The Power of Journals: Going Beyond the Text

Rationale and Background

Journals can provide students with a powerful reading experience. Often, history textbooks are unable to reprint selections from historical journals in great length due to space constrictions. In this lesson, students read a longer set of selections from the captivity narrative of Mrs. Susanna Johnson who was taken from Fort Number Four (Charlestown, NH) on the colonial frontier in 1754. Mrs. Johnson's story is remarkable in that she gave birth one day into her march to Canada. Her narrative, which was first printed in 1796, reveals her perspective and experiences that give today's students a greater understanding of the time period. The essential question of the lesson asks What do journals reveal about an individual and a time period? Students explore the issue of context, accuracy and bias. In addition, students achieve a personal connection to the genre through their own journal writing in the introductory activity.

Captivity narratives provoked quite a sensation among colonists at the time. There were such a high number of narratives printed that they formed their own literary genre. Students learning about the colonial period can use these stories to gain a broader picture of the dimensions of colonization and European-Native American relations. Taking captives in general was a widespread practice during the colonial period. Among Native Americans it was an important part of their economy, as they traded English captives to the French for products. By adopting captives, Native Americans sought to replenish their dwindling population and replace family members lost to disease or war. The phenomenon of captivity was a significant part of the overall Indian resistance to European colonization.

By the end of the lesson, students discover how the captivity narrative of Susanna Johnson serves as a window into Native American society, as well as English culture. Finally, by writing in their own journals, students experience the dramatic effect of sharing one's own personal journey.

Susanna Johnson's complete narrative can be found in:

1. A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson originally published in 1796. Reprinted by Heritage Books, 1990.

2. North Country Captives: Selected Narratives of Indian Captivity from Vermont and New Hampshire by Colin Calloway. University Press of New England, 1992.

3. Online at


Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives by Pauline Turner Strong. Westview Press, 1999.

Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield. By Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney. University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.

Captured by the Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870 by Frederick Drimmer. Dover Publications, 1985.

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America by John Putnam Demos,Vintage Books, 1995.

Women's Indian Captivity Narratives by Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola. Penguin Classics, 1998.