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The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America Paperback – March 28, 1995

3.7 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The armed conflicts of the 18th century between the English colonies in North America and the French settlements that stretched into Canada were fought with the support of Native American allies. Demos, a Yale history professor ( Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England ), draws on primary source material to provide a perceptive analysis of the cultural encounters that occurred between combatants by detailing the experiences of the John Williams family. Williams, a Puritan minister, and his family were captured in 1704 in their Massachusetts home by a group of Frenchmen and Native Americans, and forced to march to Canada. Although he and four of his children were later released, his wife died on the march and his daughter, Eunice, became a convert to Catholicism and married a Native American. Despite the ongoing attempts of her father and brother to persuade Eunice to return to Massachusetts, she would agree only to brief visits and lived in a Native American settlement until her death at the age of 95. Illustrations not seen by PW. History Book Club main selection ; BOMC alternate .
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

From an obscure and isolated event, Demos (History/Yale), a Bancroft Prize-winning historian (Entertaining Satan, not reviewed) explodes the easy oppositions between Christian and savage, Indian and white, nature and civilization--oppositions on which the narrative of colonial American history has traditionally been built. In 1704, Mohawk Indians, converted to Catholicism by Jesuit missionaries, allied with the French settlers in Canada, attacked the frontier village of Deerfield, Massachusetts, killing 50 of the very young and old and kidnapping 112 more. They then marched the prisoners to Canada, killing 20 more women and several children along the way as acts of mercy, including the wife and infant son of John Williams, a Puritan minister and a prize hostage. While he and his surviving sons were ultimately released, his daughter, Eunice, who was seven at the time of her capture, remained with her captors, converted to Catholicism, and at the age of 16 married an Indian, with whose people she chose to spend the rest of her life. Among Demos's narrative achievements is his representation of the religious, cultural, political, economic, and psychological orientations that collided in this episode, the web of fears, justifications, and powers revealed in the process of encounter: the Puritan fear of the wilderness, the English fear of the French, the Jesuit missionary fever, the French-Canadian greed, the Indian interpretation of Christianity, and the arrogance with which Puritans interpreted a massacre as an expression of God's will, of redemption and resurrection. This thought-provoking study explores the multiple communities to which apparently simple people belonged and how their domestic lives were overtaken by political events. Fascinating, lively, and especially timely to an age struggling to understand the implications of its own cross-cultural encounters. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 315 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 28, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679759611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679759614
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book because I thought that Demos presented new theories about this well-known incident in Colonial history (at least to those of us who lived near Deerfield). He also does an excellent job showing all points of view (English, French, Indian) of not only the February 1704 attack on Deerfield but also the march into Canada, the subsequent redeemption of most of the captives, and, of course, why Eunice Williams chooses not to return to the English colonies and her birth family. I also thought that Demos did an great job of laying the foundation for the attack, describing the very different philosophies & policies of the French and the English (in England, France, Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Quebec) towards the Indians as well as the Indians' philosophies & policies towards the English and French. It is a tale of an "experiment" (to "help" the Indians become Christian) that resulted in a clash of cultures (English, French, and Indian), religions, societies, etc. that was doomed from conception because it never occurred to the English that the Indians might be perfectly content with their lives and their own religion and thus not welcome the English intrusion. The larger, political story woven into the personal tragedy of the Williams family shows how events thousands of miles away and often intitally having nothing to do with the victims effects ordinary people in extraordinary ways. Although Eunice Williams left no written word explaining why she chose not to return to her birth family, Demos' theories seem highly likely. He also does a nice job illustrating the Williams family's puzzlement and hurt over Eunice's "rejection" of them as well as her adopted family's concerns and fears for their newest (but not least loved) member.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This book is an example of petite histoire, the account of particular households and villages, set in the larger context of early colonial New England. Demos tells the story of an Indian raid of 1704, in Deerfield, Massachusetts, and its aftermath. In the raid, prominent minister John Williams, his family, and many others are taken captive and transported to Quebec, near Montreal. Some die in transit; many others are returned or "redeemed" to their homes. Williams' daughter, Eunice, remains "unredeemed", a convert to Catholicism and a new way of life, now married to a member of the capturing tribe. Demos does a marvelous job in reading and explicating the meager original sources which survive, and applying a judicious historical imagination to reconstruct this story, both in the larger context of time and place and the smaller context of the Williams family. As a resident of Northern New York, close to both Quebec and the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation, this story has significant local interest for me. Despite these attributes, however, I found the book often lost my interest, I think because Demos tries too hard to be writerly, with his narrative devices (ellipsis, enjambment, etc.) getting in the way of the story. For this reason, I must qualify my recommendation, at least for this general reader. I must say, however, that my wife, Carol, loved this book, stayed up late reading it, and enthused about it for weeks after a late night conclusion. Other critics also have been very enthusiastic.
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Format: Paperback
The Unredeemed Captive is a meticulously researched history. Not a historical novel, not a screenplay, it is intended to inform, not to entertain. If you approach this book with a clear understanding of its purpose, it is quite enjoyable. Eunice Williams' sister Esther, who was also taken captive, moved to the town where I now live and is buried in our oldest cemetery. Her very large tombstone tells something of her story. I've often wondered why, although they are both daughters of a minister who was kidnapped along with most of their family, Esther and her other siblings came home when given the chance, but Eunice alone chose to stay. Well, Demos does a good job of inferring possible reasons from 300 year old data. If you find the research boring, it's possible to skim over those parts and read only the narrative of Eunice's story. It's fascinating.
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Format: Paperback
Brings the history of an obscure event to the reader in a way that makes one want to learn more. The study of history can suffer from failure to integrate events into the full matrix of their time, hence can be dull. This book, in contrast, helps us to see the individuals involved as fully human and integrated into their times and the assumptions of their cultures. This is a very poignant story which allows (of necessity) the reader to read between the lines to understand the motivations of Eunice and her family. Why did Eunice choose to stay in Canada rather than return to her family? Was it because she now feared for her soul (having been converted to Catholicism)if she returned; because she found the Indian way of life more emotionally sustaining than that of her Puritan family; or because she was angry that her father had remarried? This book gives the reader some understanding of the difficulties that arise when two very different cultures collide--even when there is some degree of good will in either side. In the hands of the right people, this could be a great movie!
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