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The town of Lancaster, the territory of Nashaway
Mistress Mary Rowlandson in "the Place Between"Mary Rowlandson's town of Lancaster was located within the Nipmuc territory of Nashaway, at the fertile confluence of rivers. The name "Nashaway" referred to this "place between" rivers which connected Native territories. Mary had arrived at Nashaway, from Salem, with her parents, John and Joan White, but soon married the town minister, Joseph Rowlandson. She thus became the only woman in the town known as "Mistress," because of her husband's status.
Mary Rowlandson's house and pasture were at the very center of this confluence, where Nipmuc women had long cultivated corn, squash and bean mounds, intercropped with sunflowers and sunchokes, and gathered edible plants, including berries. Here, Rowlandson would have cultivated a small kitchen garden, as colonial men plowed the fields, and cattle took over the meadows. The rivers at the confluence also created a barrier, providing defense.
Monoco Reclaims the Place BetweenWhen the Nashaway leader Monoco led the February 1676 raid on Lancaster, he was reclaiming it as Native space, an area that had always been vital for planting, fishing and gathering medicinal plants. They may have targeted the Rowlandson house in particular because of its location and their status. Mary Rowlandson and her children, as well as other captives, also provided a form of defense. In the wake of the Great Swamp massacre in Narragansett territory, Native leaders began to take women and children captive, carrying them into their own communities. They may have believed it was less likely that English men would burn Native villages if they contained English women and children. A high status captive like Mistress Mary Rowlandson was valuable, both for protection and for the price that Massachusetts leaders might be willing to offer for her return. Native people also sought to incorporate captives into their own social networks and cultural practices, teaching them how to "be human" in this place, creating a bridge between cultures.
The Rowlandson LotA visit to the Rowlandson homesite today shows that many Native edible and medicinal plants, such as cattail and pickerelweed, and English plants, transported in cattle dung during the colonial period, grow in abundance due to the fertile soils and flowing water. Silky dogwood grows in the former Rowlandson lot. As part of the process of succession, raspberries are now reclaiming the meadow in the former Rowlandson pasture.
Englishman's FootprintOne of the English plants, plantain, was known as "Englishman's Footprint," as it appeared, along with cattle, as a sign of the arrival of English settlers in Native homelands. As cattle moved through the land, they deposited the seeds, along with fertilizer, and the plantain spread. An edible and medicinal plant, it is one of many English plants, including clover and dandelion (pictured with plantain below), that is uniquely adapted to cattle, and which Native people also adapted as useful food and medicine. Abenaki author Cheryl Savageau published a poem drawn from the story of Samuel Eames, a young captive who escaped, and found his way to a colonial settlement by following the "Englishmen's footprint." You can appreciate her sense of irony, a twist in the final line of the poem, that reflects Native people's experience of colonization.
Reading the Place Between Lancaster and NashawayThe raid on Lancaster and Mary Rowlandson's capture is remembered through memorials and the site is preserved, but the memory of Nashaway and the Native people who lived there lies beneath the surface, still readable on the land.
Click here to view these locations in the map of Mary Rowlandson's removes or in the interactive story map.