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  • From White into Red:Captivity Narratives as Alchemies of Race and Citizenship
  • Audra Simpson (bio)

My youngest Daughter, aged Seven years, was carryed all the journey, & look'd after with a great deal of Tenderness.

—John Williams, 1707

I mean life is hell there! I mean, it is not the best, I'll be the first to say it, living there, you gotta to be damn tough to live there. And in order to survive there you have to be really tough, now some people might have gotten tired by it, and decided "I'm gonna go live off the reserve where I won't have to deal and face those things on a daily basis, where somebody's telling me, 'leave, you don't belong here'"—facing the discrimination on a daily basis. Which is what we encounter.

—Kahnawake woman, 20031

The famous story of Eunice Williams's captivity and incorporation begins with tears and ends with tears, as it was a Mohawk woman's grief that prompted her capture as a replacement child for one lost. Her inconsolability motivated Mohawk warriors from Kahnawake to venture from the southwestern part of the St. Lawrence River down to Deerfield, Massachusetts, in February 1704—during the dead of winter—to take captives.2 Little is known of the specificity of the Mohawk woman's unrest, nor of the particulars of her life, as she is referred to only as "the mother."3 Far more is known of Eunice Williams, the white child of completely unambiguous Protestant stock, who would become the woman's child. Eunice was originally the daughter of the Reverend John Williams and Eunice Williams, and thus was the grandniece of famed Puritan minister Increase Mather and cousin to Cotton Mather. With their commitment to piety, anti-popishness, and proper puritan conduct, and in their writing and sermonizing on the sinister condition of Indian captivity, the Mathers have been described by Turner-Strong as "the most prominent divines of their generation."4 Williams's life receives its acclaim in part because of these genealogies. But her life is most famous because her captivity became thoroughly consensual and she became, through time, a Mohawk herself. She steadfastly refused to return to her natal territory and family. Owing to yawning gulfs in the archives, we do not know what [End Page 251] this conversion tale looked like within Kahnawake, but it is clear from the literature that although originally "English," Williams became a unilingual, Catholic "white Indian" who was fully assimilated into Mohawk society.

In this essay I use the story of Eunice Williams to think about the ways in which her experience of incorporation and the attention it continues to receive form part of the gendered structure and imaginary of contemporary colonial settler society in North America. As such, I consider the historical and political movement from the first to the second of the two narrative fragments found above. In the first fragment, replete with tenderness, we see that a young girl has been treated with great care. Her refusal, and all that it suggested, has prompted the writing of several histories of her captivity. In the second quote a Mohawk woman laments her disenfranchised or internally exiled state within the same community that captured and naturalized the young girl 250 years before. Whereas the community had accepted the white child with such tenderness, the Mohawk woman has been exiled because of the naturalization of her most immediate ancestors as Canadian—a naturalization owing to out-marriage that voided her legal rights as an Indian. The Indian Act (1876) in Canada legally defines who is an "Indian" and so authorized and authorizes the exile and enfranchisement that this article is concerned with.

In the movement from the first quote to the second we may examine the ways in which the structure of refusal, rendered history worthy for racialized and religious reasons ("why would a white child of Protestant stock choose to stay among popish Indians?"), prompted much historical and literary scholarship. I am interested less in the refusal of the girl than with the structure of grief that now organizes the gendered questions of political recognition, a structure that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 251-257
Launched on MUSE
2008-06-13
Open Access
No
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