Mary Rowlandson’s “Dolefullest Day”

By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services

February 1676 likely marked the most devastating month of Mary Rowlandson’s long life. During the winter of 1675/76 many New England frontier towns experienced American Indian raids in a series of conflicts later known as King Philip’s War. On 10 February of that year, Rowlandson was taken captive by Nipmuck Indians in an attack on her hometown of Lancaster, Massachusetts. She subsequently witnessed the death of her youngest child, and observed the gathering and return of Nipmucks who attacked the town of Medfield, Massachusetts on 21 February. 

Nearly six years after her captivity ended Rowlandson published “The Soveraignty & Goodness of God, … a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.” In the narrative Rowlandson describes the day of the Lancaster attack as “the dolefullest day that ever mine eyes saw.” She recounts her efforts to gather her three children, and one of her sister’s children, to escape the musket balls riddling her Lancaster house. “[T]he bulletts flying thick,” she reported, “one went through my side, and the same (as would seem) through the bowels and hand of my dear Child in my arms.” In captivity, she was separated from her son Joseph and her daughter Mary. The injured child, Sarah, remained with her, dying from her wounds on 18 February. Rowlandson writes of the powerful memory, “my sweet Babe, like a lambe departed this life, …. being about six yeares, and five months old.”

On 21 February 1676 Rowlandson witnessed preparations for a raid on Medfield, Massachusetts. She did not observe the raid itself yet she calls both the events in Lancaster and Medfield desolations in her narrative. Lancaster suffered 13 dead, 24 captives, and lost almost all buildings to fire. Medfield lost 14 residents, had one person taken captive, and saw over 30 structures destroyed by fire. In the aftermath of the Medfield attack, Rowlandson procured two items for herself, a Bible and a hat. Rowlandson writes that a Nipmuck brought her a Bible from the Medfield plunder. She also records meeting a Mary Thurston, from whom she borrowed a hat. Mary, the 10-year-old daughter of Thomas Thurston, was captured during the raid on Medfield, in which her mother was wounded and two of her six siblings died.

Mary Rowlandson’s captivity ended in May 1676 when John Hoar of Concord purchased her freedom with “two Coats and twenty shillings in Mony, and half a bushel of feed Corn, and some Tobacco.” Rowlandson reunited with her husband and surviving children.  Her son Joseph Rowlandson returned with Major Richard Waldron of New Hampshire, and daughter Mary Rowlandson was discovered at Providence. A true survivor, Mary outlived two husbands, dying in 1711. 

If this story piques your interest, visit the MHS library to read the full-text of Mary Rowlandson’s narrative. For the less adventurous, or for those too distant, Internet Archive has made an edition available online