The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America
|Publisher:||Alfred A. Knopf|
Early on the morning of February 29, 1704, before the settlers of Deerfield, Massachusetts, had stirred from their beds, a French and Indian war party opened fire, wielding hatchets and torches, on the lightly fortified town. What would otherwise have been a fairly commonplace episode of “Queen Anne’s War” (as the War of the Spanish Succession was known in the colonies) achieved considerable notoriety in America and abroad. The reason: the Indians had managed to capture, among others, the eminent minister John Williams, his wife, Eunice Mather Williams, and their five children. This Puritan family par excellence, and more than a hundred of their good neighbors, were now at the mercy of “savages”—and the fact that these “savages” were French-speaking converts to Catholicism made the reversal of the rightful order of things no less shocking.
In The Unredeemed Captive, John Demos, Yale historian and winner of the Bancroft Prize for his book Entertaining Satan, tells the story of the minister’s captured daughter Eunice, who was seven years old at the time of the Deerfield incident and was adopted by a Mohawk family living at a Jesuit mission-fort near Montreal. Two and a half years later, when Reverend Williams was released and returned to Boston amid much public rejoicing, Eunice remained behind—her Mohawk “master” unwilling to part with her. And so began a decades-long effort, alternately hopeful and demoralizing for her kin, to “redeem” her. Indeed, Eunice became a cause celebre across New England, the subject of edifying sermons, fervent prayers, and urgent envoys between the Massachusetts Bay Colony and New France. But somehow she always remained just out of reach—until eventually, her father’s worst fears were confirmed: Eunice was not being held against her will. On the contrary, she had forgotten how to speak English, had married a young Mohawk man, and could not be prevailed upon to return to Deerfield.