Increase Mather

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Increase Mather
BirthplaceDorchester, Massachusetts
Minister and author

Increase Mather (1639-1723)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The oldest son of Richard Mather, an English Puritan minister, Increase Mather was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on June 21, 1639. He graduated from Harvard in 1656 and from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1658. He then ministered to various congregations in England before returning to Boston in 1661. The following year he married Maria, the daughter of the Reverend John Cotton.

Mather took a leading role when King Charles II demanded that Massachusetts surrender its original charter, by which the citizens elected their own governor. He went on to work against the royal governor Sir Edmund Andros. In 1688 Mather went to London to try to reacquire the old colonial charter, and he remained there for four years. There he met with James II, William III, Queen Mary, and a number of influential politicians. Unsuccessful in regaining the old charter, Mather worked for a new one and was instrumental in getting Sir William Phips appointed as the new governor.

Mather was concerned about what he saw as the decline of religion in New England. He started collecting examples of what he termed God's "illustrious providences," or works to demonstrate the real existence of apparitions, spirits, and witches. In this way he hoped to convince skeptics of the existence of the supernatural and to encourage them as Puritans and Pilgrims. He published the collection as An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (Boston, 1684). The essay contained an account of the Tedworth Drummer and of various pacts with Satan, and it became something of a best-seller.

Mather became pastor of Boston's North Church and also served as president of Harvard from 1685 to 1701, eventually losing that position due to his political stand on the Massachusetts charter. His son, Cotton Mather, was prominent during the Salem Witch Trials, although Increase kept a low profile. In the recriminations after the scare, he did side with what he saw as a volume of evidence against the accused, although he called for greater caution and published Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men; Witchcrafts, Infallible Proofs of Guilt in Such as Are Accused with the Crime (Boston, 1693).