The narrator and protagonist. Mary Rowlandson is a wife and mother who finds her life disrupted when Indians take her captive after the attack on Lancaster. Rowlandson finds solace in the Bible during her captivity, and her charity and kindness prompt her to help others when she is able, often by helping them find solace in the Bible as well. As her time with the Indians progresses, however, Rowlandson becomes less sure of her own moral high ground and less certain of the savagery of her captors. She begins to realize the capacity for savagery that lies within all people, even Christians, and this knowledge haunts her even after her return to civilization. But she is grateful to God for her redemption and writes her story as a way of teaching other settlers about God’s power and grace.
Mary Rowlandson’s husband. Joseph Rowlandson is away in Boston when the attack on Lancaster takes place. He is a faithful husband who uses his ties to the church to help free his family and other captives.
The only living son of Joseph and Mary Rowlandson. Joseph is only thirteen years old when he is taken captive in the attack on Lancaster. Pious, responsible Joseph visits his mother whenever he can, and the two of them pray and read the Bible together.
The eldest daughter of Joseph and Mary Rowlandson. Mary is ten years old when she is taken captive and separated from her family. Like Joseph, she is brave and pious and visits her mother whenever she can.
The youngest daughter of the Rowlandsons. Sarah is taken captive along with her mother when she is only six years old. She is badly wounded in the attack on Lancaster and dies relatively early into Rowlandson’s captivity.
The unstable, unreliable leader of the Wampanoag Indians. At times, King Philip reassures Rowlandson that she’ll soon be free. But when her redemption is near, he tries to bypass the structure of the council, refusing to meet with the rest of the Indians in their General Court and promising Rowlandson her freedom in exchange for food and goods. Philip may be unreliable, but he is not unkind, and the ambivalence of Rowlandson’s attitude toward Philip suggests the larger uncertainty Rowlandson has about her captors’ savageness and her own civilized nature.
A captive colonist who proves helpful to Rowlandson. Pepper meets Rowlandson after he has already been traveling with the Indians for some time. Like Rowlandson, he had a wound to tend to when he was first taken captive. He shares with Rowlandson the folk knowledge he learned from the Indians, teaching her how oak leaves can help to heal her. Pepper, who has learned how to use nature to his advantage, is a positive example of a settler negotiating the world of the wilderness.
A young settler from Springfield whom the Indians hold captive. John is ill and suffering when Rowlandson visits him in a settlement near Hadley. Underclothed and left outside, along with an orphaned Indian baby, John moves Rowlandson to pity. His predicament exemplifies the Indians’ cruelty and the extent to which all captives are reduced to dependence on the kindness of strangers.
An English settler who is friendly with the “praying Indians” of Massachusetts. Kind, diplomatic Hoar acts as a messenger and helps to negotiate Rowlandson’s release. He arrives at Wachuset with letters to King Philip from the council in Boston, and when Rowlandson is freed, he travels back to Boston with her. Well-connected in both Indian and British circles, Hoar provides a means for settlers to interact with Indians without losing any of their own civility.
Another captive Rowlandson meets in the middle of her captivity. Read tells Rowlandson her husband is alive and well. As a settler, Read is a reliable and trustworthy source of information, unlike the Indians.
Another captive Rowlandson meets near the end of her captivity. Mary lends Rowlandson her hat when Rowlandson is bothered by the sun’s glare. This act of charity and kindness marks Thurston as a good Christian.
“Praying Indians” and acquaintances of John Hoar. Tom and Peter act as messengers between the council of the colonists and the General Court of the Indians, helping to negotiate freedom for the captives.
One of Quannopin’s three wives. Wettimore is proud and vain, concerned primarily with wealth, status, and her own appearance. She is generally unkind to Rowlandson, and only when Rowlandson’s freedom approaches does she begin treating her better, possibly because she wants some of the ransom money the settlers will offer. Wettimore serves as a foil to Rowlandson: her negative qualities contrast strongly with Rowlandson’s positive characteristics.
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The oldest of Quannopin’s three wives. Onux is kind to Rowlandson, unlike Wettimore, another of Quannopin’s wives. When Rowlandson arrives in Wachuset, Quannopin asks Onux to tend to Rowlandson’s needs, and Onux feeds her a meal of beans, meat, and ground-nut cake. As an Indian who is willing to treat a captive decently, Onux demonstrates the kindness and compassion that can exist even among people who are presumed to be savages and who are, in wartime, the enemy.
A Saggamore Indian who is related to King Philip by virtue of being married to Philip’s wife’s sister. Quannopin is Rowlandson’s master when she is among the Indians. Having purchased Rowlandson from the Indian who originally took her captive, Quannopin is generally kind and decent to her. He is not always present to make sure Rowlandson is well-treated, however. For several weeks of Rowlandson’s captivity, Quannopin travels elsewhere among the Indian settlements, leaving Rowlandson in the care of one of his three wives.
A kind settler who lives in Charlestown. Shepard shelters the Rowlandsons in his home for eleven weeks after Mary Rowlandson’s release from captivity.