Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Sufferings of Mary Rowlandson's Narrative

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Title page from University of Pennsylvania Library
Loretta reports:

Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard at an early age stories of Mary Rowlandson and others captured by “the Indians.”  We lived quite close to a stone tower commemorating the capture & escape—thanks to a woman—of a young boy.

Google Books offers several editions of Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative. Here's a little background, from the 1828 edition:   “‘In 1643,’ . . . Sholan, an Indian of mild and pacific character, was sachem of the Nashaway tribe, who lived chiefly in what are now the towns of Lancaster and Sterling. Sholan . . . recommended this valley to Thomas King as a favourable spot for a plantation. The same year King united with John Prescott, Harmon Garrett, Thomas Skidmore, Stephen Day, (the father of American typography) Mr. Symonds, and others, and purchased a tract of land ten miles in length and eight in breadth; covenanting not to molest the Indians in their hunting, fishing, or planting places.”

Relations continued peaceable for many years.  Then”Shoshanim became chief sachem of the tribe . . . For some cause he felt hostile to the English,” and in 1676,* his tribe attacked & destroyed the town, and made off with Mrs. Rowlandson.

The news today was that a New England historian, Mr. Warren Rasmussen, has produced an updated, corrected edition of the narrative.  That was interesting—but not as much as what he revealed about the conditions under which the original book was printed.

“The book was printed at the Cambridge Press, the only press in the United States at the time, he said, meaning it had a limited amount of type, which quickly got depleted.

“‘First, they ran out of periods, so they substituted them with colons. Then they ran out of those and they used semicolons. They also ran out of capital I’s so they used lower case ‘i’ and when they ran out of that, they used lower case ‘j.’”

Who knew?  Not I, certainly.  It sounds like something from a Monty Python skit.

You can read the full news article here.

*new (Georgian)calendar


bazza said...

Hi, I followed you here from Philip's 'English Buildings' Blog.
This is a very interesting Blog to read. I am fascinated by history (I did some modules at the Open University, UK) especially the interpretation of unwitting evidence. I also like the comparison of your two writing styles. And, (this is beginning to look like a hagiography!) I like these book title; The French Mistress because it works on various levels of meaning and Last Night's Scandal - irresistible!
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Historical Ken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Historical Ken said...

Interesting, but I must admit that I find historians that "discover" faults in history to be suspect only because too many attempt to only make a name (and money) for themselves.
I'm not saying what this person found isn't true, but I do wish to see more evidence and comparisons. Since I live in Michigan and was unable to attend the discussion, he may have explained it in more detail than the article in the Telegram gave us.
Too many, unfortunately, take words for fact without further research.
That being said, I love your blog and the wonderful information you have in it. And I appreciate your study and documentation on where you do get your information. Keep it up!!

Keri said...

If true, that's pretty hilarious! Truth be told I'm more interested in hearing the other side of the story, but unfortunately that's not very likely. "For some cause he felt hostile to the English"... Yeah, I'm sure he was just "hostile" out of the blue for no reason at all. I'd love to know the whole story.

Jane O said...

I love the bit about running out of letters. I was going to ask why they didn't just print fewer pages at a time, but then I realized that if they needed a second printing they would have had to typeset the whole thing all over again.

Anonymous said...

Appalling to read that Mr. Rasmussen thinks he has "Improved" Mary Rowlandson's narrative. Colonial captive narratives do not need modernization. They are plenty thrilling without any such intervention. Also, his take on the printer running out of letters is a little skewed. No printers in Mass or even in London maintained sufficient type to print whole books at once. Books were printed by signature, then the type broken down and reused. Typesetting labour was cheaper than buying additional cast type. I agree that with the previous commenter that this all this sounds like a ploy by an amateur historian to sell more of his product.

Katie said...

I had to slog through (as much as I could stand of) Rowlandson's memoir in a college seminar on captivity narratives. At least now I know part of why it was so bloody awful to read... ;)

Katie said...

(FWIW, at the time I was specializing in 18th c. novels by women, so I was familiar with the general style; the long 18thc in lit often being held to begin with Behn's Oronooko (which I ended up reading 3-4 times in college).)

QNPoohBear said...

We just read this in my public history class and we discussed how people remember events. Mrs. Rowlandson wrote her narrative after she had been safely home awhile and the English emerged the conquerors. That and her obvious prejudice against the Indians accounts for the errors in the story. I was most struck by the awful terms she uses to describe the Indians.

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