Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Intentional Propaganda of Colonial Captivity Narratives


Elmira Tadayon


Michaela Reaves, Professor of History, California Lutheran University

Intentional Propaganda of Colonial Captivity Narratives
Author: Elmira Tadayon, California Lutheran University
Mentor: Dr. Michaela Reaves, Department of History Chair, California Lutheran University

This paper examines the social impact of pre-revolutionary colonial captivity narratives, asserting that the main function of this literary “movement” was to spread religious, political, and social propaganda throughout the colonies. Four primary texts are dissected and compared: A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson by Mary Rowlandson, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion by Reverend John Williams, Captivity of Father Peter Milet, S.J. Among the Oneida Indians by Father Peter Milet, Captivity of Richard Bard, esq. and His Wife, Catherine Poe Bard by Archibald Bard. The evident Puritan messages conveyed through Mary Rowlandson’s and John Williams’ narratives suggests a deliberate attempt to restore the crumbling Puritan community to its former zeal and pious dedication through the demonization of the natives and the use of Jeremiad-style rhetoric advocating a dependent fear of an angry God. The narrative of Richard and Catherine Poe Bard similarly sought to denigrate the natives, but was free of apparent religious motivation, suggesting a social need to instill distrust of natives in the colonial communities. In contrast, Father Peter Milet’s narrative provided a French Catholic perspective on the Indians that was far more forgiving of native “brutality” and far less flattering of the English, reflecting the Jesuit missionary’s motive to dispel fears about Indians and encourage fellow missionaries as well as the French colonial military to retain close ties with the natives, upon whom the French heavily relied. This analysis suggests that the wildly popular captivity narratives of the late 17th and early 18th centuries functioned not only as entertainment for the colonists, but as strategically motivated social, religious, and political propaganda.

Presented by:

Elmira Tadayon


Saturday, November 17, 2012


9:00 AM — 9:15 AM


Bell Tower 2424

Presentation Type:

Oral Presentation