They came for Mary Rowlandson at dawn, a wild host that shrieked and yelled. Strong brown arms plucked her from the farm and took her away to their secret places in the wild country. She lay on a bed of dry leaves, watching the black shapes as they danced and sang; then the next day they set her to work, along with the other mortals who had been abducted. They themselves were too proud to work – they knew nothing of the crafts and skills by which ordinary people order their lives. This is hardly surprising. They were the Narragansett Indians, and Mary Rowlandson was a New England settler who had been taken captive in the wars of the 1670s.
Mary was a Puritan through and through. Her narrative of the eleven weeks spent with the Indians is threaded effortlessly with quotations and exhortations from the Bible, the one book she cared about. Fairy tales, one gathers, were not on the reading list. And yet her history corresponds, point for point, with those stories from the old country which tell how a woman was carried off by the fairies. There is the same capricious violence from the strange people, the same stealthy plundering of food and drink from the lonely farms, the same theft of women and children. Captives might be needed to replace Indian children; they might be set to work, or offered up to the Devil – ‘for aye at every seven years, they pay a teind to Hell’. The religious views of the Narragansett are not known, but Mary feared the worst, especially after they had selected one of her fellow-captives to be stripped naked. ‘And when they had sung and danced around her (in their hellish manner) as long as they pleased, they knockt her on head, and the child in her arms with her’ (Turner 1974: 322)
The rest of this article by Jeremy Harte, published in White Dragon at Lughnasa 1999, can be read on the White Dragon website.