Mary White was born c. 1637 in Somersetshire, England. The family left England sometime before 1650, settled at Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and moved in 1653 to Lancaster, on the Massachusetts frontier. There, she married Reverend Joseph Rowlandson, the son of Thomas Rowlandson of Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1656. Four children were born to the couple between 1658 and 1669, with their first daughter dying young.
At sunrise on February 10, 1675,[note 2] during King Philip's War, Lancaster came under attack by Narragansett, Wampanoag and Nashaway/Nipmuc Indians. During the attack, which was anticipated by residents including Mary's husband, Joseph, the Native American raiding party killed 13 people, while at least 24 were taken captive, many of them injured. Rowlandson and her three children, Joseph, Mary, and Sarah, were among those taken in the raid. Rowlandson's 6 year old daughter, Sarah, would eventually succumb from her wounds after a week of captivity. For more than 11 weeks, Rowlandson and her children were forced to accompany the Indians as they travelled through the wilderness to carry out other raids and to elude the English militia.[note 3] In Rowlandson's captivity narrative, the severe conditions of her captivity are recounted in visceral detail. On May 2, 1676, Rowlandson was ransomed for £20 raised by the women of Boston in a public subscription, and paid by John Hoar of Concord at Redemption Rock in Princeton, Massachusetts.
In 1677, Reverend Rowlandson moved his family to Wethersfield, Connecticut, where he was installed as pastor in April of that year. He died in Wethersfield in November 1678. Church officials granted his widow a pension of £30 per year.
Mary Rowlandson and her children moved to Boston where she is thought to have written her captivity narrative, although her original manuscript has not survived. It was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1682, and in London the same year. At one time scholars believed that Rowlandson had died before her narrative was published, but she lived for many more years. On August 6, 1679, she had married Captain Samuel Talcott and taken his surname. She eventually died on January 5, 1711, outliving her spouse by more than 18 years.