Women's Literature in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Rowlandson, Mary. "Captivity, Sufferings, and Removes (1682)." In Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism, edited by Dawn Keetley and John Pettegrew, pp. 21-26. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1997.

In the following excerpt from her 1682 book, Rowlandson relates her time spent as a captive of American Indians.

On the 10th of February, 1675, the Indians, in great numbers, came upon Lancaster. Their first coming was about sun-rising; hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to heaven. There were five persons taken in one house, the father, the mother, and a sucking child they knocked on the head; the other two they took and carried away alive.—There were two others, who being out of the garrison upon occasion, were set upon; one was knocked on the head, the other escaped: another there was, who running along, was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them money, (as they told me) but they would not hearken to him, knocked him on the head, stripped him naked, and ripped open his bowels. Another, seeing many of the Indians about his barn, ventured out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same garrison, who were killed; the Indians getting up on the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification. Thus these murderous wretches went on burning and destroying all before them.

At length they came and beset our own house, and quickly it was the dolefulest day that ever mine eyes saw.…Now is the dreadful hour come, that I have often heard of (in the time of the war, as was the case with others) but now mine eyes see it. Some in our house were fighting for their lives, others wallowing in their blood, the house on fire over our heads, and the bloody heathen ready to knock us on the head if we stirred out. Now might we hear mothers and children crying out for themselves and one another, Lord what shall we do ! Then I took my children (and one of my sisters her's) to go forth and leave the house: but as soon as we came to the door, and appeared, the Indians shot so thick, that the bullets rattled against the house, as if one had taken an handful of stones and threw them, so that we were forced to give back. We had six stout dogs belonging to our garrison, but none of them would stir, tho at another time, if an Indian had come to the door, they were ready to fly upon him and tear him down. The Lord hereby would make us the more to acknowledge his hand, and to see that our help is always in him.—But out we must go, the fire increasing, and coming along behind us, roaring, and the Indians gaping before us with their guns, spears, and hatchets, to devour us. No sooner were we out of the house, but my brother-in-law (being before wounded, in defending the house, in or near the throat) fell down dead, whereat the Indians scornfully shouted, and hallooed, and were presently upon him, stripping off his cloaths. The bullets flying thick, one went thro my side, and the same (as it would seem), thro the bowels and hand of my poor child in my arms. One of my elder sister's children (named William) had then his leg broken, which the Indians perceiving, they knocked him on the head. Thus were we butchered by those merciless heathens, standing amazed, with the blood running down to our heels. My elder sister being yet in the house, and seeing those woeful sights, the infidels hauling mothers one way, and children another, and some wallowing in their blood: and her eldest son telling her that her son William was dead, and myself wounded, she said, Lord, let me die with them.—which was no sooner said than she was struck with a bullet, and fell down dead over the threshold. I hope she is reaping the fruit of her good labours, being faithful to the service of God in her place. In her younger years she lay under much trouble upon spiritual accounts, till it pleased God to make that precious scripture take hold of her heart, 2 Cor. xii. 9. And he said unto me, My Grace is sufficient for thee. More than twenty years after, I have heard her tell how sweet and comfortable that place was to her. But to return; the Indians laid hold on us, pulling me one way, and the children another, and said, Come, go along with us: I told them they would kill me; they answered, If I were willing to go along with them, they would not hurt me.

Oh! the doleful sight that now was to behold at this house! Come behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he has made in the earth. Of thirty seven persons who were in this one house, none escaped either present death, or a bitter captivity, save only one, who might say as in Job 1. xv. And I only am escaped alone to tell the news. There were twelve killed, some shot, some stabbed with their spears, some knocked down with their hatchets. When we are in prosperity, ho, the little that we think of such dreadful sights, to see our dear friends and relations lie bleeding out their hearts blood upon the ground.—There was one who was chopped into the head with a hatchet and stripped naked, and yet was crawling up and down. It is a solemn sight to see so many christians lying in their blood, some here and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves. All of them stripped naked by a company of hell hounds, roaring, singing, ranting and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out; yet the Lord, by his almighty power, preserved a number of us from death, for there were twenty four of us taken alive and carried captive.

I had often before this said, that if the Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them, than taken alive: but when it came to the trial, my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted my spirits, that I chose rather to go along with those (as I may say) ravenous bears, than that moment to end my days. And that I may the better declare what happened to me during that grievous captivity, I shall particularly speak of the several Removes we had up and down the wilderness.

The First Remove

Now away we must go with those barbarous creatures, with our bodies wounded and bleeding, and our hearts no less than our bodies. About a mile we went that night, up upon a hill within sight of the town, where they intended to lodge. There was hard by a vacant house, (deserted by the English before, for fear of the Indians) I asked them whether I might not lodge in the house that night to which they answered, What, will you love Englishmen still. This was the dolefulest night that ever my eyes saw. Oh, the roaring, and singing, dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell: and as miserable was the waste that was there made, of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, calves, lambs, roasting pigs, and fowls, (which they had plundered in the town) some roasting, some lying and burning, and some boiling, to feed our merciless enemies, who were joyful enough, though we were disconsolate. To add to the dolefulness of the former day, and the dismalness of the present night, my thoughts ran upon my losses, and sad bereaved condition. All was gone, my husband gone, (at least separated from me, he being in the bay; and to add to my grief, the Indians told me they would kill him as he came homeward) my children gone, my relations and friends gone, our house and home, and all our comforts within door and without, all were gone, (except my life) and I knew not but the next moment that might go too.

There remained nothing to me but one poor wounded babe, and it seemed at present worse than death, that it was in such a pitiful condition, bespeaking compassion, and I had no refreshing for it, nor suitable things to revive it. Little do many think, what is the savageness and bruitishness of this barbarous enemy …

The Third Remove

The morning being come, they prepared to go on their way: one of the Indians got up on a horse, and they set me up behind him, with my poor sick babe in my lap. A very wearisome and tedious day I had of it; what with my own wound, and my child being so exceedingly sick, and in a lamentable condition with her wound, it may easily be judged what a poor feeble condition we were in, there being not the least crumb of refreshment that came within either of our mouths from Wednesday night to Saturday night, except only a little cold water. This day in the afternoon, about an hour by sun, we came to the place where they intended, viz. an Indian town called Wenimesset, northward of Quabang. When we were come, Oh the number of pagans (our merciless enemies) that there came about me! I might say as David, Psal. xxvii 13. I had fainted, unless I had believed, &c. The next day was the sabbath: I then remembered how careless I had been of God's holy time; how many Sabbaths I had lost and misspent, and how evilly I had walked in God's sight; which lay so closely upon my spirit that it was easy for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut off the thread of my life, and cast me out of his presence forever. Yet the Lord still shewed mercy to me, and helped me; and as he wounded me with one hand, so he healed me with the other. This day there came to me one Robert Pepper, (a man belonging to Roxbury) who was taken at Capt. Beers's fight; and had been now a considerable time with the Indians, and up with them almost as far as Albany, to see King Philip, as he told me, and was now very lately come with them into these parts. Hearing that I was in this Indian town, he obtained leave to come and see me. He told me he himself was wounded in the leg at Capt. Beers's fight; and was not able for some time to go, but as they carried him, and that he took oak leaves and laid on his wound, and by the blessing of God, he was able to travel again. Then I took oak leaves and laid on my side, and with the blessing of God, it cured me also; yet before the cure was wrought, I might say as it is in Psai. xxxviii 5, 6, My wounds stink and are corrupt, I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly, I go mourning all the day long.—I sat much alone with my poor wounded child in my lap, which moaned night and day, having nothing to revive the body, or cheer thee spirits of her; but instead of that, one Indian would come and tell me one hour, your master will knock your child on the head; and then a second, and then a third, your master will quickly knock your child on the head.…

The Seventh Remove

After a restless and hungry night there, we had a wearisome time of it the next day. The swamp, by which we lay, was as it were a deep dungeon, and a very high and steep hill before it. Before I got to the top of the hill, I thought that my heart, legs, and all would have broken, and failed me. What through faintness and soreness of body, it was a grievous day of travel to me. As we went along, I saw a place where English cattle had been; that was comfort to me, such as it was. Quickly after that, we came to an English path, which so took with me, that I thought I could there have freely lain down and died. That day, a little after noon, we came to Squauheag, where the Indians quickly spread themselves over the deserted English fields, gleaning, what they could find: some picked up ears of wheat, that were crickled down; some found ears of Indian corn; some found groundnuts, and others sheaves of wheat, that were frozen together in the shock, and went to threshing them out. I got two ears of Indian corn, and whilst I did but turn my back, one of them was stolen from me, which much troubled me. There came an Indian to them at that time, with a basket of horse-liver; I asked him to give me a piece. What, (says he) can you eat horse-liver? I told him I would try, if he would give me a piece, which he did; and I laid it on the coals to roast; but before it was half ready, they got half of it away from me; so that I was forced to take the rest and eat it as it was, with the blood about my mouth, and yet a savoury bit it was to me, for to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.—A solemn sight I thought it was, to see whole fields of wheat and Indian corn forsaken and spoiled, and the remainders of them to be food for our merciless enemies. That night we had a mess of wheat for our supper.

The Eighth Remove

On the morrow morning we must go over Connecticut river to meet with king Philip; two canoes full they had carried over; the next turn I was to go; but as my foot was upon the canoe to step in, there was a sudden out-cry among them, and I must step back; and instead of going up the river, I must go four or five miles farther northward. Some of the Indians ran one way, and some another. The cause of this rout was, as I thought, their espying some English scouts, who were thereabouts. In this travel, about noon the company made a stop, and sat down, some to eat and others to rest them. As I sat amongst them, musing on things past, my son Joseph unexpectedly came to me: we asked of each other's welfare, bemoaning our doleful condition, and the change that had come upon us; we had had husband, and father, children, and sisters, friends, and relations, house and home, and many comforts of this life; but now might we say with Job, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.…

But to return: We travelled on till night, and in the morning we must go over the river to Philip's crew. When I was in the canoe, I could not but be amazed at the numerous crew of pagans that were on the bank on the other side. When I came ashore, they gathered all about me, I sitting alone in the midst; I observed they asked one another questions, and laughed, and rejoiced over their gains and victories. Then my heart began to fail, and I fell a weeping; which was the first time, to my remembrance, that I wept before them; although I had met with so much affliction and my heart was many times ready to break, yet could I not shed one tear in their sight, but rather had been all this while in a maze, and like one astonished; but now I may say as Psal. cxxxii. 1. By the River of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. There one of them asked me, why I wept? I could hardly tell what to say; yet I answered, they would kill me. No, said he, none will hurt you.—Then came one of them, and gave me two spoonfuls of meal, to comfort me; and another gave me half a pint of peas, which was more worth than many bushels at another time. Then I went to see King Philip; he bade me come in, and sit down; and asked me whether I would smoke it? (an usual compliment now-a-days, among saints and sinners): But this no way suited me. For though I had formerly used tobacco, yet I had left it ever since I was first taken. It seems to be a bait the devil lays, to make men lose their precious time. I remember with shame, how formerly, when I had taken two or three pipes, I was presently ready for another; such a bewitching thing it is: but I thank God, he has now give me power over it; surely there are many who may be better employed, than to sit sucking a stinking tobacco pipe.…

During my abode in this place, Philip spake to me to make a shirt for his boy, which I did; for which he gave me a shilling; I offered the money to my master, but he bade me keep it, and with it I bought a piece of horse flesh. Afterward he asked me to make a cap for his boy, for which he invited me to dinner: I went, and he gave me a pancake, about as big as two fingers; it was made of parched wheat, beaten, and fried in bear's grease, but I thought I never tasted pleasanter food in my life. There was a squaw who spake to me to make a shirt for her sannup; for which she gave me a piece of bear. Another asked me to knit a pair of stockings, for which she gave me a quart of peas. I boiled my peas and bear together, and invited my master and mistress to dinner; but the proud gossip, because I served them both in one dish, would eat nothing, except one bit that he gave her upon the point of his knife.…

The Ninth Remove

But instead of going either to Albany or homeward, we must go five miles up the river, and then go over it. Here we abode a while. Here lived a sorry Indian, who spake to me to make him a shirt; when I had done it, he would pay me nothing for it. But he lived by the river side, where I often went to fetch water; I would often be putting him in mind, and calling for my pay; at last he told me, if I would make another shirt for a papoos not yet born, he would give me a knife, which he did, when I had done it. I carried the knife in, and my master asked me to give it to him, and I was not a little glad that I had any thing that they would accept of, and be pleased with.…

My son being now about a mile from me, I asked liberty to go and see him; they bade me go, and away I went; but quickly lost myself, travelling over hills and thro swamps, and could not find the way to him. And I cannot but admire at the wonderful power and goodness of God to me in that tho I was gone from home, and met with all sorts of Indians, and those I had no knowledge of, and there being no Christian soul near me, yet not one of them offered the least imaginable miscarriage to me. I turned homeward again, and met my master, and he shewed me the way to my son. When I came to him I found him not well; and withal he had a boil on his side, which much troubled him: we bemoaned one another a while, as the Lord helped us, and then I returned again. When I was returned, I found myself as unsatisfied as I was before. I went up and down mourning and lamenting, and my spirit was ready to sink with the thoughts of my poor children. My son was ill, and I could not but think of his mournful looks, having no Christian friend near him, to do any office of love for him, either for soul or body. And my poor girl, I knew not where she was, nor whether she was sick or well, alive or dead. I repaired under these thoughts to my bible, (my great comforter in that time) and that scripture came to my hand, Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee. Psal. lv. 22.

But I was fain to go and look after something to satisfy my hunger; and going among the wigwams, I went into one, and there found a squaw who shewed herself very kind to me, and gave me a piece of bear, I put it into my pocket, and came home; but could not find an opportunity to broil it, for fear they should get it from me; and there it lay all that day and night in my stinking pocket. In the morning I went again to the same squaw, who had a kettle of groundnuts boiling: I asked her to let me boil my piece of bear in the kettle, which she did, and gave me some ground-nuts to eat with it, and I cannot but think how pleasant it was to me. I have sometimes seen bear baked handsomely among the English, and some liked it; but the thoughts that it was bear, made me tremble: But now that was savoury to me that one would think was enough to turn the stomach of a brute creature.

One bitter cold day, I could find no room to sit down before the fire: I went out, and could not tell what to do, but I went into another wigwam, where they were all sitting around the fire; but the squaw laid a skin for me and bade me sit down, and gave me some ground-nuts, and bade me come again; and told me they would buy me, if they were able; and yet these were strangers to me that I never knew before.…

[Rowlandson, along with her son and daughter, were finally redeemed from the Indians and allowed to return home.]

Our family being now gathered together, the south church in Boston hired an house for us; Then we removed from Mr. Shepard's (those cordial friends) and went to Boston, where we continued about three quarters of a year. Still the Lord went along with us, and provided graciously for us. I thought it somewhat strange to set up house-keeping with bare walls; but, as Solomon says, Money answers all things: And that we had, thro the benevolence of christian friends, some in this town, and some in that, and others; and some from England, so that in a little time we might look and see the house furnished with love. The Lord hath been exceedingly good to us in our low estate, in that, when we had neither house nor home, nor other necessaries, the Lord so moved the hearts of these and those towards us, that we wanted neither food nor raiment for ourselves nor ours. Prov. xv.ii. 24. There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. And how many such friends have we found, and now live among!…


SOURCE: de Gouges, Olympe. "The Rights of Women." In Women in Revolutionary Paris 1789-1795: Selected Documents, edited and translated by Daline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson, pp. 87-96. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1979.

In the following excerpt from her 1791 pamphlet addressed to the Queen, Marie Antoinette, de Gouges offers a declaration of women's rights.

Man, are you capable of being just? It is a woman who poses the question; you will not deprive her of that right at least. Tell me, what gives you sovereign empire to oppress my sex? Your strength? Your talents? Observe the Creator in his wisdom; survey in all her grandeur that nature with whom you seem to want to be in harmony, and give me, if you dare, an example of this tyrannical empire. Go back to animals, consult the elements, study plants, finally glance at all the modifications of organic matter, and surrender to the evidence when I offer you the means; search, probe, and distinguish, if you can, the sexes in the administration of nature. Everywhere you will find them mingled; everywhere they cooperate in harmonious togetherness in this immortal masterpiece.

Man alone has raised his exceptional circumstances to a principle. Bizarre, blind, bloated with science and degenerated—in a century of enlightenment and wisdom—into the crassest ignorance, he wants to command as a despot a sex which is in full possession of its intellectual faculties; he pretends to enjoy the Revolution and to claim his rights to equality in order to say nothing more about it.

Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen

Mothers, daughters, sisters [and] representatives of the nation demand to be constituted into a national assembly. Believing that ignorance, omission, or scorn for the rights of woman are the only causes of public misfortunes and of the corruption of governments, [the women] have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of woman in order that this declaration, constantly exposed before all the members of the society, will ceaselessly remind them of their rights and duties; in order that the authoritative acts of women and the authoritative acts of men may be at any moment compared with and respectful of the purpose of all political institutions; and in order that citizens' demands, henceforth based on simple and incontestable principles, will always support the constitution, good morals, and the happiness of all.

Consequently, the sex that is as superior in beauty as it is in courage during the suffering of maternity recognized and declares in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following Rights of Woman and of Female Citizens.


Woman is born free and lives equal to man in her rights. Social distinctions can be based only on the common utility.



Although Madeleine de Scudéry was one of the best-known and most influential writers of romance tales in seventeeth-century Europe, many critics suggest that neither her talent nor the extent of her influence was recognized until the twentieth century. In part, her gender was to blame for her undeserved poor reputation: in Scudéry's time, writing for pay was considered an unworthy occupation for either sex, and in the case of women writers, often led to accusations of immorality and sexual licentiousness. It was perhaps for that reason that Scudéry published under the name of her brother, Georges, until his death, even though it was widely known that she was largely responsible for such romantic novels as Ibrahim; ou, L'illustre Bassa (1641; Ibrahim; or, The Illustrious Bassa), Artamène; ou, Le grand Cyrus (1649-53; Artamenes; or, The Grand Cyrus), and Clélie: Histoire romaine (1654-60; Clelia).

Scudéry received an unusual honor as the only woman in the seventeenth century to be acknowledged by the Academie Français, for her essay Discours sur la gloire (1671; An Essay upon Glory). Scudéry's work was greatly influenced by, and did much to popularize, préciosité, the exquisite politeness and delicate manners of the world of the Paris salons she frequented. Although such authors as Molière and Nicholas Boileau satirized the exaggerated posturings of these overly zealous précieux in their works, they respected Scudéry, and critics now believe it likely that Molière was impressed and influenced by Scudéry's feminist ideas. Some critics have demonstrated that Scudéry's work was familiar to Samuel Richardson, who is considered one of the foremost creators of the English novel. Her revisions of the romance genre, focusing on the inner life of her characters and drawing material from contemporary society, are considered among the key early contributions to the development of the novel.


The purpose of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of woman and man; these rights are liberty, property, security, and especially resistance to oppression.


The principle of all sovereignty rests essentially with the nation, which is nothing but the union of woman and man; no body and no individual can exercise any authority which does not come expressly from it [the nation].


Liberty and justice consist of restoring all that belongs to others; thus, the only limits on the exercise of the natural rights of woman are perpetual male tyranny; these limits are to be reformed by the laws of nature and reason.


Laws of nature and reason proscribe all acts harmful to society; everything which is not prohibited by these wise and divine laws cannot be prevented, and no one can be constrained to do what they do not command.


The laws must be the expression of the general will; all female and male citizens must contribute either personally or through their representatives to its formation; it must be the same for all: male and female citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, must be equally admitted to all honors, positions, and public employment according to their capacity and without other distinctions besides those of their virtues and talents.


No woman is an exception: she is accused, arrested, and detained in cases determined by law. Women, like men, obey this rigorous law.


The law must establish only those penalties that are strictly and obviously necessary, and no one can be punished except by virtue of a law established and promulgated prior to the crime and legally applicable to women.


Once any woman is declared guilty, complete rigor is [to be] exercised by the law.


No one is to be disquieted for his very basic opinions; woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum, provided that her demonstrations do not disturb the legally established public order.


The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of woman, since the liberty assures the recognition of children by their fathers. Any female citizen thus may say freely, I am the mother of a child which belongs to you, without being forced by a barbarous prejudice to hide the truth; [an exception may be made] to respond to the abuse of this liberty in cases determined by the law.


The guarantee of the rights of woman and the female citizen implies a major benefit; this guarantee must be instituted for the advantage of all, and not for the particular benefit of those to whom it is entrusted.


For the support of the public force and the expenses of administration, the contributions of woman and man are equal; she share all the duties [corvees] and all the painful tasks; therefore, she must have the same share in the distribution of positions, employments, offices, honors and jobs [industrie].


Female and male citizens have the right to verify, either by themselves or through their representatives, the necessity of the public contribution. This can only apply to women if they are granted an equal share, not only of wealth, but also of public administration, and in the determination of the proportion, the base, the collection, and the duration of the tax.


The collectivity of women, joined for tax purposed to the aggregate of men, has the right to demand an accounting of his administration from any public agent.


No society has a constitution without the guarantee of the rights and the separation of powers; the constitution is null if the majority of individuals comprising the nation have not cooperated in drafting it.


Property belongs to both sexes whether united or separate; for each it is an inviolable and sacred right; no one can be deprived of it, since it is the true patrimony of nature, unless the legally determined public need obviously dictates it, and then only with a just and prior indemnity.

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Women's Literature in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries: Primary Sources

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Women's Literature in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries: Primary Sources