The unredeemed captive
In the first sentence John Demos says: “I wanted to write a story”. It’s rather strange to notice that this well-known historian really wanted to write a story. But it’s quite obvious that through easy and accessibly writing style he wanted to show some very significant idea from the history of America. He wanted to make it clear for people of all ages.
John Demos tells us about the struggles between Puritans, Catholics and Native Americans. But the most significant thing in his story is the choice of the representatives of these leading groups of that time.
Unhappy with the established church in England Puritans came to Deerfield, Massachusetts united by their faith. Their aim was to build the society that will undoubtedly stick to the ideas of Puritanism, the ideas that held those people together. Their spiritual and religious leader John Williams supported his people in everything always being true to his believes, he stayed the leader even in hard times of captivity.
It’s symbolic that the whole situation is depicted through the family relations of the leader of Puritans. There were many ordinary people who died during the massacre in Deerfield in 1704 and many more who were captured. But the tragedy in the family of the leader shows the problem the most clear.
If it were only the captivity of Puritans to assimilate them with the natives to exclude all the possible unities of different believes, it would be perceived as a cruel but ordinary fact in the history of America. If it were shown as a deed of resistance of Puritans, the story would be about brave and faithful people. But here it is about those who didn’t want to come back.
Eunice Williams was 7 years old when she was taken to captivity. She saw her mother being killed during their march to Canada, and then she was separated from her family at the mouth of the White river. Nevertheless the daughter of Puritan leader chose to stay with her captors.
She was young enough to understand what was happening and especially the reasons why that was happening. But still she had some notion of Puritan ideas and believes of her family. She can be called a person who had a right to choose.
Eunice was taken to another society with quiet different rules and religious believes. She had an opportunity to compare every small detail of her past and nowadays lifestyle. And what is impressive and challenging is that she chose to stay the unredeemed captive. What is more Eunice Williams’ marriage to an Indian—and worse yet, to a Catholic Indian—realized John Williams greatest fears about the Jesuits’ attempts to get English captives “married among them”. Eunice’s marriage to an Indian and her re-baptism as a Catholic—her turns to “savagery” and “popery”—meant that the fight of John Williams and his Puritan fellows “had been lost on both fronts”.
“We pray that she may yet be redeemed and live among us”, says her younger brother Stephen. He was making many attempts to redeem his sister, but it was he who honestly understood that that could have been real freedom for her. The private conflict in the family was never solved. Eunice’s father couldn’t understand his daughter.
One of the great ironies is that not so many people wanted to return back to their Puritan families and way of life. That was because they found their redemption in their captivity. They were the people who started to choose their path; they aspired to have better lives. The new generation of people became concentrated in one little girl who wanted to live the way she did.
The Unredeemed Captive shows us real historical events mixed with non-confirmed suppositions of John Demos. He depicts the days of Early Americans who were to live with each other having absolutely different notions of life. Three leading groups (Puritans, Catholics and Native Americans) being absolutely compatible should have found the only decision to be united or just to live without struggles. Deaths of people were used to prove the righteousness of one of them or just to destroy another one.
The list could have been much longer if there were no people who saw any compromise. At first it was not really compromise, it was just a decision for them to live better, to have happy future. Of course they should have refused from their past, their families. But it was a sacrifice for the next generations.
Today John Demos comes back to those events to give hope for the future through the hardships of the past. He declares that the true choice of the person leads only to worthy happy life.
- John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).
- Williams, John. “The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion.” Puritans among the Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724. Ed. Alden, T. Vaughan and Edward W. Clark. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard UP, 1981. 165-226.
- John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 216.
- Ibid., 190.