Every culture has its creation myth. For the Iroquois, it starts with Skywoman.
There are many versions of the Sky Woman story. The version below comes from Iroquois writer and recording artist Joanne Shenandoah and author Douglas M. George in their book Sky Woman.
Skywoman came from Skyworld, where there were humanlike beings who never felt pain or death. They shared many traits with humans, however, most particularly the ability to love.
Skywoman’s real name was Iotsitsisen, which means “Mature Flower.” She grew ill one day and her parents took her to Taronhiawakon, “The Holder of Heavens,” who it was said could heal her. He fell in love with her, healed her, and married her. Soon after, she became pregnant.
Taronhiawakon had a dream one night that said his wife had to leave their home. She would enter a new world through the roots of the Great Tree of Light which grew through Skyworld. Taronhiawakon went to the Great Tree and uprooted it. He discovered a hole beneath and knew that the dream had to come true.
He took Iotsitsisen to the Tree and promised that he would protect and watch over her from Skyworld with a beam of light. Iotsitsisen fell from Skyworld to the world beneath which was filled with water.
There was already life in the new world. When they saw the light coming down with Iotsitsisen, they decided to help her fall. The geese flew up to slow her fall. The Turtle agreed to place mud on his back from under the sea to create land for her. Beaver, Otter, and Muskrat gave their lives to bring the mud up for Turtle’s back.
The geese brought Iotsitsisen to the Turtle’s back. She sang and the mud spread all around her. She named her new world Turtle Island. Soon, she gave birth to her daughter Tekawerahkwa.
Tekawerahkwa grew up alone and spent her days exploring Turtle Island. The West Wind saw her one day and fell in love. One night he placed two arrows upon her stomach, one made of flint and one of maple. Tekawerahkwa became pregnant with twins.
While the twins were in their mother, they often argued. Tawiskaron, “Ice Skin,” was impatient and decided to force his way from his mother’s belly. Okwiraseh, “New Tree,” who was much more patient urged him not to, but Tawiskaron did anyway. He cut his way through his mother’s armpit and killed her.
Skywoman demanded to know who had killed her daughter, and Tawiskaron blamed Okwiraseh. Skywoman flung Okwiraseh away, but he was taken in by his grandfather, Taronhiawakon. From Tekawerahkwa’s body grew vegetables to feed the people.
Okwiraseh was taught many lessons by his grandfather. He was told to create new life, most importantly human beings. He made all sorts of beautiful things for the new world and his brother Tawiskaron grew jealous. He countered all of Okwiraseh’s creations with evil creations of his own like storms and poisonous berries.
They fought and in the end, Okwiraseh was victorious. Tawiskaron was banished to caves beneath the earth.
The Captivation of Eunice Williams juxtaposes portions of the Sky Woman story against the Christian story of creation as a way of theatricalizing the different worlds pulling at Eunice.
Eunice Williams, also known by her Mohawk name Aonkahte (Ah-oon-gah-tey), is the main character of the piece. She is captured at a young age and taken to Kahnawake (Ga-na-wa-gey), a Mohawk settlement in Canada, where she chooses to remain for the rest of her life. Her devotion to family causes a struggle within her. Does she stay with her Mohawk family or does she return to the Puritan family of her childhood?
John Williams, Eunice’s father, is the minister of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Stern in his Puritanical beliefs and devoted to God, he also loves and cares for his wife and young children. After the raid on Deerfield tears his family apart, he devotes his time and energy to reuniting the Williams family before he dies.
Kariiwiosta (Gah-ree-wee-ohs-tah) (“She Who Makes Affairs Good”) is a Mohawk clan mother whose son is murdered in an English war. She adopts Eunice as a replacement for this son, and loves her as if she were her own daughter.
Eunice Mather Williams is Eunice’s English mother. Like her husband, she is loyal to her beliefs and though stern, loves her family very much.
Stephen Williams is Eunice’s English brother. Like his father, he becomes a minister. Unlike his father, he preaches a less stern version of Christianity.
Esther Williams is Eunice’s older English sister. Like her parents, she is stern and unyielding, and full of deep fears and prejudices.
Arosen is Eunice’s Mohawk husband. He loves her for her uniqueness, but also has trouble understanding her heart.
Katherine is a Aonkahte’s and Arosen’s youngest daughter. She is utterly curious and unafraid of anything.
Charette is a French trader with questionable morals who acts as a narrator for the piece.
The above characters are fictional creations, inspired in most cases by actual historic persons. For more information about the “true” history behind The Captivation of Eunice Williams, see John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive, Kevin Sweeney’s, and John Williams’ own personal narrative The Redeemed Captive.
1629 Puritans in Cambridge, England plan to settle in Massachusetts to Ahelp@ the native people by bringing them Protestant Christianity
1660s Mohawk tribes resist peace with French colonists in Canada. They are attacked and sue for peace.
1667 Jesuits establish LaPrairie, a settlement outside of present day Montreal. Members of the Oneida tribe settle in LaPrairie and their community grows somewhat intertwined with the Jesuits
1670 Town of Dedham takes over Pocumtuck land in Massachusetts. After a bloody war between English colonists and Pocumtucks, the town begins resettlement and is renamed Deerfield
1676 The Indians of LaPrairie and two Jesuit priests resettle three miles upriver of LaPrairie and rename their settlement Kahnawake
1696 Mohawks from Kahnawake resettle once again and name their new village Kanatakwenke (though they are still a part of Kahnawake region)
1696 Eunice Williams born to Deerfield minister, John Williams
1700 English population in America at 275,000
1700 All Roman Catholic priests ordered by law to leave the colony of Massachusetts upon penalty of imprisonment or death
1702 England declares war on France to stop France from uniting with Spain. In the colonies, English colonists battle the French, their Native American allies, and the Spanish in what they call Queen Anne=s War which will last for the next eleven years
1704 Deerfield attacked by French and Indians, predominantly Mohawks. 112 are taken captive and marched to the area around Montreal. All of the Williams’ are taken north, and Eunice’s mother, Eunice Williams, Sr. dies along the way. Over the next several years, the Williams’ will slowly be freed with the exception of Eunice.
1707 John Williams remarries Abigail Bissell and Williams= children (with the exception of Eunice) return to Deerfield
1711 The Tuscarora Indian War breaks out between North Carolina settlers and Native Americans after a massacre of settlers in the North Carolina territory
1712 The colonists campaigning to get Eunice back begin dealing directly with the Mohawks as opposed to the French
1713 The Treaty of Utrecht ends Queen Anne=s War
1713? Eunice is baptised into the Catholic Church. At some point in the mostly unrecorded early years of her life in Kahnawake her name is changed to the Mohawk name, A=ongote which translates literally to Ashe has been planted as a person.@
1713 The Williams= family learns that Eunice has married an Indian man, Francois Xavier Arosen
1713 John Schuyler meets with Eunice and her new husband to let her know that she is free to return home. He pleads with her to return to her family but she responds with the phrase, Jaghte oghte which translates into “maybe not.”
1716 Stephen Williams ordained and begins sixty five year tenure as minister in Longmeadow, Massachusetts
1720 American population at 475,000
1729 John Williams= dies after suffering a paralyzing stroke. He dies a wealthy man, and bequeaths his estate to his surviving family, including Eunice in Kahnawake
1729 Eunice and her husband Arosen reported seen on the outskirts of Kahnawake
1734 Eleazer Willaims reports that Eunice has come to Newport. It turns out, however, that the woman claiming to be Eunice is a fraud. This begins a chain of fraudulent women claiming to be Eunice Williams returned home
1736 Eunice has a daugher, Katherine
1739 Eunice has a daughter, Marie
1740 Stephen receives word that Eunice will be in Albany. They meet for the first time in thirty two years. Eunice and Arosen agree to travel with Stephen to Longmeadow where they stay for a short time.
1740 Eunice’s second visit in July coincides with the Great Awakening, a massive religious revival sweeping the colonies. She is the subject of many sermons by Stephen and others in the colonies, but still shows no interest in returning to Massachusetts for good
1743 Eunice returns to Longmeadow with her family with plans to stay for the entire winter. Tensions arise with this visit, however. Arosen is offered twelve and a half pounds (roughly 2000 dollars) and an annual stipend of seven pounds if he agrees to stay with Eunice in Massachusetts. He refuses and has several disagreements with Stephen and his family. Eunice and her family leave again at the end of winter.
1754 French and Indian War begins over disputed land in the Ohio River Valley. Little is heard from Eunice and her family for nearly a decade
1756 French and Indian War spreads to Europe when England declares war on France
1757 French and Indian War escalates in the colonies when England=s Secretary of State, William Pitt establishes policy of unlimited warfare
1760 Eunice visits Longmeadow again
1765 Arosen dies
1763 French and Indian War ends with the Treaty of Paris.
1771 Stephen receives a letter from Eunice, the only written account by Eunice left today
1782 Stephen Williams dies at the age of ninety
1785 Eunice Williams dies at the age of eighty-nine. Her descendants stay in contact with the rest of the Williams’ family for years after her death.
Sources for Timeline Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive. Vintage Books: New York, 1994.
“English Colonial Era.” The History Place.