In February of 1704, the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts was attacked by a group of French Canadians and Native Americans. 112 Puritan Colonists were captivated and marched north through the snows to a Jesuit mission known as Kahnawake, near Montreal. Among the captives was a young girl of seven years.
The opera The Captivation of Eunice Williams dramatizes the life story of this girl. While the rest of her family was ransomed over the next several years, Eunice married a Native American man and spent the rest of her life in Kahnawake. Later, when given the opportunity to return to Deerfield, Eunice refused.
What caused Eunice to forsake her early Puritan years and become the Mohawk woman, Aonkáhte, “she who is planted?” She left behind no written records. The only knowledge of her life comes from others: a passage or two from her brother’s diary and reports from English officers stationed near Canada. Yet the conflicts that played out through Eunice’s tumultuous life—Native vs. Colonist, French vs. English, Catholic vs. Protestant—remain of vital concern in today’s world.
In The Captivation of Eunice Williams, composer Paula Kimper (Patience and Sarah, Bridge of San Luis Rey) draws musical inspiration from the several cultures engaged in this struggle. The English colonists brought with them the rich folk music of the British Isles and the solemn hymns of the Puritan Church. The French brought a lively secular music and the soaring Roman Catholic Mass. The Mohawks had their own deep and powerful tradition of Iroquoian music and chant. Now, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the attack and captivation, this opera uses the power of music and theater to offer a fresh, unique, and compelling perspective on an extraordinary American story that speaks directly to the world in which we live.