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what are captivity narratives
What are Captivity Narratives?
  • Captivity Narratives are the many stories of people captured by uncivilized, savage, or barbarian-like enemies. The narratives often include a theme of redemption by faith in the face of the threats and temptations of an alien way of life(VanSpanckeren).
  • In America, women captives were typical and were sought out by Native Americans.
quoted authors and events
Quoted Authors and Events
  • As quoted by Richard Slotkin, “a single individual, usually a woman, stands passively under the strokes of evil, awaiting rescue by the grace of God. The sufferer represents the whole, chastened body of Puritan society; and the temporary bondage of the captive to the Indian is dual paradigm-- of the bondage of the soul to the flesh and the temptations arising from original sin, and of the self-exile of the English Israel from England.”
  • Statistics have shown that the number of captives captured between the 15th and 19th century are inconsistent because of counterfactual record-keeping and the disappearing of many hostages(Derounian-Stodola).
universal captivity narratives of 15 th 19 th centuries
Universal Captivity Narratives of 15th- 19th Centuries

During this period Native Americans faced many problems with Americans through military acts, religion, and disagreements in styles of civilization (Baepler). Pike stated, “Many white American families were violently kidnapped by Native Americans with hopes of Indianization.” Due to the differential treatment of captives, men were much more likely to be killed than women; many of the first-person accounts were authored by women (Pike). The threat of sexual assault on white women by Native American men, often acted as forced marriage, encouraged many of the most popular captivity narratives (Baepler). Nineteenth century narratives focused more on political and cultural views, whether violently anti-Indian or more regretful (Green). The captivity narrative reflected and contributed significantly to the self-conception of the nation, and became a major genre in early American literature (Dewsbury). Green declared that Colonial America, and later the United States, inherited the centuries old ideological schism between Christianity and Islam (Dewsbury). The majority of written captivity accounts appear in the colonies near the end of the American War of Independence when the vulnerable new nation lost its British naval protection (Baepler). The most popular Barbary captivity narrative in the United States was James Riley's best-selling account of his capture by North African "wandering Arabs (Green).


Green, and Keith Michael. "Master Narratives: Captivity and Nineteenth-Century American Autobiographical Writing, 1816-1861. : Deep Blue at the University of Michigan." Home : Deep Blue at the University of Michigan. Deep Blue- University of Michigan, 2007. Web. 04 Feb. 2011.

In this exposition Green explores the relationship between historical captivity, autobiographies, and biographies in U. S history between 1816- 1861. He relates it to larger narratives of national, racial and social identity formation. In the passage Green includes listings of Indian captivity accounts, North African captivity narratives, African American slave narratives, and prison narrative genres. These genres of captivity have been thought of as privation, annihilation, and domination for many centuries. Many American captivity incidents have occurred in the U. S’ troops and characterized submission, bondage, and captivity acts. Green denotes that captivity discloses informs the production of autobiographical writing and self-representations as American. It is also argued that the context and thematics of captivity were fundamental to the operations of autobiographical writing, national subjectivity, gendered identity, and racial identity in the antebellum U.S. In his final statement he concludes that had not these captivity periods taken place American Literature would not be what it is today. Utilizing Green’s facts and opinions, I may include the genres of captivity between the 15th and 19th centuries, harsh conditions that the captives faced, and how the issues were viewed by American citizens. Social, Racial, and National issues played a key role in captivity narratives as well.


Baepler, Paul. "The Barbary Captivity Narrative in American Culture.(Critical Essay) - Early American Literature | HighBeam Research - FREE Trial." Research - Articles - Journals | Find Research Fast at HighBeam Research. University of North Carolina Press, 1995. Web. 03 Feb. 2011.

In Baepler’s article “The Barbary captivity narrative in American culture” he commences by painting an image of a photograph of a drinking fountain which has a "whites only" sign enduring images of racial antagonism in the twentieth century. Baepler focuses more on Slave Captivity in America. Stories of the white slaves in Africa, which pre-dates the exposition of Indian captivity narratives and American slave narratives, furthermore adds to the contexts for comprehending the cultural exchange among Africa, America, and England. A very popular and successful Barbary captivity narrative in the U. S was “wandering Arabs” by James Riley. It has been credited as one of the influences that shaped the president's opinion of slavery in the United States in 1817. The U. S’ earliest authors in North America Barbary Captivity stories were Abraham Browne and Joshua Gee. The two authors experienced captivity hands-on and became well known as the earliest survivors. Browne was captured by the Moroccan Tribe but was fortunate to find a kind-hearted master who gave him relatively easy tasks and chores. Gee's narrative tells of the six years he spent in Algiers and his detailed voyages aboard several of the notorious slave ships, kitchens and cook rooms.

the captivity narrative in american culture
The Captivity Narrative in American Culture

During the Cold War Period of American history many citizens were subjected missing. Many Americans blamed it on Soviet spies and even alien abductions(Campbell). The Manchurian Candidate included ideas of brainwashing which contributed to new vocabulary describing the development of psychological warfare. Many also feared hybridization from the so-called “aliens.” In 1910, films focused on young white women abducted for the purposes of sex trafficking. Even in the 1960’s Hollywood Western films cowboys portrayed captivity to the Indians on the frontiers. Historians later establish that the white slavery scare was a moral panic that did not reflect realities. White slavery plays and films often claimed to be didactic, yet were often condemned as sensationalistic. Most American adults feared their children would turn to hippie mind control and they’d lose to a younger sub cultural group. Equiano states that from fromthe 1980s to today’s world, electronic media disseminate stories of young white women under threat. He also recalls that in 2003 an African American female soldier by the name of Jessica was rescued from a lynching in Iraq. America soon became able to acknowledge Captivity Narratives as propaganda for the war on terror. Still today many countries and individuals use captivity as threats to their enemies in forms of threats, terrorism, and other tactics(Campbell).


The Captivity Narrative in American Culture « American Civilization." American Civilization. 10 Sept. 2008. Web. 04 Feb. 2011.

On the website Equiano states the struggles women faced during New England’s 17th century captivity cases. He also goes into detail about several novels and narratives that came out in the 1800s and how they later lead to comparisons with American figures. Barbary captivity was very well known during this time and was referred to as “Algerian Prison Fraud.” Two-thirds of the colonists became indentured servants. There was a fear that women would be seduced to the Native side due to the limits of European patriarchy and their sex. The information can be applied and used in this abstract by including the dangers women faced sexually, economically, and in their everyday lives during the century. It will also be notified that the acts of captivity spread from just the European race to many others including the Chinese, Arabs, Russian Jews, Mexicans, and half-Hindu-half-Spanish natives. These acts became known by the common people as The Great war on White Slavery. Captivity narratives became more violent, lurid, and ideological. Propaganda was encouraged as work of genocide towards native Americans.


Campell, Donna M. "Early American Captivity Narratives." Washington State University - Pullman, Washington. Washington State University, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 03 Feb. 2011.

Mary Rowlandson was born and raised in England from 1637 to1638. She sailed for Salem in 1639 with her parents John and Joan White. Mary later married a minister, Joseph Rowlandson, in 1654. Mary and Joseph Later had three children; their names were Joseph, Mary, and Sarah. When their three children were captured they were at the ages of 14, 10, and six. In 1675 Mary Rowlandson was captured and her husband went to Boston to beg for help from the Massachusetts General Assembly. After being released, Mary moved to Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1677. After his preaching and disputing, Joseph Rowlandson died November 24th of 1678. Mary Rowlandson remarried to Captain Samuel Talcott August 6 1679 and he died in 1691; Mary outlived her loved ones until 1710. Later her son Joseph got his brother-in-law drunk and sold him into bondage in Virginia. Mary travelled150 miles from Lancaster to Menamaset, north to Northfield, and then across the Connecticut River to meet with King Philip/Metacomet( sachem of the Wampanoags). Next she traveled up into southwestern New Hampshire, south to Menamaset, and north to Mount Wachusett to avoid future capture. Mary’s captivity narrative is beneficial in that it may be used to inform of actual witnesses to the bondage stories in this century.

religious expression
Religious expression

Within the 1500th through the 1900th centuries and the Middle Ages religious implications were applied to most aspects of life including astronomy, politics, history, math’s and sciences, theory, and physiological thinking(Dewsbury). Tillich states that Christianity was used as conception for the non-spiritual domain in Greece, Rome, and Egypt. Colonial America and later the United States were encouraged by the century’s schism debate of theory with Christianity and Islam. During the Renaissance period there was a division between Enlightenment and Protestantism against the Catholic Church (Tillich). Tillich later declares that the Roman Church denied all other ideas and religions against their own including the social ethics of the Catholic Church, socialism, fascism, nationalism, and communism. In Dewsbury’s introduction to captivity narratives, she gets more into how the differences of customs, religions and beliefs attributed to the capturing of captives. At first captivity began very mellow and victims were given easy tasks; Once people began to recognize them as uncivilized kidnappings became more brutal and violent (Dewsbury). By using the information from Dewsbury and Tillich in my abstracts it can be included about the contrasts of belief between regions, countries, and social groups as well as how religion played a major role in captivity and these centuries out-look on life.


Tillich, Paul, and Robert Scharlemann. "Writings on Religion." Google Books. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. < elements/implications&source=bl&ots=T3zd5lZbW0&sig=pG1F30HHpNDoY23v_Xom8r2UT3Q&hl=en&ei=GcV_TZShM42Ctge-2KHhCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

In his Systematic Theology course Tillich explores Christian theology and how it affected societies world-wide during the middle Ages. He distinguishes that most cultures recognize their God as an immense standing than the world’s everyday being. As stated by Tillich, the “riddle of history” has caused much conflict between nations and in life in general. Man’s belief in an eternal after-life has brought amongst the world much chaos because one can be very careless and carefree in actions; many do not strive for a morally right lifestyle. Reason and revelation or word of mouth have twisted many of the original beliefs and no one really knows what people of centuries ago meant for us to know; we can only assume and hope that stories, documents, telling, and other religious aspects were faithfully passed down from one generation to the next. Atheists’ ideas and beliefs that religions and cultures are just handed and passed down myths or rather folk tales are logical beliefs; it’s the mind-set: “why should I believe someone from decades and centuries ago when there’s no evidence or proof that these events occurred and when the people of those times didn’t have the technology of today to prove it.” For ages there has been division between believers, non-believers, and one’s with science. It will be much or later or possibly never before anyone figures out whether or not there is a higher power; but even in concluding so, it will take much evidence and convincing before the entire world comes to that conclusion.


Dewsbury, Suzanne. "Nineteenth-Century Captivity Narratives Criticism." ENotes - Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More. Gale Cengage, 2006. Web. 03 Feb. 2011.

In her introduction to 19th century captivity narratives Dewsbury states that they reflect the diversity and complexity of American self-images at the turn of the century when the United States began to shape itself into a new nation. Contradicting in statement, she acknowledges how while many stories describe the brutality and cruelty of captivity, others instead portrayed their captors as gentle and benevolent. The earliest narratives typically were autobiographies of captives returned and exchanged through rescue. For example, in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, the Mohican tribe was traded for labor but things got out of hand and turned for the worst: violence. The century also turned to the risings of abolitionists who drew parallels of differences between the white capturing of the period and African American slavery acts done by this race that already experienced the same doings. It’s acknowledged that men were more likely to be killed over women and children. Ironically many of the first person justifications were conceived by women. Women were said to experience a freedom that couldn’t be found in a civilized society. A common form of captivity was the sexual assault threats by Native American men to White American women which usually ended in an arranged marriage.

bureaucratic belief
Bureaucratic belief

The acts of captivity were sought for revenge, replacement of tribal numbers decimated by war and disease, and ransom (Campbell). Later they were called upon for religious differences, American expansions westward, and as a symbol of American heritage. Campbell states that there were divisions between the English in Virginia, the French and Indians, the Spanish and Indians, and the Puritans against the satanic utopia religious group. Tormenting, the separating of families and adoption were all acts and deeds carried out by the capturers (Campbell). In a political view, many took advantage of captivity to play major roles in society, become popular and well-known authors, and create a new era of popular literature. In 1980, Frederick Turner’s Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness explains the effects of some captivity narratives in which the white captive comes to prefer and eventually adopt a Native American way of life. Because of the competition between the French and English in North America, colonists in New England were frequently taken captive by Indians. The Puritans tended to write narratives with negative images of the 'Indian' to show that the captivity was a warning from God concerning the state of the Puritans' souls, and that God was the only hope for redemption.


Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women Captives and Indian Captivity Narratives." Women's History - Comprehensive Women's History Research Guide. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. <>.

In Lewis’ article, he states that the Women Captives and Indian Captivity Narratives stereotyped Indians and settlers as western expansion became more popular. In the American society it was expected that men were the protectors of the women and children and they were very offended by the Native Americans putting an end to this tradition. Politicians used political propaganda to portray the Native Americans as criminals, in-human beings, savages, and uncivilized persons. In opposition, abolitionists used captivity as emotional appeal to encourage the improving of women’s rights and better treatment to slaves. The narratives went against the objective truth and many used them to their advantage to increase book sales.


Pike, Sarah M. "Dark Teens and Born-again Martyrs: Captivity Narratives after Columbine — J Am AcadRelig." Oxford Journals | Humanities | Jnl of the American Academy of Religion. Department of Religious Studies- California State University, 1996. Web. 04 Feb. 2011.

In the article Pike recalls that captivity effected much of the youth in this period; two evil “forces” were responsible for these doings in Columbine. The youth was effected by captivity from the colonial period to the mid-nineteenth century. Teenagers were forced out of their comfort zones and normal routines by threat and forced to do tasks more related to their culture and religion. Many people were in opposition to the Catholic Church in the 17th and 19th New England centuries. Teens began movements against the captivity acts and even got the government and legislation involved. Everyone was also very concerned with the separating of the Church and state because it determined the public school administration and behavior as well as the public school’s dress code. Americans saw this era of teens as abnormal because they went against the normal traditions and got away from their parents’ old routines and lifestyles.


Eley, Susan. "The Art of Captivity." The Art of Captivity. Blogspot, 27 Sept. 2010. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. <>.


Baepler, Paul. ""The Barbary Captivity Narrative in Early America." University of North Carolina Press, 1995. Web. 03 Feb. 2011.