Conflict and Captivity in the Colonies

by Nicole Marsala


The early seventeenth century was punctuated by a series of small wars between Native Americans and colonists. Many colonists were captured and taken prisoner, but two women, whose ordeals were published as books, stand out. Mary Rowlandson wrote an account of her 1675 capture and escape, The Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, in which she described her captivity and treatment by the Native Americans during King Phillip’s War. Hannah Dustin was captured in 1675, during King William’s War, and fought her way to freedom. Her story was written by Cotton Mather in Magnalia Christi Americana. The stories of these two women were read widely both in America and in England.

Essential Question

Why did the early colonists such as Mary Rowlandson and Hannah Dustin persist in settling in the colonies despite resistance from and capture by American Indians?


Day 1


Students will engage in a collaborative fact-finding mission using primary documents written by Mary Rowlandson regarding her capture during King Phillip’s War. Each student will have a piece of the puzzle—an excerpt from Rowlandson’s account. When all pieces are analyzed, and presented, then students will understand who she was and what happened to her.


  • Start by putting the students into pairs or groups (make sure you have at least ten groups).
  • Arrange the desks so that they have plenty of room.
  • Give each group a different document (see list of materials).
  • When the students enter, explain that they will each be analyzing primary documents about a person who lived in the 1600s. Each of them will have a different piece of this person’s story (all documents are taken from parts of The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson).
  • Hand each student a worksheet. Explain that they may not be able to initially respond to every item on the sheet, but they will be able to fill in more information during presentations. They should fill it out to the best of their ability.

Activity Part 1

  • Give the students time to analyze their documents and fill in as much of the analysis sheet as they can.
  • Tell the students that they will be expected to share their document with the class.
  • Remind students that they will fill in the blanks of the analysis sheet after they hear presentations from other students.
  • Allow students approximately twenty minutes to work in their groups to complete the analysis sheet.

Activity Part 2

  • Students present the information from their documents in chronological order. After each presentation, stop the students and use the teacher script to prompt hypotheses of what may have happened to Mary Rowlandson; then allow students to continue their presentations.
  • Students will ultimately hypothesize about what happened to Mary Rowlandson after her captivity.

Day 2


Students will view a PowerPoint presentation, take notes, and use them to compare and contrast the captivity experience of Hannah Dustin to that of Mary Rowlandson and ultimately decide whose captivity was more difficult.


  • Teach students about Hannah Dustin using the PowerPoint presentation provided.
    • Ask the students to answer questions for Slide 2 and Slide 16 when you get to them.
  • At the end of the slide show, ask students to create a newspaper headline about Hannah Dustin.
  • Hand each student a Venn diagram worksheet (see list of materials) and have them compare and contrast the lives of Mary Rowlandson and Hannah Dustin.

Essay Question

Mary Rowlandson and Hannah Dustin were both kidnapped by Native Americans but have very different stories. Before you begin writing, think about the ordeals these women faced.

Write an essay to convince a reader which of the women had a harder struggle for freedom. Cite evidence from the text.

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Good extension from one of our seventh-grade novels: The Witch of Blackbird Pond- which contains an oblique reference to troubles between settlements and American Indians.

This activity will especially appeal to the seventh grade because of the high drama, the unlikely odds of escape. Kids sometimes object to unlikeliness of fictional outcomes, but here is life with a great example of one.

Good group activity.

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