- Turning the Looking Glass on King Philip’s War: Locating American Literature in Native Space
1. The Absence of Presence
In 1682, James Printer was hard at work on the campus of Harvard College, setting the type for a text that would eventually become a classic of American literature (see Figure 1). In a rare moment of synchronicity, James encountered himself in the words he was printing. He was not only the printer of The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, but also a character within it, a participant in the shaping of Mary Rowlandson’s destiny, as well as his own.1
Both the Nipmuc printer and the Puritan mistress were survivors of a recent conflict that had upended their lives; both had experienced forms of “captivity” and “restoration.” In August 1675, James, a Native scholar and Christian convert, had been arrested by English forces and falsely accused of participating in a raid—on Rowlandson’s town of Lancaster. Although he ultimately averted conviction, having established that he was in church during the raid, James was imprisoned for a month in a Boston jail and “barely escaped lynching” by an English mob (Lepore 126 #). Five months later, James’s brother, Job Kattenanit, risked his life in an attempt to prevent a raid on Lancaster, traveling rapidly over 80 miles on snowshoes to deliver words of warning to the ministers at Cambridge. However, Massachusetts military leaders did not act quickly enough, and, in February 1676, Rowlandson was captured by Narragansett warriors during the planned winter raid. She was carried to the [End Page 718] Nipmuc stronghold of Menimesit, where she encountered James and his extended family, held in captivity, according to missionary Daniel Gookin, by their own relations.2
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 719]
The language skills James acquired at the preparatory schools of the Harvard Indian College and the Press enabled him to play a key role in negotiating Rowlandson’s redemption, as well as his own. Those skills empowered James to advocate for amnesty for himself and several of his nephews, when he came in to Cambridge at the end of the war. Further, had it not been for the Nipmuc scholar’s abilities as both a diplomatic mediator and a practiced printer, this firsthand account by the English mistress may have never been produced.3
Rowlandson’s prominence and Printer’s near absence in early American literature, and the historical reality of their intertwined lives, may metaphorically reflect the relationship between American literature and Native American history. As Joshua Bellin argues in The Demon of the Continent: Indians and the Shaping of American Literature (2000), “the presence of Indian peoples in the land that is now the United States has been of profound significance to the shaping of American literature—not only to texts that overtly engage this presence, but to the whole body of literature produced in a nation itself produced by encounter” (3). The Cambridge Press, at which Printer labored, is a prime example, printing dozens of bilingual texts in English and Algonquian, as well as bicultural so-called bestsellers like Rowlandson’s captivity narrative. Yet, until recently, Native peoples, languages, and writings were largely confined to the literary margins, with more attention paid to “the images of Indians” in texts like Rowlandson’s Narrative, rather than to Native peoples, in all their diversity, as “actors in dynamic processes in which America and its literature were (and are) inescapably embedded” (4). As Bellin maintains, “it is because American literature emerges from contexts of encounter, from the interaction and intersection of peoples, that the presence of Indians is central to the literature” (3). Likewise, because this literature emerged from Native and settler spaces of contention and interaction, the work of recovering and re-presenting Native histories is central to the project of reinterpreting and re-placing American literature in Native space.
As readers of American Literary History are well aware, the rise of the field of Native American and Indigenous studies...