Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Deerfield Raid of 1704, captivity, Longmeadow, Stephen Williams, prayer

Major Advisor

Cornelia Hughes Dayton

Associate Advisor

Robert A. Gross

Associate Advisor

Kenneth P. Minkema

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


Long known to scholars, the 4,000-page spiritual diary of Congregational minister Stephen Williams has yet to be examined on its own terms. It begins in 1715 and concludes in 1782. Scholars have consulted Williams’s record for events such as his eye-witness account of Jonathan Edwards’s delivery of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This dissertation takes a different approach: what did this diary mean to Williams himself? By uncovering its internal logic, I restore the author to his text and establish his diary as an unparalleled account of a New England minister’s piety and ministry. Williams was typical of pastors of modest stature. He observed the great divines of the age; he was not one himself. He was known, then and now, as the “boy captive” of Deerfield. He felt unworthy of his “remarkable preservation” and labored under a sense of spiritual inadequacy. The diary documents his “dullness" and his failure to experience saving grace. Diary-keeping served as a spiritual discipline through which Williams assayed the state of his soul. Prayers of various sorts (ejaculatory, narrative, intercessory, and preparatory) take up much of the diary. The mix of materials makes for a hybrid literary form wherein Williams records a running conversation with the divine. Williams achieved an ironic sort of success: despite self-doubt, he excelled as a pastor, keeping his congregation from schism and declension amid tumultuous times. And he persevered through decades of doubt to achieve a measure of peace in old age.