Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Peter Walmsley




This thesis examines the ways in which the bodies of British captives among Native North American peoples in the mid- to late eighteenth century become sites of violence that implicate British colonial practices and policy, as well as domestic systems of discipline and justice. The captivity narratives which inform this work are from the period beginning in the mid-1750s and ending shortly before the American Revolution; these years witnessed arguably the most intense and widespread conflicts between First Nations and European powers than at any other time in the century. The narratives produced during this time reflect this heightened violence, and as such have long been dismissed as anti-Aboriginal propaganda or hyperbolic spectacles of violence meant to excite or elicit sympathy from the reading public. When considered in their colonial context, however, they become much more ambivalent documents.

The first chapter traces the moments of capture, or "forced contact," throughout several narratives in an attempt to establish the economies of exchange and violence that circulate captive bodies even before they are taken into "Indian" hands. Chapter two examines the strategies of representation employed by the captives, including stereotypes and scenes of torture, and suggests that these methods implicate the British themselves in Indian savagery. Finally, the last chapter looks at the ways in which captives "go native," despite the seeming lack of (willing) transculturation in the narratives as a whole.

The captivity narrative is frequently considered to be a uniquely North American form of writing that announced the emergence of American writing and subjectivity. This thesis argues instead that they must be considered within the context of British colonialism, and to a certain degree within the broader, global captivity geme. Only then can their role as conflicted accounts of aggressive European expansion be fully assessed.

McMaster University Library

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