Before the West was West: Rethinking the Temporal Borders of Western American Literature

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2012


On the morning of February 10, 1676, the townspeople of Lancaster, Massachusetts, woke to chaos when the loosely allied Narragansett, Nipmuck, and Wampanoag tribes attacked their frontier village. The battle, which resulted in twelve colonists dead and twenty-four captured, was merely one maneuver in what is now known as King Philip's War, a late-seventeenth-century conflict between the English colonists in New England and the neighboring Native American tribes. The raid on Lancaster, while not a decisive skirmish in the war itself, led to the production of one of the best-known literary texts in early US history: Mary Rowlandson's The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, first published in 1682. Without this slender book, it is possible that many contemporary literary scholars might never have heard of the battle at Lancaster; because of it, we have one of the most startling and earliest accounts of English colonial experience, one that blends frontier violence, wilderness travel, and Indian captivity.