I hate cold weather and find that winter always seems to drag interminably. In fact, by February I have usually whined enough to stock a liquor store. So I thought I would cheer myself up by reading a historical narrative in which someone describes chipping the ice out of her wash basin or some other equally unpleasant winter ordeal that I don’t have to endure.
I got more than I bargained for when I picked up a book of colonial American travel narratives. For me, February has been marked by cold winds, some slippery patches on the sidewalk, and a house that is not as toasty warm as I’d like. For Mary Rowlandson, February of 1675 was a little worse. She felt the cold winds more, since she was often sitting outside in the snow of a Massachusetts winter. She slipped while carrying her wounded feverish child, and when she was given the chance to ride on a horse, both she and her daughter were pitched headlong over the horse’s head when they were traveling down a steep hill. Unlike my house, Mary’s became quite toasty warm. In fact, it was burned to the ground.
We like to think that the Indians of New England lived peacefully with the settlers who arrived from Europe, and they did for some of the time. But it was an uneasy peace frequently interrupted by violence. Mary Rowlandson’s village of Lancaster was attacked by members of the Narragansett tribe and she witnessed the death of many of her neighbors before she was taken prisoner. Then she and other captives spent the next two and a half months marched along by their captors as the Indians raided other villages and attempted to evade colonial militias. It was a bleak, cold experience in every sense of the word, recounted in painful detail by a woman whose resentment toward the native Americans conflicts so sharply with modern American politically correct standards that today her ordeal would be likely to meet with little sympathy. After all, she refers to these natives as “barbarous creatures” “bloody heathen” and “hell-hounds.” This does not match our image of the compassionate Indians bringing food to the first Thanksgiving Feast.
So here’s February for Mary. A few days after watching her youngest child die from wounds suffered in the attack and being separated from her other two children, she writes “Heart-aking thoughts here I had about my poor Children, who were scattered up and down amongst the wild Beasts of the Forest: my head was light and dizzy (either through hunger or hard lodging, or trouble or all together,) my knees feeble, my body raw.”
This puts my life into perspective a bit. My children are safe, sound and just down the hall from me as I write. I’m inside a house, my own house, and no one has threatened to bludgeon me if I complain about being hungry, which I wouldn’t do anyway since I have plenty of food. Yeah, I’m a little cold. So I can get a blanket. Big deal.
Mary’s February sucked, big time. After reading about hers, I think I can survive my own.
A True History of the Capture and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was first published in 1682 and is available in a variety of places, including free online listings through Project Gutenberg