Penn Library

CULTURAL READINGS: Colonization & Print in the Americas


In many native cultures, capturing people rather than territory was the principal end of warfare. Captives were taken for purposes of adoption, execution, or ransom. For their part, Europeans captured Indians to use as soldiers, guides, interpreters, and slaves.
Cabeza de Vaca
Narratives of Europeans or white Americans held captive among Indians were in circulation as early as the 16th century. Cabeza de Vaca's relation of his shipwreck in Florida may be the earliest such account to be printed.
In the 17th century, Catholic readers learned of the captivity of Isaac Jogues among the Iroquois, while Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan, composed her own account of captivity among tribes resisting English colonialism. Later editions of tales like that of Rowlandson became American bestsellers, spawning a market for printed captivities.
The stories may have helped readers to define the uncertain boundaries between white and Indian cultures. At the same time, captives like Mary Jemison and John Tanner found much to admire in their adoptive Indian cultures and much to question in Euro-American society.

Colonial Fictions, Colonial Histories

Exhibition Contents | Introduction | Essays | Bibliography & Links

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