Many Hands, Many Voices: Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indian Captivity Narratives

by Zabelle Stodola, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

“Captivity narratives are tricky texts” says my friend and colleague Christopher Castiglia who teaches at Penn State University and who published the book Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst in 1996.[i]

These texts are tricky for many reasons. But one of the primary challenges for readers concerns the difficulty of “distinguishing the various splintered or . . . hybridized voices with which the captive speaks.”[ii] So while the telling, writing, editing, and publishing of Sophia Josephine Huggins’s captivity narrative seems very complicated, its history is not that rare within the genre of Indian captivity narratives where many accounts are mediated by various hands and voices.

For literary critics the term “mediation” means “intervention.” Thus a text is mediated if several people contribute to its composition, editing, or publishing. Indeed it’s no exaggeration to say that most captivity narratives are composite productions and that a “pure” autobiographical text is unusual. Yet the different voices can be so merged or submerged that it’s impossible to know which contributor said or wrote what unless external evidence points to an answer or internal narrative inconsistencies and intrusions suggest a specific individual. That person’s influence might affect substance, style, voice, or all three.

Carrie Zeman’s previous posts detailing the various incarnations of Sophia Josephine Huggins’ narrative touch on all kinds of interventions over about a decade. It’s worth looking more closely at them. But because there are so many documents connected to this story, I’m going to discuss them in three separate postings:

  1. Initial references within letters to the writing of Josephine’s story and also some thoughts on the issue of a missing holograph (handwritten) draft
  2. First-or third-person non-fictional versions published in newspapers or history books as well as references to those accounts within letters by Josephine (i.e. the main character) herself
  3. Fictional adaptations of the original story.

The letter from Jane Sloan Huggins Holtsclaw to Stephen Riggs dated 17 September 1862 reveals that Sophia Josephine Huggins was still a captive and that Jane was worried about her. From studying the publication history of many other Indian captivity narratives, I have found that personal correspondence like this can promote interest in a captive’s story, so that if s/he later provides first-person details, a ready audience exists for a book version. Nineteenth-century letters might be passed around to family and friends, further increasing interest in the material; letters back then were not necessarily the private documents they are today.

In fact, a reference in a letter by Eliza Huggins (Josephine’s sister-in-law) on 16 January 1863 to missionary Stephen Riggs indicates that he had already asked Josephine to send him information about her captivity. In her letter, Eliza told Riggs that “Josephine does not like to write and has not yet commenced her letter to you about her captivity. I have promised to help her as soon as I can, that is when I am a little stronger than I am now.” However, it isn’t clear what all of this means. Does Josephine find it physically hard to write? Is she pressed for time? Is she insecure about her penmanship or her ability to express herself? Is she nervous about recalling painful memories? If only we knew!

Despite Josephine’s qualms, Eliza promised to help her write the letter soon. But again, we don’t really know what kind of help Eliza was offering. Actual writing? Editing the basic text, maybe? Copying something word-for-word but in a neater hand? Expanding on the basics?

You might like to know that many ex-captives within the wider captivity narrative literature received help from a family member, friend, or amanuensis when writing their accounts. And even more intriguing, a surprising number of published narratives involved help from ministers in some way or another.

I can’t resist telling you about another captive-minister pairing.  The most famous of all the Indian captivity narratives concerns Mary Rowlandson, a New England minister’s wife whom Narragansett, Nipmuck, and Wampanoag Indians held hostage for three months in 1675.

Although Mary Rowlandson was well educated for a Puritan woman, it is very likely that her husband, Joseph, helped to edit the manuscript she composed after she returned from her ordeal. He died before it was published, but the eminent Puritan theologian and divine Increase Mather apparently oversaw the book’s publication, which in its early editions had a copy of Joseph’s last sermon appended at the end).[iii]

Scholar Lorrayne Carroll devotes an entire book to men—mostly ministers—who retold women’s Indian captivity narratives in the first person even though the “I” of the stories was no longer the woman herself. Her identity had been hijacked and co-opted by a man for political or religious reasons. Perhaps you can understand why Lorrayne Carroll gave her book the unforgettable title Rhetorical Drag: Gender Impersonation, Captivity, and the Writing of History![iv]

We assume that originally there was a holograph manuscript written by Eliza or Josephine, but it is no longer extant (or if it is, it hasn’t been located). This situation too is typical of many Indian captivity narratives whose holograph manuscripts are missing. These narratives tended to be hurriedly composed and cheaply printed, and their novelty value quickly faded.

For example, wouldn’t we love to see the handwritten version of Rowlandson’s account, which was titled The Sovereignty and Goodness of God . . .  for its three New England editions in 1682 and A True History . . . for its London edition in the same year? But it’s never been found. Indeed, only fragments of the first edition have been located. That first edition was a Puritan bestseller which was passed around and read to shreds. We know it was published in Boston, but only the second and third editions, which were published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have survived in their entirety, as well as the fourth, London, edition of 1682.

As you can already see, the publication history of Josephine Huggins’s story is not at all unusual within the genre of Indian captivity narratives. In part two of this posting, I’ll provide evidence of even more mediation in the non-fictional versions of her narrative that appeared in newspapers or history books, and I’ll also cite references to those accounts from letters that Josephine herself wrote.


[i] For a full history of the 1682 publication of Rowlandson’s narrative see Kathryn Zabelle Derounian, “The Publication, Promotion, and Distribution of Mary Rowlandson’s  Indian Captivity Narrative in the Seventeenth Century” Early American Literature 23 (1988): 239-61.

[ii] Lorrayne Carroll, Rhetorical Drag: Gender Impersonation, Captivity, and the Writing of History (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2007).

[iii] Castiglia, p. 128.

[iv] The quotation comes from Christopher Castiglia’s review of Cartographies of Desire: Captivity, Race, and Sex in the Shaping of an American Nation by Rebecca Blevins Faery which appeared in Early American Literature 36 (2001): 127-132. The quotation opens the review. Reference information for Castiglia’s book is Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996).

This entry was posted in Captivity, Josephine Huggins, Zabelle Stodola. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Many Hands, Many Voices: Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indian Captivity Narratives

  1. Pingback: Many Hands, Many Voices: Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indian Captivity Narratives Part II | A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War of 1862

  2. Pingback: Many Hands, Many Voices: Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indian Captivity Narratives, Part 3 | A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War of 1862

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s