Puritans and Native Americans Term Paper

Pages: 3 (1187 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Native Americans


These were people whose idea of God had justified the beheading of the King of England, Charles the First, who could hardly be accused of being a godless heathen; in fact, he was beheaded because his Christian God was insufficiently Puritan. In some sense, the Native Americans were hardly the only victims of Puritan self-righteousness: before going to war with Native Americans, the Puritans had treated the King of England and the population of Ireland with the same lofty contempt.

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For that reason, Rowlandson's story of her captivity is more full of Biblical quotations than any attempt to understand the social structure or mores of the Native Americans that abducted her: they were "heathens" and that was enough understanding as far as the Puritans were concerned. But at the same time, the way Rowlandson's story is told is meant to reinforce the cultural narrative of the Puritans at the same time that it denies the cultural narrative of the Native Americans: Downing (1981) reports, concerning the conflict in which Rowlandson's kidnapping occurred (known as King Philip's War or the "First Indian War") that "Increase Mather and other Puritan divines explained the Indian uprising as a sign of God's displeasure, exhorting their congregations about the dangers of 'backsliding'." (Downing 254). In other words, the clash of cultures that we see in Mary Rowlandson's kidnapping is used to strengthen the Puritans self-definition. It is used to reinforce the sense of community among hostile alien presences that do not believe in their Christian God, but it is also used to force the Puritan community itself to examine its own conscience and try to appease that Christian God through righteous behavior.

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The only irony is that the Puritans might as well have been looking in a mirror: from the standpoint of an anthropologist, the angry god of this hubristic Protestant sect was just as much a bloodthirsty tribal cult as anything that would be found among the Native Americans. Mary Rowlandson may thank her God that she was only kidnapped by Narragansetts rather than by Aztecs, and that she was ransomed after 11 weeks rather than being slaughtered and eaten on a ziggurat, but at the end of the day the Puritan God seems rather similar to the Aztec version, at least when it comes to the clash of civilizations. Aggressive expansionism and disregard for peaceful coexistence with the lives of those outside the tribal group is more a Puritan than a Native American problem -- but it is a sign of the Puritan dominance in American culture that we are more likely to see Native Americans as behaving like tribal savages, despite the evidence that the Puritans were far more deserving of such terminology.


Downing, D. (1981). 'Streams of Scripture Comfort': Mary Rowlandson's Typological Use of the Bible. Early American Literature 15(3), 252-9.

Faery, R.B. (1995). "Mary Rowlandson (1637-1711)." Legacy 12 (2), 121-132.

Rowlandson, M. (1682). A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, A Minister's Wife in New England.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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