John Cotton Jr. (1639–1699) was the second son of one of the most famous clergymen of New England’s founding generation. At the age of twenty-two, already the pastor of the church in Wethersfield, Connecticut, he lost his ministry as a result of a sexual scandal. Disgraced and jobless, Cotton moved his family to distant Martha’s Vineyard to start anew as a missionary to the Indians. Within a few years, Cotton had managed to rehabilitate his reputation, and he accepted a call to the church in Plymouth. He kept the Plymouth pulpit for nearly thirty years before losing it, once again to scandal and factional church politics. Cotton retired to Cape Cod for a short time before accepting one final call, this time to Charleston, South Carolina, where he died in less than a year of yellow fever.

Cotton wrote during an era when it was widely accepted that letters would circulate far beyond the immediate addressee. Thus, both his letters and those addressed to him often read more like newsletters than personal correspondence, documenting some of the most dramatic events of the late seventeenth century, including the brutal King Philip’s War and the eventual overthrow of the hated Dominion of New England.

Distributed for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts

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