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Comparing Captivity Narratives: Stockwell & Rowlandson
Contributed by Maggie King
As Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney note, Quinton Stockwell’s “Relation” was the second captivity narrative “published in New England, after Mary Rowlandson's 1682 Sovereignty and Goodness of God," both of which were “published with the help of Increase Mather.” Stockwell’s narrative offers an interesting comparison to Rowlandson’s popular account. While in Rowlandson’s estimation the company with whom she travelled moved vaguely “up and down” the landscape, Stockwell’s service in King Philip’s War allowed for clearer, more accurate documentations of people, places, trails, mountains, and waterways. Military experience gave Stockwell greater exposure to interactions with Native peoples during the war, unlike the limited interactions available to Puritan women like Rowlandson in 17th-century New England; their interpretations of the peoples and landscapes they encountered differed immensely.
Rowlandson’s depictions often represented Indian savagery, for example, describing her captors as “black creatures.” Indian heathenism and white Christian morality was a dominant discourse during this time period. When Rowlandson was taken, she went along with those “ravenous beasts,” viewing the Native people with whom she traveled as subhuman-- their cultural ceremonies “made the place a lively resemblance of hell.”
Conversely, Stockwell recognized the skill of his captors in navigating the landscape and took interest in their strategies as they evaded English companies attempting to apprehend them. Stockwell noted how members of the party “made strange noises as of wolves and owls and other wild beasts” as a tactic to track each other when traveling through the woods after dark. While Rowlandson referred to the Native men, women, and children she traveled with as “beasts,” “Beasts” for Stockwell were the undomesticated, “wild” animals of the deep wood the company flawlessly imitated—the word was not a dysphemism for members of Ashpelon’s party.
Stockwell did not see his capture or the raid upon the nascent settlements as acts of Providence; his reflections on captivity and his travels through inland Native territories lacked Rowlandson’s sensationalism. Rather than being steeped in ecclesiastical revelations, Stockwell’s perception of people and place was secular, as if he understood his captivity as part of the cause and effect of war.
“They would have us pray and see what the Englishman’s God could do” If Rowlandson struggled to understand her captors’ world, Stockwell’s prior experience brought him closer to interpreting the party’s strategies for survival. While the party camped near the Wintekw and made canoes to ascend the great waters of the Betowbakw, “all the Indians went a-hunting,” yet returned empty handed. For a number of days the party “powwowed;” again, without luck of attracting any provision. Stockwell and another captive, Sergeant John Plimpton, were pressed to pray to their Christian God to bless the party with game. Stockwell prayed, as did Plimpton “in another place” and “next day they got bears.” When no other provision came from the English prayers, the party became frustrated and the “sachem did forbid” Plimpton and Stockwell from praying again. This is the only time Stockwell mentioned God or the act of prayer. Ashpelon’s company was invested in keeping their kindred and the captives alive, willing to invoke the powers of a Christian God if it meant sustenance and survival, another day to advance further north. Just as quickly, however, the company “grew weary of it” and were willing to dismiss this version of the Creator when it did not bring forth the results they sought. Like his observations on the party’s mimicked animal calls at night to evade the English near Squakheag Meadows, Stockwell interpreted his invocation of the Christian God as a strategy that Ashpelon and his company employed to ensure the continuance and welfare of the party. The plan produced a small miracle, then ceased to bear additional goods. Evidenced by his writing, to Stockwell and the rest of the party, that the group found bears to hunt after a few foxhole prayers was purely coincidence.
 Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, Captive Histories: English, French, and Native Narratives of the 1704 Deerfield Raid (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), 36. Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson and Related Documents, ed. Neal Salisbury (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997): 70; “Quentin Stockwell’s Relation,” in Captive Histories, 41. Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, 70-1. “Quentin Stockwell’s Relation,” 39. “Quentin Stockwell’s Relation,” 43. “Quentin Stockwell’s Relation,” 43.