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Indian Captives
Indian Captives

This image illustrates the captivity narrative so familiar to antebellum Americans. Beginning in early Puritan society, these stories described episodes in which hostile Indians kidnapped white Americans, usually women. As the historian Richard Slotkin has shown, captivity narratives provided several layers of meaning to Americans living in a strange wilderness. First, their ordeals obliged captives to demonstrate their faith in God by passively awaiting rescue. For Puritans, the individual captive represented their whole society, self-exiled from England. Each captive faced the challenge of rejecting assimilation to Indian society, and particularly Indian marriage. To succumb was to lose one's soul. Captivity narratives completed their religious allegory by suggesting that the captive's ultimate redemption by the grace of Christ represented the soul's regeneration by religious conversion. Through the captive's story, the reading public might partake of the promise of a similar salvation, while those as yet unaware of their sinful nature might also benefit from the cautionary tale. Although captivity narratives originated among the early Puritans, they remained a staple of early antebellum American literature, as white settlers pushed farther west and encountered new groups of Indians. See Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence (1972).

Image source: Northern Illinois University
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project