The Sovereignty and Goodness of God is a nonfiction captivity narrative authored and narrated by Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, who was taken captive by the Narraganset Native Americans for about three months in 1675 during King Philip's (Metacom's) War. The work opens with a preface and introduction and then divides into twenty "removes," i.e. each relocation by the group in which Rowlandson is held captive.
The preface is not authored by Rowlandson but instead by an anonymous Puritan minister, believed by historians to be Increase Mather. He provides background on the Narragansets' attack. Driven from their food supplies by the English militia and having depleted those of their Nipmuc hosts, the Narragansets decimated the small, remote town of Lancaster. Mrs. Rowlandson and her children were taken captive. Lancaster's reverend, Mr. Rowlandson, was seeking defense aid for Lancaster during the attack and hence avoided capture. The author of the preface emphasizes that Mrs. Rowlandson wrote this narrative herself, that she is a modest woman and wife of a reverend, and that she published this narrative because some friends believed its evidence of divine providence would benefit the public and be worthy of multiple readings.
Going forward, Rowlandson writes as both author and narrator. Rowlandson vividly describes the Narragensets' attack on Lancaster, which took place on February 10, 1675. They arrive at sunrise and kill men, women, and children and burn houses as they go. Thirty-seven people are in the Rowlandson garrison. When the garrison is set on fire, Rowlanson and her children are forced to exit into the hail of bullets. Rowlandson and her youngest daughter Sarah are both injured by bullets. Her brother-in-law, nephew, and sister are all killed. Twelve of the thirty-seven in the garrison are killed, one escapes, and twelve, including Mrs. Rowlandson and her children, are taken captive. Mrs. Rowlandson is taken one way and, with the exception of the wounded Sarah she carries, her children another way.
Rowlandson and Sarah spend the first night in a deserted house near the town. Rowlandson compares the Native Americans' singing, dancing, and cooking to hell. She worries over her inability to ameliorate Sarah's pitiful condition.
The group departs from their camp by the town for the "Wilderness," making Mrs. Rowlandson very sorrowful. Mrs. Rowlandson, due to her fatigue, is put on horseback with Sarah. When they fall, the Native Americans laugh at them. Mrs. Rowlandson feels the Lord's renewing strength to an extent she has never felt before. Mrs. Rowlandson's wound makes her stiff, and Sarah has been thrown into a violent fever by her wound, making her death appear imminent.
The group arrives at the Nipmuc town of Wenimesset. An English captive from Roxbury, Robert Pepper, visits Mrs. Rowlandson and teaches her to heal her wound with oaken leaves.
Mrs. Rowlandson is sent to another wigwam for Sarah's death. On February 18, 1675, her daughter dies, nine days after her initial wound at Lancaster, at the age of six years, five months. Mrs. Rowlandson is sent to the wigwam of her master while Sarah is buried, and the Native Americans later show Mrs. Rowlandson the burial site. Mrs. Rowlandson's master is the political leader Quinopin, to whom she was sold by the Narraganset who first took her on her leaving the garrison.
Mrs. Rowlandson briefly visits her daughter Mary and is visited by her son Joseph. When a group of Native Americans return from an attach on Medfield, one presents Mrs. Rowlandson with a Bible he plundered. Mrs. Rowlandson says goodbye to a group of pious English captives, including a pregnant woman, Goodwife Joslin, whom she exhorts not to run away. The pregnant woman asks to be let free too many times and so is stripped, killed, and burned with her child by the Native Americans.
The group spends four days in a snowy spot in the forest, and Mrs. Rowlandson finds strength in scripture as she feels weak and worries about her children.
The whole group of Native Americans, including the weak among them, flee from the pursuing English by raft across the Baquaug river. They burn their wigwams just before the English arrive and are stopped by the river. Rowlandson comments on "the strange providence of God in preserving the heathen." Rowlandson believes God did not help the English cross the river and emerge victorious over the Native Americans because they are not sufficiently living in the ways of God as to be ready for his deliverance.
When traveling from camping in a swamp, the group stops at an abandoned English field, the remnants of which they eat for dinner. A Native American gives Mrs. Rowlandson a piece of horse liver, which she eats while it is still bloody to prevent someone from taking it from her, and she finds it savory.
The group attempts to cross the Connecticut River to see King Philip but are forced to go further up due to the sighting of English scouts. Rowlandson runs into her son, Joseph, and they commiserate and read the Bible together. The next morning, the group crosses the river. Mrs. Rowlandson weeps in front of the Native Americans for the first time, and they comfort her with food and assurance she will not be harmed.
King Philip entertains Mrs. Rowlandson for a visit, offering her a smoke, and later for a delicious dinner. King Philip and other Native Americans compensate her for making clothes for their families. With some of her earnings, Mrs. Rowlandson makes dinner for her master Quinopin and mistress Wettimore. Wettimore, "the proud Gossip," refuses to eat the meal. Mrs. Rowlandson visits her son a couple of times, and she begins to wander around visiting wigwams, where strangers give her food, kindness, and a place by the fire.
Quinopin agrees to sell Mrs. Rowlandson to her husband, but mid-travel she is made to go back with Wettimore, who recently threw her Bible out of a wigwam and slapped her for complaining. Mrs. Rowlandson is worried to be left with Wettimore without her master. Mrs. Rowlandson is forbidden to sleep in a wigwam due to the presence of guests.
An English captive, Thomas Read, lets Mrs. Rowlandson know that her husband is doing well. King Philip's maid demands that Mrs. Rowlandson give a piece of her apron for Philip's child. When she impetuously refuses, Wettimore throws a fatally large stick at her. Rowlandson dodges the blow and surrenders her apron.
Mrs. Rowlandson visits her son and then visits an English youth in her camp, John Gilberd, who lies sick with dysentery beside a starving Native American child in the cold. She persuades him to get up and to make a fire. She faces interrogation and threats of violence from the Native Americans, who suspect she is trying to run away with John, and she is confined to the wigwam for a day and a half. Mrs. Rowlandson visits her son for the last time in captivity, as he is sold to another, seemingly very caring, master.
Mrs. Rowlandson is again made to leave the wigwam, this time because Wettimore's child dies during the night. (The reader can infer that Wettimore wanted to turn back earlier in the interest of her dying child.) Mrs. Rowlandson is unsympathetic as many wail over the child's death.
The group comes again to the Baquaug River, and Mrs. Rowlandson has to wade across it. She cries as she puts her shoes on, but she continues on. A Native American comes to say that Mrs. Rowlandson needs to go to Wachusett because there is a letter from the Council to the Native American leaders about redeeming the captives and because there will be another letter in fourteen days. Although she is excited at the prospect of redemption, Rowlandson's spirits fall due to starvation. Her spirits revive when they stop at a Native American town and someone feeds her.
When they stop at another English town, Mrs. Rowlandson visits her niece. She steals a horse foot from a child, who is only capable of gnawing on it, and she doesn't feel guilty. Wettimore tells her to stop disgracing Quinopin with begging on threat of death.
While wading through a swamp to Wachuset, Mrs. Rowlandson feels weak but is comforted by King Philip. At Wachuset, she sees her master, who gives her materials to bathe, as she has not bathed in a month. The oldest of Quiopin's three wives is kind to Mrs. Rowlandson, giving her a comfortable place to sleep and hearty meal. Wettimore worries about losing Mrs. Rowlandson, or more specifically, her service and her ransom money.
Two Native Americans, Tom and Peter, arrive with the second letter from the council. The Native Americans summon Mrs. Rowlandson, and she tells them she thinks her husband would pay twenty pounds to redeem her, which is conveyed in a message sent to Boston. (Her elaborate explanation of this value and the redemption of her son and nephew for seven and four pounds, respectively, make this value seem high.)
Rowlandson makes an aside to the reader in which she enumerates the many acts of treachery by Christian Native Americans, whom she argues against throughout the narrative. She then describes the demoralization of the Native Americans upon their return from the fight at Sudbury.
The group moves three or four miles and builds a wigwam large enough to hold one hundred. Native Americans come from all around for a great day of dancing. On a Sunday, Mr. John Hoar arrives with Tom and Peter and with the third letter from the Council. Mr. Hoar hosts the Native American leaders for dinner, though much of his food was stolen in the night and the leaders are busy preparing for the dance, in which Mrs. Rowlandson's master and mistress participate.
Quinopin sends a Native American, James the Printer, to tell Mr. Hoar that Mrs. Rowlandson can leave tomorrow if he gives him liquor, which he does. Quinopin is the first Native American that Mrs. Rowlandson sees drunk during captivity. On Tuesday, the Native Americans' General Court agrees to release Mrs. Rowlandson. All are friendly as she leaves, and she thanks God that, despite living among savages who feared no one, that none ever sexually violated her physically or verbally.
Mr. Hoar, Mrs. Rowlandson, Tom, and Peter travel to Lancaster, Concord, and finally Boston, where she is reunited with her husband. She is grateful to be among Christians, who raised the money for her ransom and who welcome her and her husband into their homes for many weeks. The Rowlandsons search for their children. They collect their son and nephew from the custody of Major Waldrens. Mary escapes by lagging behind with a single Native American woman and eventually arriving at Providence, and as such she is redeemed at no charge. She comes to Dorchester from Mr. Newman's Rehoboth house in a guarded provision cart of the English militia.
The family gathered, they move into a house rented for them by the South Church in Boston. Mrs. Rowlandson was especially afflicted by God and thereby learned to be fully dependent upon him. While others sleep, she lies awake at night reflecting on her experiences and weeping over the goodness of God.