So Dreadfull A Judgment

Last weekend my band, The West End, played a show and in the midst of it I had just the best feeling. I looked out at the audience and saw that everyone was paying attention, listening to the music. They weren’t distracted by the ball game behind the bar, weren’t playing Liar’s Poker, weren’t embroiled in some animated conversation. They were just listening.

As a performer of original music, I can tell you there is no better feeling.

What’s more, the song we were playing is one of our more . . . unconventional . . . songs. It’s got this beat that’s sort of a cross between a shuffle and a carnival calliope.

The topic is even more unconventional. It’s based on the account of Mary Rowlandson, who was taken captive by Indians during the bloodiest war in North America — King Phillip’s War in the late 17th century. Her tract, titled  “The Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson” and collected in the scholarly work So Dreadfull A Judgment, became the archetype of a new form of American writing called the captivity narrative.

At the Rockville Wine and Music Festival
At the Rockville Wine and Music Festival

Ever since I discovered them, I have been fascinated by captivity narratives. Puritans saw events in the world as signs of God’s pleasure or displeasure with their amount of piety, and the captivity narratives always have a heavy philosophical underpinning of judgment and retribution. (The scholarly book’s title is taken from a sermon at the time that referred to the War itself as a “dreadfull” judgment.)

So one day I thought I would write a song about this one, taking events, words and phrases from Rowlandson’s own work. And this is the song where I noticed that people seemed to be paying attention. Were they really? I don’t know for sure, but it felt like they were!

I thought, therefore, you might be interested in seeing the lyrics to my captivity narrative song (if you want to hear it, you can listen on my band’s Facebook page).

So Dreadfull A Judgment, by Brad Rourke
Was the tenth of February 1675
King Philip's men they came and they left few of us alive
At length they fell descending on us like a devil's claw
It was the dolefullest day my eyes ever saw

Captured, I was taken left for dead
So dreadful a judgment on our heads
Go or stay they finally made me choose
Now I've returned to spread the news

Eight days come and gone and my baby passed away
That little lamb left me but she didn’t go away
I laid all night beside my darling precious little one
The next day saw my Mary who’d been traded for a gun

Captured, I was taken left for dead
So dreadful a judgment on our heads
They herded me from camp to camp for days
Sold and sold again and sold away

Providence reversed and at last they sent me home
After full a year among the savages alone
But to this day, I recall a woman with some meat
A piece of bear, a boiling pot, good enough to eat

Captured, I was taken left for dead
So dreadful a judgment on our heads
Our punishment is waiting in the hills
He’ll hurl them at our arrogance and will

Note: The photo is from an outdoor festival we played some time ago. I don’t have any photos from this weekend yet. If you are reading this and happened to be there, and happened to snap a photo or two, let me know!

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

One thought on “So Dreadfull A Judgment”

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