Those Places Thursday: Lancaster, Massachusetts and Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
Lancaster, Massachusetts is an old town, incorporated in 1653. Set amidst hills, rivers, and lakes, the beautiful wilderness around the small settlement of Lancaster was a very different place at sunrise on February 10, 1675, in the midst of King Phillip’s War (also known as Metacom’s Rebellion). The Rowlandson garrison house, one of six such designated homes in Lancaster that was more fortified than others, was set upon by a group of about four hundred Indians from various tribes. Looking out of the garrison, the families saw other homes being burned and people being killed by ” the bloody heathen” (per Mary’s later report of the incident). It appeared that the colonists had to choose between running out and being murdered, or staying in the burning garrison house. Mary (White) Rowlandson, her son, and two daughters chose to run out and thus were among the 24 persons captured that day from the Rowlandson garrison; twelve were killed at the garrison and only one escaped to get help.
The captives were constantly moved in order to evade the troops and townspeople searching for them. Mary’s youngest daughter Sarah died nine days into the captivity due to infection in her wounds received during the fight- she had been shot in the bowels and hand. Mary herself was shot in her side. The family and other captives were separated and moved around although they did see each other occasionally during their 11 week trek through the wilderness. The captives were eventually ransomed, Mary near Wachusett Mountain, and returned to ‘civilization.’
Mary later wrote a description of her ordeal commonly known as, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, published in 1682. She described the twenty ‘removes’ that took her over 150 miles in her captivity during the harsh New England winter with little food, and the captives seldom having adequate shelter or warm clothing. Mary describes how she made shirts for one of the Indians in exchange for food. This book was the first of the ‘captivity narrative’ genre, and a best-seller in her time and for years later in both America and England. Mary was one of the first women to publish in the British North American Colonies, in a time when women had few rights and opportunities; she is also better known than her husband, Rev. Joseph Rowlandson. Even today, her narrative is required reading in some high school American Literature classes and most any college level American Literature class.
(More to come in upcoming posts on this McMurray family ancestor.)
Modern day images like those at the beginning of this post may help us to understand the places our ancestors lived, at least a hint of the topography of the area. Lancaster has definitely changed since 1653, so looking at older images can help to take us a bit closer to Mary’s time. Obviously, there are few images from the late 1600s, but old woodcuts found in books, and even old postcards- more modern but still not as built up as today- will help us understand the lay of the land.
Looking for old postcards can take a long time at antique shows and shops, but the internet and it’s search feature help to pinpoint exactly what one may be looking for. I recently found CardCow.com– no affiliation, no freebies from them, but I just like their easy-to-use website and the fact that they allow posting of their cards on websites. They keep their cards online even after sold, so they have a great reference library. (I did buy these cards too.) Following are the postcards CardCow.com has relating to Mary Rowlandson; click to enlarge any of them:
Every day, we walk on land that belonged to someone else, land that had a different purpose, land with a different meaning than the context we know today. We whiz by historical markers and parks at automobile speeds, missing the richness of what came before. We can earn from what came before, and a place will have more meaning for us, if we just learn a little of its history.
Notes, Sources, and References:
2) Lancaster, MA Wikipedia article:
3) Mary (White) Rowlandson article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Rowlandson
4) The Feb. 10, 1675 date written by Mary Rowlandson used the Old Style (Julian) calendar; New Style (Gregorian) calendar date would be Feb. 10, 1676.
6) Postcard browsing ettiquette in physical shops includes using a provided marker to help you know exactly where to replace the card after removing it. Also, if cards are in sleeves, do not remove and handle until after you have purchased it.
7) First two images (modern day) are Public Domain per Wikimedia Commons.
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