The Algonquians allowed her to keep a Bible they had taken, among other things, from the village, and she read it avidly. Some portions, such as Deuteronomy 28, persuaded her the calamity that had fallen on their village was a result of their sins. Deuteronomy 30, however, provided assurance of God’s mercy and unbreakable promises. “I do not desire to live to forget this Scripture, and what comfort it was to me,” she wrote.
Mary Rowlandson’s account of her experience as prisoner of war became an immediate best-seller. In fact, it was the first best-seller in America, and the first of what became a popular genre: accounts of captivity among Native American tribes.
Her book – initially written for the benefit of her children – was first published with the title The soveraignty and goodness of God, together with the faithfulness of his promises displayed. It included a preface – probably written by Increase Mather – and a sermon by her husband at the end. It continued to be a popular book well into the 19th-century.
Today, her account is often discounted as partial and biased. She calls her captors “ravenous beasts” and “cruel heathens.” Her harrowing experience and her candor in describing her actions, feelings, and questions, however, cause readers to sympathize rather than criticize her.
Besides, some modern scholars recognize that her description of Algonquian life is fairly accurate, and her account introduces us to both compassionate and cruel captors. There is some ambivalence in her judgment, especially when she witnesses God’s continual provision of her enemies’ needs. In any case, the Algonquians are not the main characters in this tale, and are not mentioned in her conclusion. The protagonist is God. Every event is a part of his purpose in a much larger story, and what matters to Mary is her response to God’s providence in her life.
Born in 1637 in Somerset, England, Mary immigrated to America with her family two years later. In Lancaster, Massachusetts, her father John White became a successful landowner. Around 1656, Mary married Joseph Rowlandson, the town’s pastor. The couple had four children. The first one, Mary, died just five days past her third birthday. The others were Joseph, another Mary, and Sarah.