Study Guide

The Sovereignty and Goodness of God

by Mary Rowlandson

The Sovereignty and Goodness of God Summary

Chapter Summaries

Introduction Summary

This is the story of God’s sovereignty, goodness, and faithfulness to Mary Rowlandson. She wrote the narrative of her “captivity and restoration.” Until now, it has been private. This is the second, amended and corrected draft of her story. She wants to make her story public so that others, particularly her family and friends, will read and be amazed at the works of the Lord. [This narrative takes place during King Philip’s War.]

At sunrise on February 10, 1675, many Indians with guns attack Rowlandson’s town of Lancaster, Massachusetts. Rowlandson looks outside and sees houses burning and the Indians beginning to take prisoners. She espies one neighbor begging for his life and others being shot down or cruelly murdered. Unmoved by their cries or pleas, the “murderous wretches” continue to burn and destroy everything around them. This is the “dolefulest day” of Rowlandson’s life.

Finally the attackers reach the Rowlandsons’ house, which is located on a hill. Many family members are home and they fight together against the invaders. The house and barn are surrounded by Indians; they begin shooting at the house and those trying to protect it. The attack continues for two hours and several are wounded before the Indians set fire to the main house. Inside, some are fighting for their lives while others are “wallowing in their [own] blood.” The six dogs, which would normally have attacked any Indian who came to the door, are now afraid, and the mothers and children are crying out for help.

Finally Rowlandson and the others have to leave the burning house and are met by tribesmen wielding guns, spears, and hatchets, ready to “devour” them. Immediately Rowlandson’s wounded brother-in-law falls in death and the Indians strip him of his clothes as they continue shooting. One bullet goes through Rowlandson’s side, also hitting the child she is carrying in her arms. Her nephew William’s leg is broken before he is killed. Indians begin to wrench children away from their mothers; seeing this, William’s mother (Rowlandson’s sister) cries out to God, asking Him to let her die, too. As soon as she says it, a bullet strikes her dead.

The Indians promise Rowlandson not to kill her if she will go with them. She had always thought she would rather die than be an Indian captive; however, their fierce weapons change her mind and she agrees to go with them.

Of the thirty-seven people in the house, twenty-four are taken captive, twelve are killed, and one escapes to tell the story. Rowlandson is going to write about each “remove” [journey] she takes with her captors and how God was with them.

The First Remove Summary

Mary Rowlandson and the other captives are bleeding and wounded on the outside while their hearts are broken on the inside. They walk with their captors, “barbarous creatures,” for about a mile before they stop for the night. They spend the night on the top of a hill, overlooking their bloodied and burning town of Lancaster. When she sees an abandoned house, Rowlandson asks if she can spend the night inside it but is scorned for still loving the life of the English.

It is the “dolefulest night” for Rowlandson, as she watches her dark captors roar, sing, dance, and yell. The entire display resembles hell to her. Just as awful are the wasted animals, confiscated during the attack: horses, sheep, cattle, swine, lambs, pigs, and chickens. The Indians feast on some of them and are joyful in their bounty; the captives, on the other hand, are miserable.

That night, Rowlandson is not only miserable from the events of the day but also disconsolate about what she has lost. She is separated from her husband (who was away, though the Indians promised to kill him when he arrived back in Lancaster) and has lost her friends and family as well as her house and worldly possessions. Though she has her life, she understands that might be taken at any moment, too. That leaves her nothing but a wounded child, and she sees nothing in her current circumstances to give her hope. The “savageness and brutishness of this barbarous enemy” weighs heavily upon her.

The Indians tell her the eight people savagely murdered in Lancaster last year were killed by one-eyed John and “Marlborough’s Praying Indians” that Captain Mosely brought to Boston.

The Second Remove Summary

The morning after the Indian attack, Rowlandson and the others turn their backs on their town (Lancaster) and start their journey as captives, walking into the “vast and desolate wilderness” unknown to her. Neither her spoken nor her written words can adequately express her sorrowful heart or the bitterness of her spirit as this journey begins. Despite that, God helps her bear the burden and lightens her spirit enough to allow her to keep moving.

One of the Indians carries Rowlandson’s wounded daughter on his horse; the child continually moans that she is going to die. Rowlandson walks behind the horse and finally takes her child, carrying her until her strength runs out and she stumbles. She and her child are placed on a horse with no saddle; they travel uneventfully until they ride down a hill and, because there is nothing to keep them on the creature, fall off the horse over its head. The Indians rejoice at the spectacle, laughing and ridiculing Rowlandson and her child until she thinks this must surely be the trial which finally ends her life. But God once again shows His great power by giving her the strength—more than she could ever have imagined—to continue.

It begins to snow, and that night Rowlandson sits in the snow in front of a small fire with her feverish child on her lap and a few branches behind her for a bed. Her own wound has made her so stiff that she can hardly sit down or stand up, and she has no one near her to offer comfort or help. The fact that her spirit does not “utterly sink” under her affliction is due entirely to God’s “gracious and merciful spirit.” Both she and her child live through the night.

The Third Remove Summary

In the morning, Rowlandson and her wounded daughter ride on a horse behind an Indian; both are in a “lamentable condition” because they have eaten nothing for more than three days. In the afternoon, they arrive at their destination, a village called Wenimesset, and are immediately surrounded by natives, her “merciless enemies.”

The next day is Sunday, and Rowlandson considers how many Sabbath days she wasted, how careless she has been with “God’s holy time.” She knows God has every right to cause her to be punished, yet He continues to show her grace and mercy despite her failings.

Another captive comes to see Rowlandson. He tells her that an Indian once healed him by putting oak leaves in his wound. Rowlandson puts oak leaves on her own wound and is eventually healed. During this time, Rowlandson’s daughter Sarah cries incessantly, and the Indians threaten to harm the child if she is not quiet.

Rowlandson sits on her knees with her wounded, sick child on her lap for nine days, still without any sustenance. Sarah dies that night, on February 18, 1675, at the age of six years and five months. Before, Rowlandson could not bear to be in the presence of a dead body; now she lies next to her daughter’s cold body and thanks God for preserving her sanity and preventing her from trying to take her own life during that long night.

In the morning, the Indians realize the child is dead and take Rowlandson to her master, Quinnapin (a Sagamore married to King Phillip’s sister) who bought her from her original captor, a Narragansett. She wants to take her daughter’s body with her but has to obey them. When she is able to leave her master, the Indians show her they buried Sarah on the hill.

Rowlandson goes to see her ten-year-old daughter, Mary, who is in the same town. Mary was taken by a Praying Indian and sold for a gun. When Mary sees her mother approaching, she begins to cry...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

The Fourth Remove Summary

The Indians disperse and Rowlandson is forced to leave her fellow captives and what little comfort she had. She has to leave her daughter Mary (whom she will not see again until she sees her “in Dorchester, returned from captivity”). She is also separated from “four little cousins and neighbors” (whom she will never see again, and only God knows what happened to them). Rowlandson learns that the miserable woman with whom Rowlandson read the Bible for comfort did deliver her child but so vexed her captors about going home that they finally beat her and then stripped her and her child naked before burning them alive. The woman prayed but shed no tears during her ordeal, and the Indians warned the captive children that this...

(The entire section is 275 words.)

The Fifth Remove Summary

Rowlandson believes she and her captors have to move again because the English army is following them. They send men back to hold off the soldiers while the others (the old, the young, the women, and the infirm) travel as quickly as possible to the Banquag River. The entire party arrives on Friday, just after noon, and there are too many of them for Rowlandson to count.

Because of her wound, Rowlandson does not have to carry anything but her knitting and two quarts of parched meal. Though she is weak from hunger, when she asks her mistress for a spoonful of the meal, her request is denied.

The Indians quickly cut dry trees and make rafts to carry the tribe across the river. Though others get their feet and...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

The Sixth Remove Summary

It is now Monday, and the Indians have burned their wigwams behind them before crossing the river to escape the English army. It is a cold morning and the river has a thin coat of ice on it. During the crossing, some wade into the water “up to the knees and higher,” but others search for a drier crossing. Rowlandson and some of the others walk until they find a beaver dam to assist them in their crossing. God’s providence keeps her feet dry during the ordeal.

Rowlandson spends the day in mourning because she is now even farther from her “own country.” As she travels into this “vast and howling wilderness,” Rowlandson believes she understands how Lot’s wife must have felt when she was tempted to look...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

The Seventh Remove Summary

After a “restless and hungry” night spent near the swamp, Rowlandson and the others survive a “grievous day of travel.” She feels as if her heart and legs will both break and fail her, but she is encouraged and somewhat comforted to see signs of English cattle and people near the trail. Soon Rowlandson sees an English path, and the sight alone is enough to make her want to lie down and die.

Shortly after noon, the tribe stops at Squakeag so the Indians can glean whatever they can find in the English fields, including ears of wheat, Indian corn, ground nuts, and frozen sheaves of wheat which could be thawed and threshed. Rowlandson is able to gather two ears of Indian corn; however, as soon as she turns her back,...

(The entire section is 275 words.)

The Eighth Remove Summary

Tomorrow the tribe crosses the Connecticut River to meet with King Philip. Just as Rowlandson is about to step into a canoe, an outcry and scurrying occurs because the Indians discover some nearby English scouts. As the tribe regroups to make the crossing further downriver, Rowlandson’s son Joseph unexpectedly finds her. They remember their past life and bemoan their circumstances but are comforted by the words of Job and Psalms in the Bible. Rowlandson is thankful that God has been good enough to remind her of comforting verses throughout her harrowing ordeal.

The tribes travel until night and in the morning Rowlandson is part of the group which crosses the river for the meeting with King Philip. She is amazed to see...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

The Ninth Remove Summary

Instead of going either to Albany or toward her home (Massachusetts), the tribe goes five miles upriver and crosses it. They live here for a while. One “sorry Indian” asks Rowlandson to make him a shirt, which she does, but he refuses to pay her. He lives near the river, so each day when she fetches water she calls to him to pay her. Finally he tells her he will give her a knife if she makes him another shirt for a yet-to-be-born papoose. She makes the shirt and he gives her a knife. Her master demands that she give it to him and she does, pleased that she finally has something which he might find acceptable.

Rowlandson’s mistress has been gone for three weeks in the Narragansett country to find corn and returns...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

The Tenth Remove Summary

Today, a small group of the tribe journeys three quarters of a mile away, and they intend to journey even farther away tomorrow. Mary Rowlandson is among this group. The group arrives at the site where they intended to set up their encampment for the night; after they pitch their wigwams, Rowlandson is hungry and must think of how she will feed herself. She goes back to the place they “were before at” and hopes to find some kind of sustenance. She goes to the wigwam, encouraged by the squaw’s former kindness; the woman had asked her to come back, so that is what Rowlandson does.

While she is there, an Indian who was sent to “look after” her manages to find her and kicks her out of the kind squaw’s...

(The entire section is 202 words.)

The Eleventh Remove Summary

The next morning, the group starts traveling once again, intending to journey up the river. Mary Rowlandson puts her loaded pack on her back and soon they all have to wade across the river. After that, they trudge over “tiresome and wearisome hills.” One of those hills is so treacherously steep that she nearly has to crawl on her hands and knees to reach the top; all the while, she has to hold onto twigs and branches in order to keep herself from falling back down the hill.

Rowlandson grows so lightheaded that she often finds herself reeling unsteadily as she walks. Her only hope in the midst of her torment and captivity rests in the thought that these “wearisome steps” which she now takes are just a precursor...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

The Twelfth Remove Summary

The tribe leaves again on a Sunday morning; this is the day Rowlandson asks her master if he would sell her to her husband. He says “Nux,” and Rowlandson rejoices in her spirit. Her mistress leaves to attend the burial of a papoose and comes back to find Rowlandson reading her Bible. Immediately the mistress snatches the book and throws it outside. Rowlandson retrieves it and puts it in her pocket, careful never to let her mistress see it again.

Rowlandson complains that the load she must bear for the journey is too heavy, but all her mistress gives her is a slap across the face and a command to go. Rowlandson expresses her sorrows to God and hopes her redemption is near because her captors’ “insolency [grows]...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

The Thirteenth Remove Summary

The group travels away from the Bay (near Rowlandson’s home) and heads five or six miles downriver where they stay for almost two weeks. An Indian asks Rowlandson to make him a shirt in exchange for food; when she asks him about her son, the Indian taunts her, saying he ate the boy (and he was “tasty”). She consoles herself with the knowledge that the Indians are rarely truthful with her. That night a squaw throws ashes in Rowlandson’s eyes, but she is not blinded. She is discouraged and beginning to think that all her “hopes of restoration” will amount to nothing.

Rowlandson dreams of being rescued by the English army or being sold to her husband as her master has discussed. Unfortunately, her master is not...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

The Fourteenth Remove Summary

It is time for the group to pack up and move from this encampment and begin journeying toward Baystown. Rowlandson has only a few crumbs of cake to eat; it is has been in her pocket since the day she was captured and it is so moldy she can hardly tell what it is. The cake is dry, crumbly, and hard, “like little flints,” but it is enough to sustain her when she grows faint with hunger. Even as she eats the crude and meager food, Rowlandson thinks about how she will tell others, if she ever returns, that God blessed her with sustenance.

Along the way, the Indians kill a deer which is pregnant with a fawn. The Indians give Rowlandson a piece of the fawn, and it is tender enough that she can eat both the meat and the...

(The entire section is 270 words.)

The Fifteenth Remove Summary

The Indians’ journey soon continues. Rowlandson gets a handful of nuts as her food for the day and puts on her loaded pack, finding herself in good spirits because she has food and is heading homeward. Her back is more burdened than her spirit this morning. At the Banquang River, the group stops again for several days.

Rowlandson is randomly given a pipe, a little tobacco, and some salt by members of the group; she trades these items for a little food. She is often so greedily hungry that, when she is given a morsel of hot food, she burns her mouth in her haste to devour it—and would do it again if she were given the opportunity. Now that she has been “thoroughly hungry,” Rowlandson is “never again...

(The entire section is 207 words.)

The Sixteenth Remove Summary

The group must wade across the Banquang River. The water is cold and up past Rowlandson’s knees; she is so weak and the water is so swift that she is afraid, after surviving so many other trials and tribulations, this will be the last thing she does before she dies. The Indians laugh at her, but God gives her strength when she remembers His promise to bring her through the river without drowning (Isaiah 43:2).

When Rowlandson finally crosses the river, she sits down to put on her shoes and stockings as tears run down her face. Nevertheless, she rises and rejoins the group. Soon an Indian arrives to announce that Rowlandson must go immediately to Wachusett (where her master is) because a letter has arrived at the...

(The entire section is 259 words.)

The Seventeenth Remove Summary

This is one of the most comfortable journeys Rowlandson has made because she is so hopeful. At the beginning of the day, she is loaded with a pack, as usual, and feels quite strong; however, she soon realizes that her spirit is stronger than her strength. It is not long before both are depleted.

That night the Indians sit down by one of the wigwams and talk, but Rowlandson is too exhausted even to speak. She goes inside the wigwam and finds an Indian boiling horses’ feet (the last part of the horse the Indians ever eat). Rowlandson asks him for some of the broth, which he gives her along with some samp [a kind of Indian porridge], telling her to drink as much as she is able. She eats and her spirits are revived. The...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

The Eighteenth Remove Summary

Today is a wearying day of travel. Along the way, Rowlandson sees an unknown dead Englishman, stripped naked and lying on the ground. Soon the travelers arrive at another Indian village where they spend the night. Rowlandson discovers four English children living in this village, one of whom is her niece, her sister’s daughter. Rowlandson checks on her, and the girl is doing well, “considering her captive condition.” She wants to spend the night with the girl, but her captors do not allow it.

In another wigwam, Indians are boiling corn and beans; it would be a delightful meal for Rowlandson, but she is not allowed to eat any of it. Two of the other English children are living in another wigwam where Rowlandson...

(The entire section is 283 words.)

The Nineteenth Remove Summary

Today’s journey to Wachusett is especially exhausting, but Rowlandson takes encouragement from the Psalms. King Philip is traveling with them and says she will be reunited with her master (who had been absent for three weeks) today and with her husband within two weeks.

When her master sees her condition, he insists that Rowlandson wash herself (something she has not done for a month) and be given food. She is quite revived by his kindness.

Her master has three squaws with whom he alternates living; here he lives with his old squaw. Another of his squaws is Weetamoo, “a severe and proud dame” who dresses like an English noblewoman. Rowlandson has been living with and serving Weetamoo for the past...

(The entire section is 269 words.)

The Twentieth Remove Summary

The group travels three or four miles and sets up a wigwam that will hold a hundred in preparation for a celebration. They fear the governor will be upset by the Sudbury massacre and will no longer be interested in redeeming the captives. Indians begin to gather and Rowlandson longs to see her family, who are still in captivity, but she is not allowed to do so. The Indians are tyrannical, but soon Rowlandson will be free.

John Hoar arrives with a third letter, and Rowlandson is finally able to talk to him and learn that her husband and friends are well. The next day, Hoar invites the Sagamores to dinner but discovers the Indians have stolen nearly all the provisions he brought with him. By God’s mercy, the Indians do...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Lori Steinbach, Ed. Scott Locklear