Mather, Cotton

Mather, Cotton

(măth`ər), 1663–1728, American Puritan clergyman and writer, b. Boston, grad. Harvard (B.A., 1678; M.A., 1681); son of Increase Mather and grandson of Richard Mather and of John Cotton. He was ordained (1685) and became a colleague of his father at North Church, Boston, serving as pastor in his father's absences and after his father's death (1723). It was principally by his indefatigable writing that he became one of the most celebrated of all New England Puritan ministers. He was a scholar of parts, working industriously to gather a library and volubly setting forth what he learned. Thus his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) is a miscellany of materials on the ecclesiastical history of New England, vaguely intended to show how the history of Massachusetts demonstrated the working of God's will. His theological writings, now largely forgotten, had great influence in his time. He was a power in the state as well as in the church, was a leader in the revolt against the rule of Sir Edmund AndrosAndros, Sir Edmund
, 1637–1714, British colonial governor in America, b. Guernsey. As governor of New York (1674–81) he was bitterly criticized for his high-handed methods, and he was embroiled in disputes over boundaries and duties (see New Jersey), going so far as
..... Click the link for more information.
 and an adviser in Sir William Phips's government. Today he is generally pictured unsympathetically as the archetype of the narrow, intolerant, severe Puritan, and his part in the Salem witch trials in 1692 is often recalled. Although he did not approve of all the trials, he had helped to stir up the wave of hysterical fear by his Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (1689). Later he further pursued his inquiries into satanic possession with Wonders of the Invisible World (1693, new ed. 1956), which was sharply answered by Robert CalefCalef, Robert
, 1648–1719, known primarily as author of More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700). A Boston cloth merchant, probably born in England, he bitterly attacked Cotton Mather for his part in the Salem, Mass., witchcraft trials.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Even Mather's benevolence—expressed in his actions and reflected in his writings, as in Essays to Do Good (1710)—had a core of smugness. Yet he helped to forward learning and education and to make New England a cultural center. He was disappointed in his hopes of being president of Harvard but was one of the moving spirits in the founding of Yale. He was deeply interested in science and was the first native-born American to be a fellow of the Royal Society. He persuaded Zabdiel Boylston to inoculate against smallpox and supported the unpopular inoculation even when his life was threatened.


See biographies by B. Wendell (1891, repr. 1963), R. P. Boas and L. Boas (1928, repr. 1964), and K. Silverman (1985); studies by R. Middlekauff (1971) and J. P. Wood (1971); bibliography by T. J. Holmes (3 vol., 1940).

Enlarge picture
Cotton Mather, outspoken opponent of witchcraft. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Mather, Cotton (1663-1728)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A Puritan minister and outspoken opponent of witchcraft in New England. The son of Increase Mather (1639-1723), Cotton was born February 12, 1663. He entered Harvard at the age of twelve, took his A.B. in 1678, his A.M. in 1681, and was made a fellow in 1690 at the age of twenty-seven. By age twenty-five he had become a leader in his father's North Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He thought of himself as having been chosen by God to ensure the salvation of the Puritans and focused his efforts on the sins of drunkenness, dancing, and witchcraft. He firmly believed that the Native Americans were all devil worshipers and practiced Satanism. Of witches and witchcraft, he said, "Witchcraft is the most nefarious high treason against the Majesty on high. A witch is not to be endured in heaven or on earth."

Mather was a devout believer in the presence of the supernatural in daily life. His Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions (1689) was a collection of instances of this. Indeed, this work is thought to have been one of the stimulators of what developed into the witch hysteria of 1692 in Salem. Another of his works, Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), helped shape the trials at Salem. When the Salem witchcraft scare was at its height, Sir William Phips, the colony's governor, and his Council asked the advice of the Boston clergy. Cotton Mather was the one who formulated the response and, in it, encouraged the prosecutions. He was appointed official chronicler of the trials and became, according to Rossell Hope Robbins, possibly the most active witch hunter in America.

Mather had investigated the earlier witchcraft case of the Goodwin children, taking the eldest child, thirteen-year-old Martha Goodwin, into his home to live for three months so that he could treat her. This he did medically, by prayer, and by frequent "laying on of hands." Mather wrote that the girl "went on Fantastick Journeys to the Witches' Rendezvouse." John Fiske, writing in 1902 on the episode, said that "the girl showed herself an actress. . . (who) seems to have known Mather's prejudices," and her "fantastic journeys" were no more than sitting astride a chair and rocking backwards and forwards as though riding a horse.

When the Reverend George Burrows, a victim of the Salem epidemic, was about to be hanged, he swayed the crowd of onlookers by loudly and clearly reciting the Lord's Prayer. This was something a witch was supposed not to be able to do. In effect, Burroughs proved his innocence. But Cotton Mather arrived on the scene at just that moment and delivered a blistering attack on Burroughs, resulting in the man's execution.

In later years, when Samuel Sewall and other presiding judges at Salem came to realize their error and to ask publicly for forgiveness, Mather remained resolute in his condemnation of those killed.

Cotton Mather married three times and had fifteen children. Only two of them survived him. He died on February 13, 1728.

Mather, Cotton

(1663–1728) clergyman, author; born in Boston, Mass. (son of Increase Mather). He entered Harvard at age twelve and graduated when he was fifteen. He was ordained in 1685 and held office at Boston's Second Church for the rest of his life (as his father's colleague until 1723). He advocated rebellion against the unpopular Sir Edmund Andros with his political writings (1689). He supported the new Massachusetts charter (1691) and the new royal governor, Sir William Phips, of whom he wrote a biography, Pietas in Patriam (1697). His writings on witchcraft may have increased the mind-set that led to Salem witch trials (1692), but he believed that fasting and prayer were the proper methods for fighting witchcraft. His political popularity declined after 1692, but his religious leadership remained strong and he began to sponsor Yale, rather than Harvard, as the center for Congregational education. He wrote over 450 books during his lifetime.
References in periodicals archive ?
MATHER, Cotton Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), Boston, Hartford, Silas, Andrus & Sons, 1853, 2 volumenes.