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America's History in the Making

Resource Archive: Search Results

Letter from Marie De I'Incarnation

Reported in a Letter from Marie de I'Incarnation to the Ursuline superior at Tours, 1640
It is the Black Robes who make us die by their spells; listen to me, I prove it by the reasons you are going to recognize as true. They lodged in a certain village where everyone was well, as soon as they established themselves there, everyone died except for three of four persons. They changed location and the same thing happened. They went to visit the cabins of the other villages, and only those where they did not enter were exempted from mortality and sickness. Do you not see that when they move their lips, what they call prayers, those are so many spells that come forth from their mouths? It is the same when they read in their books. Besides, in their cabins they have large pieces of wood (they are guns) with which they make noise and spread their magic everywhere. If they are not promptly put to death, they will complete their ruin of the country, so that there will remain neither small nor great.

Huron account

Peter C. Mancall and James Merrell, American Encounters: Natives and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal, 1500-1850 (London: Routledge, 1999), 79-80.

Creator Prominent Huron woman (recorded by a French missionary and translated by an English historian)
Context In the early seventeenth century disease spread as French missionaries spread into the eastern interior of North America.
Audience Native Americans
Purpose To mobilize resistance to the priests

Historical Significance

French priests were often the first Europeans that Indians around the Great Lakes encountered. These "black robes," as the Native Americans called them, proselytized aggressively and often effectively, in part because they were determined to understand Indian languages and culture. But many indigenous people distrusted them, both for their religious beliefs and because their appearance was so often accompanied by new and devastating diseases.


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