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The Unredeemed Captive, By John Demos

2682 words - 11 pages

John Demos' book The Unredeemed Captive examines the story of "Reverend Mr." John Williams, the minister of the church of Deerfield (a town of approximately 300 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony), and his family. The reverend and his wife had many connections to important figures of the time. His father was a shoemaker, farmer, and "ruling elder" in the church at Roxbury. Reverend John Eliot, the minister of the Roxbury church, created many of the "praying towns" in which converted Native Americans worshipped and was New England's "Apostle to the Indians." Reverend Williams' wife, originally named Eunice Mather, was the daughter of Reverend Eleazer Mather, the minister of the church of ...view middle of the document...

" During the expedition, the soldiers destroyed the town of Deerfield. Many colonists were murdered, and hundreds more were captured, including the reverend and his family, who, due to his power, influence, and symbolism in Deerfield and in the rest of the Massachusetts Bay colony, were the primary targets of the expedition. The troops then took the captured colonists to Canada, where they were held hostage until the English released the French prisoners that Vaudreuil sought. In The Unredeemed Captive, Demos uses the stories of Reverend Williams and his family, and the Deerfield raid, as lenses to reveal the underlying political, cultural, and religious conflicts in colonist-Native American relations, and those between the European colonizing nations themselves.
Just over two centuries before the February 1704 attack at Deerfield, many European countries, including Spain, England, and France, began to establish colonies in the Americas. The motives for emigrating varied. Due to several factors, including overpopulation, industrialization, and enclosure laws, many people could barely earn enough to take care of their families, while others could not make enough money at all. In the colonies, wages were higher and the costs of living were cheaper. Many fled to avoid the religious persecution that resulted from the integration of church and state. Others came in search of minerals and precious metals such as gold and silver. Some came to find trade routes to Asia or grow cash crops for export. Although many of their motives varied, almost all of the colonists (with the exception of the Quakers) sought to "civilize" the indigenous populations. A key feature of the "civilizing" process was the conversion of the "savages" to the settlers' respective religions. The settlers developed many "prayer towns" in which the converted natives worshipped.
After the assault on Deerfield, prisoner negotiations proceeded very slowly. News of the extent of the incident did not reach Coniticot until three days after the attack (p. 40). Letters between the English and French colonists had to be carried using chains of messengers. In May 1704, for example, Reverend Williams had to give a letter to a French priest, who then carried it to Onondaga, where a native carried it to its eventual destination, a mayor, commander, and merchant named Peter Schluyer (p. 43). Over the next few years, many English delegations were sent to Canada, and many French delegations were sent to New England to negotiate the prisoner exchanges. However, the delegations took a long time to arrive at their destinations, often traveling on foot or by sled or canoe. Only a small number of prisoners were released at any one time as "'good faith' gestures" (p. 44-45).
Ironically, some of the captured Europeans became at least as uncivilized as the natives they sought to convert. Reverend Williams' daughter Eunice, for example, was seven at the time of her capture (p. 35). However, her...

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