Cruel or courageous? A new reading of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative

Many Americans learn about Mary Rowlandson in high school. Her tale of traveling with Indigenous people as a prisoner in 1676, during King Philip’s War, is still read in US high schools and colleges. Far fewer Americans know about Weetamoo, the Pocasset saunkskwa with whom Rowlandson travelled, who did all that bravery and humanity could to try to prevent the outbreak of the bloodiest war in what we call “American” history. Click here for a 97-minute presentation and discussion by the Partnership of Historic Bostons on July 12, 2022.

In a discussion led by Lori Rogers-Stokes (above left) and Nemasket Tribal Chief Lance Young (above right), we hear about Dr. Lisa Brooks’ groundbreaking book Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War and Rowlandson’s short captivity narrative, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God and focus on Brooks’ eye-opening retelling of the Rowlandson captivity narrative through the lens of Weetamoo and the Indigenous experience.

In Our Beloved Kin, Dr. Lisa Brooks turns Rowlandson’s story on its head, taking us deep inside the Indigenous experience of King Philip’s War. Her protagonist is none other than that “haughty queen” of Rowlandson’s story, but readers come to know the real woman: Weetamoo, the Pocasset saunkskwa who did all that bravery and humanity could to try to prevent the outbreak of the war.

Who were the equally “beloved kin” Weetamoo fought for? Who were the Indigenous people, nations and individuals, who inherited a broken, nearly irreparable world after the war? We can read Rowlandson’s narrative as it has traditionally been viewed, as a story of Puritan providentialism and the colonists’ terror. Through Lisa Brooks’ uncovering of the other side of the story, we gain a fundamentally new understanding that challenges the story we thought we knew.