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Increase Mather

Increase Mather

Increase Mather (1639-1723), American colonial representative, president of Harvard College, and author, was the most prominent member of the second generation in Massachusetts colony.

Born in Dorchester, Mass., where his father was first minister, Increase Mather was educated at home and at Boston's free school. Taking his bachelor of arts degree from Harvard (1656), he studied and preached in England and Ireland. He received his master of arts in 1658 from Trinity College, Dublin. Returning to Boston, he married Maria Cotton, daughter of John Cotton, in 1662. They had 10 children; the eldest, Cotton, was his lifetime aid. In 1664 Increase became teacher of the Second Church, which he served until his death.

Increase Mather went to England in 1688 to negotiate restoration of the colonial charter, revoked by James II. Failing in this, he returned with a charter that nullified the colonists' right to elect their governors but preserved the power of the representative assembly elected by voters. Disappointed colonists felt that he had conceded too much.

Mather believed that New England was a nation in covenant with God, preparing to witness the day when Christ comes to judge the world and establish His kingdom. He preached that only a chaste and obedient people would enter the kingdom. This sense of New England's mission determined his stand on many questions. The voice of orthodoxy, Mather finally accepted the Halfway Covenant, a compromise admitting children of unconverted second-generation Puritans to a kind of partial membership in the Congregational Church. However, a proposal architected by Mather and others in England for the cooperation of Presbyterian and Congregational churches and the tightening of centralized control over individual congregations failed.

Although Mather took no part in the Salem witchcraft trials, he had chosen the governor, Sir William Phips, who was responsible for them. In Cases of Conscience concerning Evil Spirits (1693), Mather's opposition to some of the trial procedures led Phips to close the trials. Yet Increase and Cotton Mather were implicated by their researches into demonology and their association with Phips. The Mathers' enemies used the trials to discredit them.

The worst defeat, at least for Cotton, was Increase's removal from the Harvard College presidency in 1701. Gradually Increase Mather turned more of his energy to writing. He published 130 books. Direct and simple in style, his theological work is often, in its way, scientific. He pioneered in science, organizing a society for scientific discussions and successfully introducing smallpox inoculation into the colony.

Further Reading

Cotton Mather's Parentator (1724; rev. ed. 1970) is a life of his father. The definitive work on Increase Mather is Kenneth B. Murdock, Increase Mather: The Foremost American Puritan (1925). He is discussed in Robert Middlekauff, The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728 (1971). A thorough account of the New England background and the issues surrounding the Mathers is in Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953). □

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Mather, Increase (1639-1723) and Cotton(1662-1728)

Mather, Increase (1639-1723) and Cotton(1662-1728)

Father and son, two eminent divines of Boston, Massachusetts. The Mathers were among the first to respond to the wave of skepticism that assaulted Christianity at the end of the seventeenth century and emerged in the next century as Deism. Deism denied the possibility of human contact with what had traditionally been thought of as the supernatural. Both of the Mathers wrote books offering evidence of contact with the spiritual world as an apologetic for Christian faith.

Part of their understanding of the supernatural was supernatural evil. Witchcraft, which they equated with Satanism, was one major form taken by supernatural evil, and they saw evidence of witchcraft both among the Native Americans and members of the Boston urban community. This caused them to be seen as believers in the existence of widespread witchcraft throughout New England. Though counseling some degree of caution, especially in responding to the unsupported accounts of people claiming to be afflicted by a witch, they were early supporters of the inquiries at Salem Village (now Danvers), Massachusetts, in 1692. In fact, Increase Mather had chosen the governor, Sir William Phips, who was partly responsible for the Salem Witchcraft trials. However, as the trials proceeded, Cotton Mather especially became one of the strong forces arguing against the litigation. His personal visit with the governor was of great effect in this endeavor.

In the years immediately after the trials, as the people of Massachusetts came to see the error of what had occurred, the Mathers were accused by some of the more skeptical voices in the community, such as Robert Calef, as the real cause of the colony's disgrace. Only in the twentieth century, with the massive reevaluation of the whole of the witchcraft phenomenon in New England, has the Mathers' reputation been somewhat put into a more balanced perspective.

Sources:

Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World; or, The Wonders of the Invisible World Display'd in Five Parts. London, 1700.

Mather, Cotton. Memorable Provinces, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions. Boston, 1689.

. The Wonders of the Invisible World. Observations as Well Historical as Theological, upon the Nature, the Number, and the Operations of the Devil. Boston: Benjamin Harris, 1693.

Mather, Increase. Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Provinces. Boston, 1684.

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Mather, Increase

Increase Mather, 1639–1723, American Puritan clergyman, b. Dorchester, Mass.; son of Richard Mather. After graduation (1656) from Harvard, he studied at Trinity College, Dublin (M.A., 1658), and preached in England and Guernsey until the Restoration. After returning to Massachusetts (1661), he became (1664) pastor of North Church, Boston, and retained that position through his life. Cotton Mather, his son and colleague, cooperated with him in many of the affairs that occupied their busy lives. They were outstanding upholders of the old Puritan theocracy and of the established order in church and state. This conservatism led to trouble with the government during the Restoration period, and Increase Mather was a particularly bitter opponent of Edward Randolph and Sir Edmund Andros over the withdrawal of the Massachusetts charter and the conduct of the royal government. In 1688 he went to England to present the grievances of Massachusetts, and, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent revolt in Massachusetts against Andros, he obtained a new charter that united Plymouth Colony with Massachusetts Bay Colony. Increase Mather looked with favor on the government of Sir William Phips. After 1692 his influence declined somewhat, but he remained powerful to the end. He was president of Harvard College (1685–1701), but he was inactive and spent little time in Cambridge. His writing reflected the concerns of his career. Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits (1693), appearing soon after the Salem witch furor, denounced "spectral evidence" in witch trials. He also wrote a biography of his father (1670); A History of the War with the Indians (1676), written just after King Philip's War; and Remarkable Providences (1684), based on an earlier work by other writers.

See biography by K. B. Murdock (1925, repr. 1966); study by R. Middlekauff (1971); bibliography by T. J. Holmes (1931).

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Mather, Increase

Mather, Increase (1639–1723) Puritan minister in colonial Massachusetts. A powerful influence on political and religious life in the colonies, he went to England (1688–91) to renegotiate the charter of Massachusetts. He doubted the reliability of testimony at the Salem witch trials, and his Cases of Conscience (1693) helped to stop the executions.

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