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The Norton Book of American Autobiography written by Jay Parini

 

The Norton Book of American Autobiography written by Jay Parini

Overview:

From Mary Rowlandson's story of her capture by Indians in the mid-seventeenth century to Mary Paik Lee's story of being a pioneer Korean woman in America at the beginning of the twentieth century, the autobiographical form has provided our most vivid, intimate glimpses of daily American life and self-understanding.

In this groundbreaking anthology, respected writer and critic Jay Parini brings together an abundant selection from over three centuries of "the democratic voice . . . discovering itself." Here are the voices of the Founding Fathers and African American slaves; of transcendentalists and suffragists; of ancestors such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Henry James, Helen Keller, Zora Neale Hurston, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, and many others; and of a wide range of contemporaries, including Maxine Hong Kingston, Gore Vidal, Julia Alvarez, and Mark Doty.

The rich, continuous influence of autobiographical writing in our culture is clear, and as memoirs continue to fascinate readers, this invaluable anthology provides an essential guide to our foremost American literary tradition.

Synopsis:

"The essential American form of expression."—from the Introduction by Jay Parini

Library Journal

Norton anthologies, well respected and widely used in classrooms and libraries, cover a variety of literary forms--poetry, essays, interviews, and short stories. For Norton's most recent addition, poet and novelist Parini has compiled over 60 selections from autobiographies and memoirs published since the 17th century. His original manuscript was three times its present size, simply because there was so much to choose from in "a tradition quintessentially American in its forms and performance." The final result includes works by such diverse writers as Henry David Thoreau, U.S. Grant, Gertrude Stein, Malcom X, Mary McCarthy, and Richard Rodriguez. Among other topics, these excerpts discuss childhood, immigration, spiritual enlightenment, and racial, social, and ethnic issues. The selections are arranged chronologically, and each is prefaced by an introduction on its author and its merit. This well-rounded and enjoyable collection is recommended for both academic and public libraries.--Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, TX

Excerpt:

Relatively little is known about Mary Rowlandson, who was born in England and migrated to the New World with her father, John White. She married Joseph Rowlandson, a minister, in 1656. But her life changed on February 10, 1676, when she and her three children were captured by the Wampanoag Indian leader, Matocomet. The story of her captivity by Indians was issued in 1682, entitled The Sovereignty and Goodness of God ... Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. This memoir is governed by a deeply religious sensibility; indeed, Rowlandson underwent a profound transformation during the eleven weeks of her captivity. Rowlandson's sorrow is evident here: she deeply misses her husband and the two of three children who were taken away from her during the captivity period. Through the negotiations of her husband, Rowlandson and her two surviving children (one died in captivity) were released.

    Rowlandson's story offers the first detailed account of a woman's experience of being captured by Indians. A tough-minded, independent woman, she never lost her faith in God while dwelling in a "lively semblance of hell." Her voice is singular—one of the first strong voices of a woman writing about her experience in North America—and her memoir became a model for later writers, who often wrote about periods of crisis that were also times of spiritual transformation.


FROM The True History of the Captivity and
Deliverance of MaryRowlandson


    On the tenth of February came the Indians with great numbers upon Lancaster: Their first coming was about sunrise; hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to Heaven. There were five persons taken in one house, the father, and the mother, and one sucking child they knocked on the head; the other two they took and carried away, and there were two others, who being out of the garrison upon some occasion, were set upon, one was knocked on the head, the other escaped, another there was who running along was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them money, (as they told me) but they would not hearken to him, but knocked him in head, striped him naked, and split open his bowels. Another seeing many of the Indians about his barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same garrison who were killed; the Indians getting up upon the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification. Thus these murderous wretches went on burning and destroying before them.

    At length they came and beset our own house, and quickly it was the dolefullest day that ever mine eyes saw. The house stood upon the edge of a hill; some of the Indians got behind the hill, others in the barn, and others behind any thing that would shelter them; from all which places they shot against the house, so that the bullets seemed to fly like hail; and quickly they wounded one man among us, then another, and then a third. About two hours (according to my observation in that amazing time) they had been about the house before they prevailed to fire it, (which they did with flax and hemp which they brought out of the barn, and there being no defence about the house, only two flankers at two opposite corners, and one of them not finished) they fired it once and one ventured out and quenched it, but they quickly fired it again, and that took. Now is that dreadful hour come, that I have often heard of, (in the time of the war, as it was the case of others) but now mine eyes see it. Some in our house were fighting for their lives, others wallowing in their blood, the house on fire over our heads, and the bloody heathen ready to knock us on the head if we stirred out. Now might we hear mothers and children crying out for themselves, and one another, Lord what shall we do! Then I took my children (and one of my sisters heirs) to go forth and leave the house: But as soon as we came to the door, and appeared, the Indians shot so thick that the bullets rattled against the house, as if one had taken a handful of stones and threw them so that we were forced to give back. We had six stout dogs belonging to our garrison, but none of them would stir, though another time, if an Indian had come to the door, they were ready to fly upon him and tear him down. The Lord hereby would make us the more to acknowledge his hand, and to see that our help is always in him. But out we must go, the fire increasing, and coming along behind us, roaring, and the Indians gaping before us with their guns, spears, and hatchets to devour us. No sooner were we out of the house, but my brother in law (being before wounded in defending the house, in or near the throat) fell down dead, whereat the Indians scornfully shouted, and halloed, and were presently upon him, stripping off his cloaths. The bullets flying thick, one went through my side, and the same (as would seem) through the bowels and hand of my poor child in my arms. One of my elder sisters children (named William) had then his leg broke, which the Indians perceiving, they knocked him on head. Thus were we butchered by those merciless heathens, standing amazed, with the blood running down to our heels. My elder sister being yet in the house, and seeing those woful sights, the infidels hauling mothers one way, and children another, and some wallowing in their blood: And her eldest son telling her that her son William was dead, and myself was wounded, she said, and Lord let me die with them: Which was no sooner said, but she was struck with a bullet, and fell down dead over the threshold. I hope she is reaping the fruit of her good labors, being faithful to the service of God in her place. In her younger years she lay under much trouble upon spiritual accounts, till it pleased God to make that precious scripture take hold of her heart, 2 Cor. 12, 9. And he said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee. More than twenty years after I have heard her tell how sweet and comfortable that place was to her. But to return; The Indians laid hold of us, pulling me one way, and the children another, and said, come go along with us. I told them they would kill me; they answered, if I were willing to go along with them they would not hurt me.

    Oh! the doleful sight that now was to behold at this house! come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he has made in the earth. Of thirty seven persons who were in this one house, none escaped either present death, or a bitter captivity, save only one, who might say as he, Job, 1. 15. And I only am escaped alone to tell the news. There were twelve killed, some shot, some stabbed with their spears, some knocked down with their hatchets. When we are in prosperity, Oh the little that we think of such dreadful sights, to see our dear friends and relations lie bleeding out their hearts blood upon the ground. There was one who was choped into the head with a hatchet, and striped naked and yet was crawling up and down. It is a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in their blood, some here and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves. All of them striped naked by a company of hell hounds, roaring, singing, ranting and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out; yet the Lord by his, Almighty Power, preserved a number of us from death, for there were twentyfour of us taken alive and carried captive.

    I had often before this said, that if the Indians should come, I should chuse rather to be killed by them, than taken alive: But when it came to a trial, my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted my spirit, that I chose rather to go along with those (as I may say) ravenous bears, than that moment to end my days. And that I may the better declare what happened to me during that grievous captivity, I shall particularly speak of the several removes we had up and down the wilderness.


The First Remove


    Now away we must go with those barbarous creatures, with our bodies wounded and bleeding, and our hearts no less than our bodies. About a mile we went that night, up upon a hill within sight of the town, where they intended to lodge. There was hard by a vacant house, deserted by the English before, for fear of the Indians, I asked them whether I might not lodge in that house that night? to which they answered, what will you love Englishmen still? This was the dolefulest night that ever my eyes saw. Oh the roaring, singing, dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell: And as miserable was the waste that was there made, of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, calves, lambs, roasting pigs, and fowls, (which they had plundered in the town) some roasting, some frying and burning, and some boyling, to feed our merciless enemies; who were joyful enough, though we were disconsolate. To add to the dolefulness of the former day, and the dismalness of the present night, my thoughts ran upon my losses and sad bereaved condition. All was gone, my husband gone, (at least separated from me, he being in the bay; and to add to my grief, the Indians told me they would kill him as he came homeward) my children gone, my relations and friends gone, our house and home, and all our comforts within door and without, all was gone, (except my life) and I knew not but the next moment that might go too.

    There remained nothing to me but one poor wounded babe, and it seemed at present worse than death, that it was in such a pitiful condition, bespeaking compassion, and I had no refreshing for it, nor suitable things to revive it. Little do many think, what is the savageness and brutishness of this barbarous enemy, even those that seem to profess more than others among them, when the English have fallen into their hands.

    Those seven that were killed at Lancaster the summer before upon a Sabbath day, and the one that was afterwards killed upon a week day, were slain and mangled in a barbarous manner, by one eyed John and Marlborough's praying Indians, which Capt. Mosely brought to Boston, as the Indians told me.


The Second Remove


    But now (the next morning) I must turn my back upon the town, and travel with them into the vast and desolate wilderness, I know now whither. It is not my tongue or pen can express the sorrows of my heart, and bitterness of my spirit, that I had at this departure: But God was with me in a wonderful manner, carrying me along, and bearing up my spirit, that it did not quite fail. One of the Indians carried my poor wounded babe upon a horse; it went moaning all along, I shall die, I shall die. I went on foot after it, with sorrow that cannot be exprest. At length I took it off the horse, and carried it in my arms, till my strength failed, and I fell down with it. Then they set me upon a horse, with my wounded child in my lap, and there being no furniture upon the horses back, as we were going down a steep hill, we both fell over the horses head, at which they like inhuman creatures laughed, and rejoiced to see it, though I thought we should there have ended our days, as overcome with so many difficulties. But the Lord renewed my strength still, and carried me along that I might see more of his Power, yea, so much that I could never have thought of, had I not experienced it.

    After this it quickly began to snow, and when night came on, they stoped: And now down I must sit in the snow, by a little fire, and a few boughs behind me, with my sick child in my lap, and calling much for water, being now (through the wound) fallen into a violent Fever. My own wound also growing so stiff, that I could scarce sit down or rise up, yet so it must be, that I must sit all this cold winter night, upon the cold snowy ground, with my sick child in my arms, looking that every hour would be the last of its life; and having no Christian friend near me, either to comfort or help me. Oh I may see the wonderful power of God, that my spirit did not utterly sink under my afflictions; still the Lord upheld me with his gracious and merciful spirit, and we were both alive to see the light of the next morning.


The Third Remove


    The morning being come, they prepared to go on their way: One of the Indians got up upon a horse, and they set me up behind him, with my poor sick babe in my lap. A very wearisome and tedious day I had of it; what with my own wound, and my child being so exceeding sick, and in a lamentable condition with her wound, if might easily be judged what a poor feeble condition we were in, there being not the least crumb of refreshing that came within either of our mouths from Wednesday night to Saturday night, except only a little cold water. This day in the afternoon, about an hour by sun, we came to the place where they intended, viz. an Indian town called Wenimesset, northward of Quabaug. When we were come, Oh the number of Pagans (now merciless enemies) that there came about me, that I may say as David, Psal. 27. 13. I had fainted, unless I had believed, &c. The next day was the Sabbath: I then remembered how careless I had been of God's holy time; how many sabbaths I had lost and misspent, and how evilly I had walked in God's sight; which lay so close upon my spirit, that it was easier for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut off the thread of my life, and cast me out of his presence for ever. Yet the Lord still shewed mercy to me, and helped me; and as he wounded me with one hand, so he healed me with the other. This day there came to me one Robert Pepper, (a man belonging to Roxbury,) who was taken at Capt. Beer's fight; and had been now a considerable time with the Indians, and up with them almost as far as Albany, to see King Philip, as he told me, and was now very lately come with them into these parts. Hearing I say, that I was in this Indian town he obtained leave to come and see me. He told me he himself was wounded in the leg at Capt. Beer's fight; and was not able sometimes to go but as they carried him, and that he took oak leaves and laid to his wound, and by the blessing of God, he was able to travel again. Then I took oak leaves and laid to my side, and with the blessing of God, it cured me also; yet before the cure was wrought, I may say as it is in Psal. 38. 5, 6. My wounds stink and are corrupt, I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly, I go mourning all the day long. I sat much alone with my poor wounded child in my lap, which moaned night and day, having nothing to revive the body, or cheer the spirits of her; but instead of that, one Indian would come and tell me one hour, your master will knock your child on the head, and then a second, and then a third, your master will quickly knock your child on the head.

    This was the comfort I had from them; miserable comforters were they all. Thus nine days I sat upon my knees, with my babe in my lap, till my flesh was raw again. My child being even ready to depart this sorrowful world, they bid me carry it out to another wigwam; (I suppose because they would not be troubled with such spectacles) whither I went with a very heavy heart, and down I sat with the picture of death in my lap. About two hours in the night, my sweet babe like a lamb departed this life, on Feb. 18. 1675. it being about six years and five months old. It was nine days from the first wounding, in this miserable condition, without any refreshing of one nature or other, except a little cold water. I cannot but take notice how at another time I could not bear to be in the room where any dead person was, but now the case is changed; I must, and could lie down by my dead babe all the night after. I have thought since of the wonderful goodness of God to me, in preserving me so in the use of my reason and senses, in that distressed time, that I did not use wicked and violent means to end my own miserable life. In the morning, when they understood that my child was dead, they sent for me home to my masters wigwam: (By my master in this writing, must be understood Qunnaopin, who was a saggamore, and married K. Philip's wives sister; not that he first took me, but I was sold to him by a Narraganset Indian, who took me when I first came out of the garrison) I went to take up my dead child in my arms to carry it with me, but they bid me let it alone: There was no resisting, but go I must and leave it. When I had been a while at my masters wigwam, I took the first opportunity I could get, to go look after my dead child: When I came, I asked them what they had done with it? they told me it was upon the hill; then they went and shewed me where it was, where, I saw the ground was newly digged, and where they told me they had buried it; there I left that child in the wilderness, and, and must commit it and myself also in this wilderness condition, to him who is above all. God having taken away this dear child, I went to see my daughter Mary, who was at this same Indian town, at a wigwam not very far off, though we had little liberty or opportunity to see one another; she was about ten years old, and taken from the door at first by a praying Indian, and afterward sold for a gun. When I came in sight, she would fall a weeping, at which they were provoked, and would not let me come near her, but bid me be gone; which was a heart cutting word to me. I had one child dead, another in the wilderness, I knew not where, the third they would not let me come near to; Me (as he said) have ye bereaved of my children, Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin also, all these things are against me. I could not sit still in this condition, but kept walking from one place to another. And as I was going along, my heart was even overwhelmed with the thoughts of my condition, and that I should have children, and a nation that I knew not, ruled over them. Whereupon I earnestly intreated the Lord that he would consider my low estate, and shew me a token for good, and if it were his blessed will, some sign and hope of some relief. And indeed quickly the Lord answered, in some measure, my poor prayer: For as I was going up and down mourning and lamenting my condition, my son came to me, and asked me how I did? I had not seen him before, since the destruction of the town; and I knew not where he was, till I was informed by himself, that he was amongst a smaller parcel of Indians, whose place was about six miles off, with tears in his eyes, he asked me whether his sister Sarah was dead? and told me he had seen his sister Mary; and prayed me, that I would not be troubled in reference to himself. The occasion of his coming to see me at this time was this: There was, as I said, about six miles from us, a small plantation of Indians, where it seems he had been, during his captivity; and at this time, there were some forces of the Indians gathered out of our company, and some also from them, (amongst whom was my sons master) to go to assault and burn Medfield: In this time of his masters absence, his dame brought him to see me. I took this to be some gracious answer to my earnest and unfeigned desire. The next day the Indians returned from Medfield: (all the company, for those that belonged to the other smaller company, came through the town that now we were at) but before they came to us, oh the outrageous roaring and hooping that there was! they began their din about a mile before they came to us. By their noise and hooping they signified how many they had destroyed (which was at that time twenty three) those that were with us at home, were gathered together as soon as they heard the hooping, and every time that the other went over their number, these at home gave a shout, that the very earth rang again. And thus they continued till those that had been upon the expedition were come up to the Saggamor's wigwam; and then, oh the hideous, insulting and triumphing that there was over some English mens scalps, that they had taken (as their manner is) and brought with them. I cannot but take notice of the wonderful mercy of God to me in those afflictions, in sending me a bible: One of the Indians that came from Medfield fight, and had brought some plunder, came to me, and asked me if I would have a bible, he had got one in his basket, I was glad of it, and asked him if he thought the Indians would let me read? he answered yes? so I took the bible, and in that melancholy time it came into my mind to read first the 28th, Chap. of Deuteronomy, which I did, and when I had read it, my dark heart wrought on this manner, that there was no mercy for me, that the blessings were gone, and the curses came in their room, and that I had lost my opportunity. But the Lord helped me still to go on reading, till I came to chap. 30. the seven first verses; where I found there was mercy promised again, if we would return to him, by repentance; and though we were scattered from one end of the earth to the other, yet the Lord would gather us together, and turn all those curses upon our enemies. I do not desire to live to forget this scripture, and what comfort it was to me.

    Now the Indians began to talk of removing from this place, some one way, and some another. There were now besides myself nine English captives in this place, (all of them children except one woman) I got an opportunity to go and take my leave of them; they being to go one way, and I another. I asked them whether they were earnest with God for deliverance, they all told me they did as they were able, and it was some comfort to me, that the Lord stirred up children to look to him. The woman, viz good wife Joslin, told me, she should never see me again, and that she could find in her heart to run away: I desired her not to run away by any means, for we were near thirty miles from any English town, and she very big with child, having but one week to reckon; and another child in her arms two years old, and bad rivers there were to go over, and we were feeble with our poor and coarse entertainment. I had my bible with me, I pulled it out, and asked her whether she would read; we opened the bible, and lighted on Psal. 27. in which psalm we especially took notice of that verse, Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart, wait I say on the Lord.


The Fourth Remove


    And now must I part with that little company that I had. Here I parted from my daughter Mary, (whom I never saw again till I saw her in Dorchester, returned from captivity) and from four little cousins and neighbors, some of which I never saw afterward, the Lord only knows the end of them. Among them also was that poor woman before mentioned, who came to a sad end, as some of the company told me in my travel: She having much grief upon her Spirits, about her miserable condition, being so near her time, she would be often asking the Indians to let her go home; they not being willing to that, and yet vexed with her importunity, gathered a great company together about her, and striped her naked, and set her in the midst of them; and when they had sung and danced about her (in their hellish manner) as long as they pleased, they knocked her on the head, and the child in her arms with her: When they had done that, they made a fire and put them both into it, and told the other children that were with them, that if they attempted to go home, they would serve them in like manner. The children said she did not shed one tear, but prayed all the while. But to return to my own journey: We travelled about half a day or a little more, and came to a desolate place in the wilderness, where there were no wigwams or inhabitants before: We came about the middle of the afternoon to this place; cold, wet, snowy, hungry, and weary, and no refreshing (for man) but the cold ground to sit on, and our poor Indian cheer.

    Heart acheing thoughts here I had about my poor children, who were scattered up and down among the wild beasts of the forest: My head was light and dissy, (either through hunger or hard lodging, or trouble, or altogether) my knees feeble, my body raw by sitting double night and day, that I cannot express to man, the affliction that lay upon my spirit, but the Lord helped me at that time to express it to himself. I opened my bible to read, and the Lord brought that precious scripture to me, Jer. 31. 16. Thus saith the Lord, refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears, for thy work shall be rewarded, and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. This was a sweet cordial to me, when I was ready to faint, many and many a time have I sat down, and wept sweetly over this scripture. At this place we continued about four days.

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