ABSTRACT

The phrase “Indian captivity narratives” refers here to stories by or about English people who were taken captive by North American Indians during the colonial period, from the late sixteenth century to the American Revolution. These narratives were popular literature and their authors and subjects included substantial numbers of women. The frequency of women writers reflects the historical fact that most North American captives were women and children. The narratives of five women—Mary Rowlandson, Hannah Swarton, Hannah Dustan, Elizabeth Hanson, and Mary Jemison—illustrate the common features of the narratives, such as graphic descriptions of attacks, encounters with strange foods, survival in the cold, and spiritual struggle. They also describe favorable interactions with Indian women. These narratives as a group reveal the changes in the genre over time. The narratives were published from 1682 to 1824 and reveal the gradual decline of a fundamentally religious interpretation of captivity. Indian captivity narratives have features in common with other stories of the period, including spiritual autobiographies, accounts of capture by Barbary pirates in the Muslim Mediterranean, and narratives by survivors of the transatlantic slave trade. All these narratives had an impact on the ways in which European colonists perceived and imagined non-European cultures and peoples.