The Unredeemed Captive, By John Demos

855 words - 3 pages

At the start of John Demos' book The Unredeemed Captive, a group of Native Americans attack the English town of Deerfield, kidnap a few of its people, and take them to Canada. On October 21, 1703, in response to the attacks, the "Reverend Mr." John Williams, the town's leader, writes to Joseph Dudley, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for tax relief, funding to rebuild the fort, a prisoner exchange to free the captured residents, and soldiers to protect the town. Governor Dudley agrees to fulfill the reverend's requests, and stations 16 soldiers at the town's fort (Demos 1994, 11-13). In response to English counterattacks, Governor Pierre de Rigaud, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, begins to plan an February "expedition" of 48 French troops and 200 of France's "domiciled Indians." During the expedition, the soldiers destroy the town of Deerfield. Many of the residents that do not manage to flee or hide are killed or captured, including the reverend and his family. The troops then take the captured colonists to Canada, where they will be held hostage in an attempt to negotiate the release of many French prisoners under English control, including Vaudreuil's best "privateer," Pierre Maisonat, the infamous "Captain Baptiste" (Demos 1994, 15-19). In The Unredeemed Captive, Demos uses the incident at Deerfield as a lens 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 Deerfield incident, many European countries, including Spain, England, and France, began to establish colonies in the Americas. Although many of their motives varied, almost all of the colonists 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. Many of the natives eventually converted to the Europeans' respective religions. For example, those that helped Vaudreuil attack Deerfield converted to Catholicism.
Ironically, however, some of the captured Europeans became at least as "uncivilized" as the native "savages" they sought to convert. Reverend Williams' daughter Eunice, for example, was seven at the time of her capture (Demos, 1994, 35). However, her young age is not the only reason for her conversion. During the trek to Canada, she noticed many other failures of her father and of the Puritan faith. Neither Rev. Williams nor the Puritans still in the English colonies could prevent the natives from executing her mother after she became exhausted and fell into a lake (Demos, 1994, 29). They also could not...

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