Of One Blood All Nations

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Then, too, while Williams was appalled to learn that his daughter had been married to a man whom he considered a savage, that disgust was matched by his horror that she had also become a Catholic and was therefore living in what a cousin called “the thickness of popish darkness.” Her Catholicism—which to him, of course, meant her eternal damnation—as much as any other factor, seems to have caused John Williams and his son, Stephen, to suffer nearly eighty years of unrelieved distress.

Eunice did make four wary visits to her brother over the decades. But fearful she might be seized by English, she always brought her husband with her and rarely stayed among her white relations for long. She remained all her life more or less as she had been when an Englishman encountered her shortly after her marriage: “looking very poor in body, bashfull in the face, but … harder than Steel in her breast.”

Like his father before him, the Reverend Stephen Williams ultimately failed in his mission to “redeem” his sister, though one bit of evidence survives to suggest that by the end of his life he may privately have concluded that she did, after all, belong with the people among whom she had chosen to remain. In a journal entry scrawled shortly before his death at eighty-seven, he wrote that he was himself “ye Last Pson yt Survives of those captivated” at Deerfield. Evidently he no longer numbered his sister among the still captivated. She died three years later at eighty-nine.

Williams was appalled: Not only had his daughter married a man he considered savage; she had become a Catholic as well.

Perhaps the most moving section of The Unredeemed Captive is its epilogue. One summer day in 1837—133 years after the massacre—twenty-three Indians emerged from the forest near Deerfield and asked to be shown the graves of the Reverend and Mrs. John Williams. They were all descendants of Eunice Williams, they said, and had come to honor her parents, their common ancestors. They stayed a week, a contemporary chronicler noted, and despite the great curiosity of crowds that came to see them (so many as almost to deny “them time to take their ordinary meals”), they “in all respects seemed disposed to conduct themselves decently and innoffensively.”

They also attended Sunday services “in an orderly and reverent manner,” moving the Reverend John Fessenden, one of John Williams’s successors in the Deerfield pulpit, to deliver an extraordinary sermon in which he wrestled with all the questions of race and culture and Christianity the Indians’ presence had forced his congregation to confront.

Indians and whites seemed so different from each other, he began, that it was hard for some to believe them representatives of the same species. But Eunice Williams’s half-Indian descendants, in whom the races were “mingled, blended … [or] assimilated,” demonstrated the falseness of that notion. If differences between peoples were allowed to overshadow the similarities that bound them together, Fessenden continued, if people permitted themselves to believe that such differences were “founded in nature,” rather than being merely the products of “custom and various accidental causes,” then “blood and carnage must … deform and deface the scenes of earth, to the end of time.”

Instead, he continued—just as the Reverend Williams might have, but in a more liberal spirit—the answer lay in Christian faith, which “gathers all the scattered and various kindreds of the earth into a common family … finds the same life-blood circulating through the veins of every human creature; [and] invites them all to one hospitable roof … the everlasting habitation of the same Common Parent, as brethren of a single, united, harmonious household.”

The Reverend Fessenden addressed his triumphant conclusion directly to Deerfield’s visitors: “I would recognize with pious humility … the workings of that mysterious providence, which has mingled your blood with ours, and which … admonishes us that God … hath made of one blood all nations of men, and hath determined the times, the places, and circumstances in which they should live, in order to accomplish his designs of impartial benevolence and general good. …”

Your blood with ours ,” John Demos asks in closing. “Was there not a kind of ‘redemption’ here as well?”