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McREL Standards Activity


Caught Between Worlds: Frontier Life as Reflected in Captivity Narratives


Purpose:Students will be able to understand the interaction between European settlers and Native American groups on the Colonial frontier by using "captivity narratives" to provide insight in the values, beliefs, and prejudices of Native Americans and settlers. Students should come away with a better understanding of why peaceful coexistence was hard to achieve. Students are urged to consider questions of race, gender, and culture in this activity.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
United States History
 Standard 3.Understands why the Americas attracted Europeans, why they brought enslaved Africans to their colonies and how Europeans struggled for control of North America and the Caribbean
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 3. Understands the nature of the interaction between Native Americans and various settlers (e.g., Native American involvement in the European wars for control between 1675 and 1763, how Native American societies responded to European land hunger and expansion)
United States History
 Standard 4.Understands how political, religious, and social institutions emerged in the English colonies
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 4. Understands characteristics of the social structure of colonial America (e.g., the property rights of single, married, and widowed women; public education in the New England colonies and how it differed from the southern colonies, different patterns of family life; different ideals among diverse religious groups, social classes, and cultures; different roles and status of men and women)
United States History
 Standard 4.Understands how political, religious, and social institutions emerged in the English colonies
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 3. Understands characteristics of religious development in colonial America (e.g., the presence of diverse religious groups and their contributions to religious freedom; the political and religious influence of the Great Awakening; the major tenets of Puritanism and its legacy in American society; the dissension of Anne Hutchison and Roger Williams, and Puritan objections to their ideas and behavior)
Historical Understanding
 Standard 2.Understands the historical perspective
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 2. Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs
Historical Understanding
 Standard 2.Understands the historical perspective
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 11. Knows how to perceive past events with historical empathy
Historical Understanding
 Standard 2.Understands the historical perspective
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 12. Knows how to evaluate the credibility and authenticity of historical sources
Student Product:Discussion followed by mock council meeting or newspaper editorials or articles
Material & Resources:Any of the many captivity narratives written between the 17th and 19th centuries may be used in this activity, but the benchmarks listed above pertain to the Colonial period.  Bibliographies of captivity narratives and criticism on the genre can be found at the following websites: captivity site or Early American Captivity Narratives
Teacher's Note:This activity focuses on the interaction of Puritan settlers and Native American groups in New England.  However, the genre can be taken through American history and up to contemporary time, for the beliefs and issues at play are still apparent in American culture today.  For example, students could critique everything from the film "the Searchers" to the imagery on the cover of romance novels, post cards, and other cultural products.
Activity
This activity asks students to think critically about the interaction of Native peoples and settlers, to understand the cultural beliefs and prejudices that interferred with understanding other cultures, and to understand gender roles in colonial America.

Throughout American History "Captivity Narratives," stories of women and children captured by Native groups, have fascinated and enthralled audiences. They remain among the earliest American literary products and have inspired works by James F. Cooper and the film director John Ford (whose western "The Searchers" starring John Wayne and Natalie Wood is a late example of the genre).  Captivity Narratives also provide insight into the creation of gender roles, the dynamics of race relations and the development of racial stereotypes, and illustrate the values and beliefs at work in early American society.

For this activity early American captivity narratives are desired.  An excellent and often anthologized example (in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, for example)is Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of his Promises Displayed Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson from 1682(some times merely A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson).  Have students read all or pre-selected parts of Mary Rowlandson’s story of her captivity by the Wampanoag people in 1675.  In order to understand the events described and assumptions of Rowlandson, students need to understand the dynamics of European colonization (and the effects of colonization on Native groups), and the social and religous values of Puritan settlers.  The instructor should guide students in a discussion of the work.  Questions, created with the benchmarks in mind (see the benchmarks in parenthesis), that the students should address may include:
         "How does Mary perceive the Wampanoags? Can her narrative be trusted?" (HU benchmark 12)  
         "Are they heathens and savages, according to her?"
         "To what does she attribute Wampanoag acts of kindness?  How does this illustrate her cultural bias?  To what do you attribute such acts of kindness?"  "How does her interpretation of events illustrate her Puritan background and belief system?" (US standard 4, benchmark 3; HU standard 2, benchmark 2)
         "Explain why the Wampanoags attacked Mary’s home in 1675.  What forces (such as pressures from colonization, alliances with other European groups) explain such violence?" (US standard 3, benchmark 3)
         "What are the gender assumptions of captivity genre?  Use Rowlandson’s narrative as an example.  Why are the Wampanoags characterized as they are?  What does Rowlandson think of the differences in gender roles among the Wampanoags?  How are women treated in Wampanoag and Puritan society? What are the roles of women in these different cultures?" (US standard 4, benchmark 4)
         "How does Rowlandson readapt to Puritan society after her capture?"

Student product:
1. Mock newspaper article and Native response.
or
2. Students create a mock "council meeting" between Settlers and Wampanoags.

After discussing these issues, have students write articles for a colonial newspaper about the capture and restoration of Mary from the perspective of Puritans and include a Wampanoag rebuttal that counters the claims made by Rowlandson and addresses issues of white colonization of the area.  Or if the instructor prefers, have students divide into Puritans and Wampanoags and explain their positions on issues of white settlement and conflict at a council meeting over the return of a captive.  Students should show an understanding of the political and social context of the late 17th century, of racial prejudices at work in that society, and of gender roles in colonial and Native American society.  

Many of the themes in this activity are also applicable to the 18th and 19th centuries.