The Mayflower Compact, deemed by some as one of the documents that inspired the U.S. Constitution, came from a “people who had more in common with a cult than a democratic society” (Philbrick 40). These days, 21st Century Puritans and their allies offer the gift of a “safe” society, a gift I seriously doubt they can deliver.
ON TOP OF THAT, A PURITAN SOCIETY charges a hefty price then and now. Literature, music, science, art, freedom of thought or speech, invention; all suffer in a society dominated by captive minds (check out Cromwell’s England—no laughing matter). Like Mary said, “Mine eyes have seen it”—mine, too.
My journey to escape my captive mind began around the age of eighteen. I had moved away from home with my (now ex) husband, who had left college to join the Army, into the vast and howling wilderness of Army life. Luckily, I attended a local college near the base that was concerned with education, not biblical dogma, and I started reading books called literature, but more importantly, I stopped going to church. There is a reason backsliding is attacked vehemently from the pulpit. In order for the mind to stay captive, a constant flow of dogma must be administered. Ballet, theater, literature, wine, films, meditation on the inner light we all share, and all holidays, religious or otherwise—I enjoy with gusto—daily reminders of the rich culture I almost missed out on. Oh, and I wear a bathing suit in front of men, and enjoy (God forbid) sex.
After thinking about this a lot, ( I WROTE A PLAY ABOUT WEETAMOO AND MARY ) I wonder if Mary would have been more receptive to the Native People around her without the physical Bible in her hand, nourishing the mustard seeds of dogma grown as big as oak trees in her head?
“I repaired under these thoughts to my Bible (my great comfort in that time)” (Lincoln 137). As soon as I had an opportunity, I took my Bible to read, (Lincoln 139). I was turning the leaves of my Bible, and the Lord brought to me some Scriptures, which did a little revive me (Lincoln 142). “I had time and liberty again to look into my Bible: Which was my Guid [sic] by day, and my Pillow by night” (Lincoln 144).
Time and time again Mary buried her face in the Bible to escape the tangible world. Granted, the poor woman deserved some respite, but why block all sensible feelings?
Mary refused to acknowledge that the kindness and “common mercies” shown to her many times during her ordeal came from people who were suffering greatly themselves. It was a sympathetic Native that gave her the Bible in the first place. In Mary’s captive mind these friendly Natives were only agents of the “goodness of God,” not free-agents acting out of the kindness they felt in their human hearts (Strong 101). The material world was strange, and the people in it were strangers. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I believe in the existence of the material world as the expression of the spiritual…the laws of both are one” (Dillaway 33).
Puritan Mary didn’t see it that way. The singular expression of the spiritual for her came from pulpit-fed perceptions—reinforced daily by the Bible she held in her hand. Only a savage heathen would like living in a material world of “vanities” in the “vast and howling wilderness ” (Lincoln 163). The Bible was the software running the captivity program in Mary’s mind.
Yes, Mary was wronged by the Natives-—her daughter and others were killed, but why did Mary feel she deserved this suffering? “Affliction I wanted, and affliction I had” (Lincoln 142). How sadomasochistic is that? The Natives living in 17th century New England, of course, had many reasons to be angry and vengeful. Their lives had been turned upside down: their land stolen, their people killed and worse–sold into slavery. Native People who lived through the European encounter suffered unimaginable loss.
Weetamoo and her allies may have briefly captured Mary, and done her physical harm, but Weetamoo’s entire world was annihilated by the onslaught of Puritan emigrants greedy for land. Had the Natives of New England worked together, King Philip’s War might have ended differently, changing the course of history, or at least some of history. In the spring of 1676, the Natives nearly drove the “English to the very edge of the sea” (Philbrick 302). Although outnumbered, the Natives were better shots, and maneuvered easily through the environment, unlike the clumsy English farmers unfamiliar with skulking warfare.
The irony is Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan preacher’s wife, and Weetamoo, Queen of Pocasset, were both captives. Weetamoo was a captive to exterior events that spun out of her control and Mary was a captive in her own mind.
If we exist because we think, THEN AS NOW, the struggle to think clearly continues…
Dillaway, Newton, ed. The Gospel of Emerson. Mass: The Montrose P, 1949.
Winthrop, John. “On Liberty.” 1645. Constitution Society.5 Aug 2008 http://www.constitution.org/
Lincoln, Charles H., ed. Narratives of the Indian Wars 1675 – 1699. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1913.
Mather, Increase. A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians in New-England (1676). Ed. Paul Royster. Nebraska: U of Nebraska, 2006. 8 Aug 08
Page, Jake. In The Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000 -Year History of American Indians. USA: Free Press, 2003.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. USA: Penguin, 2007.
Strong, Pauline Turner. Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives. USA: Westview P, 1999.
More information and links: http://www.conradreeder.com/TheCaptive.htm
Conrad “Connie” Reeder was born in Columbus, Ohio, and recently graduated from the University of New Orleans with a MFA in Film, Theater, & Communication Arts with a concentration in Playwriting.
The Captive is a dramatic play in two acts.
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