] rights and toleration to those who dissent from them politically or religiously” (Toulouse 3). The ministers did this by criticizing other men within the patriarchal hierarchy who had differing views on the Halfway Covenant (26). By siding with these ministers, who were also critiquing the other men in the English society, she was able to publish a narrative that was supported by the church and still subtly criticized the actions of the patriarchal men. At this time, it was rare for a woman to write her own text, and it was virtually impossible to do so without the support of ministers or some other male authority. Toulouse noted that “it seems evident that this text, written as it was by a woman, could not have been published without [the minister Increase Mather’s] very conscious support” (34). This indicated that when Rowlandson allowed English Puritan ministers to use her narrative to “serve as a measure of New England’s spiritual and physical desolation” (Ulrich 174), she also accomplished her own goal of criticizing the patriarchal structure of the English. Therefore, although it may initially seem counterintuitive for Rowlandson to submit her narrative to editing and support of patriarchal ministers, by doing so she used what little independence she was granted in a patriarchal society, her spiritual independence, in order to ensure that her narrative and critiques of non-ministerial English men would be published. 


    Scholars have sometimes considered Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative to be a text that served the purposes of the English ministerial elites (Derounian-Stodola 5,  Toulouse 3). However, her roles as a housewife, deputy husband, a deputy father, a mother, and a spiritual independent reveals that instead of the “passive victim” she is often considered to be, she actually used her actions within the narrative to achieve her own purposes. First, she used her domestic skills that she learned as a housewife in order to gain provisions and protection from a non-patriarchal male. This disproved the English men’s belief that only in patriarchal societies can women be adequately protected. Second, she used her role as a deputy husband to negotiate her own release. However, she blamed her failure to accurately price her own ransom on the failures of the English men. Although she performed her roles as a mother and a deputy father, she also showed signs of an increased independence during her captivity, which allowed her to put her own needs before the needs of other English captives. Lastly, Rowlandson used her spiritual independence to ensure that her narrative would be published even though she also acted outside of the normal behavior of a spiritual independent by using her interpretations to criticize the non-ministerial English men’s actions during the war. Therefore, an understanding of the historical roles of English women within the patriarchal society of early New England and a close reading of The Sovereignty and Goodness of God  highlight the fact that although Rowlandson performed the roles the patriarchal English men expected her to perform, she used her actions and increased independence within captivity to criticize the non-ministerial English men.

    Works Cited

    • Allen, Paula G. “When Women Throw Down Bundles: Strong Women Make Strong Nations.” In The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Tradition. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.30-42. Print.
    • Derounian-Stodola, Kathryn Z. Introduction. Women’s Captivity Narratives. Ed. Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola. New York: Penguin, 1998. Print.
    • Mochon, Marion Johnson. “Stockbridge-Munsee Cultural Adaptations: ‘Assimilated Indians.’” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 112. 3 (Jun. 21, 1968): 182-219. Web. 11 July 2013.
    • Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. 1682. Boston: Bedford, 1997. Print.
    • Salisbury, Neal. “Introduction: Mary Rowlandson and Her Removes.” The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson with Related Documents. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 1997. Print.
    • Toulouse, Teresa A. “Female Captivity, Royal Authority, and Male Identity in Colonial New England.” The Captive’s Position: Female Narrative, Male Identity, and Royal Authority in Colonial England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. 1-20. Print.
    • Toulouse, Teresa A. “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God in 1682: Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative and the “Fathers’” Defense.” The Captive’s Position: Female Narrative, Male Identity, and Royal Authority in Colonial England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. 21-44. Print. 
    • Wakefield, Sarah. Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees: A Narrative of Indian Captivity.” Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives. 1864. New York: Penguin, 1998. 241-313. Print.
    • Ulrich, Laurel T. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750. New York: Vintage Books. Print.