If you’ve ever wondered what happened towards the end of July, 1642 in New England, John Winthrop left this fascinating tidbit:

28 July 1642: “One Wequash Cook, an Indian, living about Connecticut river’s mouth, and keeping much at Saybrook with Mr. Fenwick, attained to good knowledge of the things of God and salvation by Christ, so as he became a preacher to other Indians, and labored much to convert them, but without any effect, for within a short time he fell sick, not without suspicion of poison from them, and died very comfortably.”

The Puritan mission to bring salvation to the native peoples of New England had mixed results. Some groups of Indians converted and went to live in the so-called praying towns, where they practiced Christianity and were supposed to pick up other trappings of English gentility–English clothing, agricultural techniques, and gender ways, for example. Most avoided this cultural absorption, and according to historian Richard Dunn, the Pequots believed their shamans used sorcery to kill the unfortunate Wequash after his conversion. The episode is an apt illustration of the perils of crossing the cultural divide: Winthrop’s insinuation of poison notwithstanding, Wequash’s time with English missionaries brought him into much greater contact with English diseases. Native Americans had no immune protection from European germs–Wequash was more likely smitten by microbes than by poison (or sorcery!).

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