Skip to main content
Select Source:

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather (1663-1728), Puritan clergyman, historian, and pioneering student of science, was an indefatigable man of letters. Of the third generation of a New England founding family, he is popularly associated with the Salem witchcraft trials.

Cotton Mather recorded the passing of an era. The Massachusetts Bay Colony had been a radical, Bible-based community of "saints," whose existence as an example to the rest of the world was to be safeguarded till Christ's second coming by the strictest tutelage of educated clergymen in all civil as well as ecclesiastical matters. In Mather's lifetime the separation of church and state and the development of the frontier and of a society absorbed in business and profits greatly increased popular apathy toward the church. The rise of democracy within the Colonies is seen in the disintegration of orthodox creeds and practices. American-born colonists felt estranged from Europe and its culture and turned to nature and to reason for the sources of their new identity. Rationalism and evangelism vied to replace orthodoxy.

Mather was both behind and ahead of his times. As an internationally known scholar and innovative scientist, he was ahead of his New England contemporaries. In his theories of child rearing his emphasis on indirection, persuasion, and rewards considerably anticipated the future. But on questions of ecclesiastical organization and in all matters relating to Harvard College, he adhered passionately to past example. He deplored New England's decline and eagerly anticipated a future day when all people would be brought to judgment and Christ's kingdom come.

Born in Boston on March 19, 1663, Cotton was the eldest son of Increase and Maria Mather and grandson of Richard Mather, the first minister of Dorchester, and of John Cotton, probably the most learned of first-generation American theologians. Increase Mather was minister to the Second Church in Boston, agent of the colony to England, and nonresident president of Harvard College from 1685 to 1701. He was the most productive man of letters of his generation. Cotton was a partner in all his father's endeavors.

Having made remarkable progress in Latin and Greek, Cotton was admitted to Harvard at the age of 12. He had begun studying Hebrew and showed great interest in philosophy and science. He read avidly. His father conferred Cotton's first degree at the age of 16. Cotton soon took up the study of medicine and, as a young man, attended meetings organized by Increase for scientific experimentation and discussion. At 19 he received his master's degree. He was made a fellow of Harvard College in 1690 and was involved in the affairs of the college throughout his life. One of his bitterest disappointments was that he was never asked to be its president.

Disappointment and bereavement marked Cotton Mather's life. In 1686 he married Abigail Philips; they had nine children. She died in 1702. In 1703 he married the widow Mrs. Elizabeth Hubbard; they had six children. She died in 1713. His last wife, Mrs. Lydia George, whom he married in 1715, went insane. Of his fifteen children, only six lived to maturity and only two survived him. Three widowed sisters depended largely on him, and he was burdened by severe financial problems.

Overly jealous where family pride was concerned, Mather dealt rancorously with opposition. Anxiety and depression, no doubt, contributed to an already impulsive and dictatorial nature. But his was a complex temperament. He was deeply introspective. When very young he began to read Scripture daily and to develop habits of prayer. His efforts to do good works and to perfect Christian attitudes lasted a lifetime. Tireless on behalf of any worthwhile project, he was both pragmatic and susceptible to change. His early bitter denunciations of other sects later gave way to a spirit of tolerance. His will to overcome reversals can be seen in his triumph over stammering—a childhood affliction so severe that he doubted his fitness for the pulpit. By his own efforts he corrected his stammering and in 1685 was ordained at the Second Church. He served as assistant minister until his father's death in 1723, when Cotton became minister.

A Many-faceted Career

For a time the Mathers dominated the life of Massachusetts colony. When Increase went secretly to England in 1688 to plead for the restoration of the Massachusetts charter, Cotton was left not only with the spiritual leadership of the Second Church but with responsibility for heading the opposition at home to James II, specifically to his representative, Governor Edmund Andros. Cotton was a ringleader in the "Happy Revolution," as he called it, of 1689, which fortunately for the insurgents coincided with the deposition in England of James II. In 1692, after a period of provisional government by magistrates who had served under the old charter, Increase, unable to regain that charter, returned to Boston with a new charter and a new governor, Sir William Phips. Both the new charter and Governor Phips's policies proved unpopular, and from this time on the Mathers' power declined.

Witchcraft Trials at Salem

One of Sir William's first acts in office was the establishment of a court to try the suspected witches recently arrested at Salem. Mather had attempted to demonstrate the reality of spirits, particularly of the demonic, in his study Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions… (1689). Although he had urged vigorous prosecution of the devil's work, he suggested punishment milder than execution for convicted witches. Mather's approach was both theological and scientific. He separated himself from the trials per se and in fact warned the judges against "spectral evidences," but his advice went unheeded. In his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) Mather declared his disapproval of the methods used in the trials. But while they were going on, he had registered no public protest.

Clearly, politics, as well as theology and science, determined the Mathers' role in the witchcraft controversy. At the judges' request, Cotton, apparently unwillingly, agreed to write an apologetical account of a few of the trials. Phips, after all, had been baptized by Cotton and was Increase's appointment. The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693) was followed in 1700 by a work sponsored by the Mathers' opponents, entitled More Wonders of the Invisible World. Compiled by Robert Calef, a man skeptical of and outraged by the witchcraft accusations, it contained, without Cotton's permission, his account, written in 1693, of his investigations of a girl he believed bewitched. Mather again had focused on supernatural phenomena; he had made no attempt to start a prosecution. But by 1700 popular feeling had risen against the Salem trials, and the Mathers were firmly identified both with the causes of the hysteria and with the political appointees who made the tragic judgments. Most 19th-century historians place full responsibility for the trials with Cotton Mather; Brooks Adams called the trials themselves the central moral issue of the 17th century. To modern scholars, however, both allegations seem to overstate the case.

Other Ecclesiastical Controversies

A combination of forces effected the wane of the Mathers' influence. A new breed of more liberal and catholic men gathered in the recently established Brattle Church, under the leadership of Benjamin Coleman. These, with others, secured the removal of Increase from the presidency of Harvard in 1701. The House of Representatives appointed Cotton president, but the electors of the college overruled their action and passed him by. Cotton then directed his attention to Yale. But when Yale's president, Timothy Cutler, resigned to join the Anglican Church in 1722, Cotton, apparently, refused the invitation to replace him. This was Cotton's last opportunity for high office.

During this period the Mathers saw the collapse of their scheme to bring more centralized control to individual congregations and to effect closer cooperation between Congregational and Presbyterian churches. Meanwhile in western Massachusetts age-old standards governing admission to membership in the Congregational Church were being eased by the powerful Northampton minister Solomon Stoddard. The Mathers directly challenged Stoddard but were unable to curb him. A series of revivals under Stoddard prepared the soil in the Connecticut valley for Stoddard's grandson, Jonathan Edwards, and for the coming of the Great Awakening.

Pioneer Scientist and Intellectual

Although the Mathers maintained standfast attitudes toward many cultural and ecclesiastical changes, they were in the intellectual vanguard of the Colonies. Cotton corresponded with men of learning around the world. In 1710 he was awarded a doctorate of divinity by the University of Glasgow. In 1713 he had the great honor of being elected to the Royal Society of London. He and Increase were among the first in the Colonies to advocate inoculation against smallpox and were threatened and maligned for so doing. Undismayed (even by a bomb thrown through the window of Cotton's house), the Mathers succeeded, with Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, in putting the project into effect.

Career as a Writer

Despite disfavor, Cotton's activities continued. He wrote in seven languages and also mastered the Iroquois Indian language. In his lifetime 382 of his works were published. These took many forms: history, sermons, biography, fables, books of practical piety, theological and scientific treatises, and verse. Often pedantic and heavily embellished with simile, metaphor, and learned reference, his writing could also achieve simplicity, straight-forwardness, and practicality. Mather saw instruction as the chief function of good writing and made sophisticated adaptations of style and mode to that end. He might instruct explicitly, as in the medical manual The Angel of Bethesda (1722), or by humorous indirection, as in his Political Fables (1692), written in the manner of 18th-century essayists.

In the Psalterium Americanum (1718) the versatile Mather turned his talents to translating the Psalms and adapting them to music. The unpublished Biblia Americana is an exhaustively annotated scholarly interpretation of the Bible. His Bonifacius, or Essays To Do Good (1718) makes practical prescriptions for personal piety. An immensely popular book, Benjamin Franklin called it the work that most influenced his youth. Suggestive of Franklin too is the popular science mode in such works as Mather's Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684).

Probably Mather's greatest work was his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702). Primarily a history of New England, it is composed from many of Mather's other writings. The seven sections tell of the settlement of New England, the lives of its governors and ministers, and the story of Harvard College and of the Congregational Church and conclude with a treatment of "remarkable providences" and "various disturbances." The Magnalia provides a detailed and eloquent statement of the Puritan mind as it addressed itself to its historical mission in an hour of darkness, perhaps even of eclipse.

Strategies for keeping alive the reality of Christ's Judgment and of His future kingdom permeated all Mather's works. His biographies, one of Phips (1697) and another of Increase, Parentator (1724), were designed as exemplary lives of eminent men. The late work The Christian Philosopher (1721) attempts to wed the observations of the 18th-century naturalist with Christian faith in the order and purpose of the created world. Cotton was working with "modern" ideas, seeking to express them within the basic framework of Christian eschatology.

Cotton Mather outlived his father by only 5 years. Later American writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Russell Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow all acknowledged their debt to him.

Further Reading

A valuable introduction to Mather and representative selections from his work are in Kenneth B. Murdock, ed., Selections from Cotton Mather (1926). The best biography is Barrett Wendell, Cotton Mather: The Puritan Priest (1891; rev. ed. 1963). Ralph and Louise Boas, Cotton Mather: Keeper of the Puritan Conscience (1928), is more popular. The New England background may be found in Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953). Robert Middlekauff, The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728 (1971), is a study in biography and intellectual history that seeks to revise the affirmative view of Puritan history taken by Miller. Recommended for its general analysis of the literature of the colonial period is Kenneth B. Murdock, Literature and Theology in Colonial New England (1949). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cotton Mather." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cotton Mather." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cotton-mather

"Cotton Mather." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cotton-mather

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton

Cotton Mather

Born: March 19, 1663
Boston, Massachusetts
Died: February 13, 1728
Boston, Massachusetts

American historian and clergyman

Cotton Mather was a Puritan (a member of a group that broke away from the Church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth century) preacher, historian (recorder of events and culture of the times), and the youngest man to graduate from Harvard College. Of the third generation of a New England founding family, he is popularly associated with the Salem witchcraft trials (169293; trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in which nineteen women were accused, tried, and executed and several others imprisoned for what juries determined was witchcraft).

Early life and education

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 19, 1663, Cotton Mather was the eldest son of Increase and Maria Mather and the grandson of Richard Mather, the first minister of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and of John Cotton, probably the most learned of first-generation American theologians (a specialist in the study of faith and religion). Cotton's father, Increase Mather, was minister to the Second Church in Boston, agent of the colony to England, and nonresident president of Harvard College from 1685 to 1701. Cotton knew he was expected by both his parents to follow in his father's footsteps. That tall order prompted him to be a very serious child whose fear of failing showed up in a stutter when he spoke. It took Cotton years of practice and prayer to overcome this speech problem.

Cotton Mather, having made remarkable progress under his father's training, was admitted to Harvard College at the age of twelve. He had begun studying Hebrew and showed great interest in philosophy (the study of knowledge) and science. His father presented Mather's first degree at the age of sixteen. Mather soon took up the study of medicine and, as a young man, attended meetings organized by Increase for scientific experimentation and discussion. At nineteen he received his master's degree. He was made a fellow of Harvard College in 1690 and was involved in the affairs of the college throughout his life. One of his bitterest disappointments was that he was never asked to be its president.

Personal life

Disappointment and grief marked Cotton Mather's life. In 1686 he married Abigail Philips; they had nine children. She died in 1702. In 1703 he married the widow Mrs. Elizabeth Hubbard; they had six children. She died in 1713. His last wife, Mrs. Lydia George, whom he married in 1715, went insane. Of his fifteen children, only six lived to adulthood and only two outlived him. Three widowed sisters depended largely on him, and he was burdened by severe money problems.

Anxiety and depression contributed to Mather's already impossibly high expectations of himself. But he was a deep thinker. When very young he began to read the Bible daily and to develop habits of prayer. His efforts to do good work and to achieve Christian attitudes lasted a lifetime. His early bitter criticisms of other churches later gave way to a spirit of acceptance. In 1685 Mather was ordained at the Second Church. He served as assistant minister until his father's death in 1723, when Mather became minister.

Witchcraft Trials at Salem

One of Massachusetts governor Sir William Phips's (16511695) first acts in office was the establishment of a court to try the suspected witches recently arrested at Salem, Massachusetts. Mather had attempted to show the reality of spirits (bodiless, but sometimes visible supernatural beings, ghosts), particularly evil spirits, in his study Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions (1689). Although he had urged strong punishment of the devil's work, he suggested much milder punishment than death for those found to be guilty of witchcraft (the use of magic). Mather's approach was both religious and scientific. He separated himself from the trials as such and in fact warned the judges against "spectral [ghostlike] evidences," but his advice went unheard. In his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) Mather declared his disapproval of the methods used in the trials. But while they were going on, he had not entered public protest.

Other church controversies

A combination of forces diminished Increase and Cotton Mather's influence. A new breed of more open-minded men gathered in the recently established Brattle Church. These, with others, made sure of the removal of Increase from the presidency of Harvard in 1701. The House of Representatives appointed Cotton president, but the voting members of the college overruled their action and passed him by. Cotton then directed his attention to Yale College. But when Yale's president resigned, Cotton, apparently, refused the invitation to replace him. This was Cotton's last opportunity for high office.

Pioneer scientist and intellectual

Although the Mathers maintained clear but hard attitudes toward many cultural and church changes, they were in the intellectual front line of the Colonies. Cotton regularly wrote letters to men of learning around the world. In 1710 he was awarded a doctorate of divinity (highest degree awarded for study of in this case Christianity) by the University of Glasgow (Scotland). In 1713 he had the great honor of being elected to the Royal Society of London. He and Increase were among the first in the Colonies to support vaccinations against smallpox (very contagious disease giving a person sores on the skin, usually fatal) and were threatened for so doing. With courage (even though a bomb was thrown through the window of Cotton's house), the Mathers, with Dr. Zabdiel Boylston (16791766), successfully put the project into effect.

Career as a writer

Despite unpopularity, Mather's activities continued. He wrote in seven languages and also mastered the Iroquois Indian language. In his lifetime three hundred eighty-two of his works were published. These took many forms: history, sermons, biography, fables, books of practical faith, religious and scientific essays, and poetry. Often very educational, his writing could also be straightforward and practical. Mather saw teaching as the main job of good writing.

In the Psalterium Americanum (1718) the talented Mather translated the Psalms and adapted them to music. His Bonifacius, or Essays To Do Good (1718) gave practical directions for personal faith. A very popular book, Benjamin Franklin (17061790) called it the work that most guided his youth.

Probably Mather's greatest work was his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702). Primarily a history of New England, it is composed from many of Mather's other writings. The seven sections tell of the settlement of New England, the lives of its governors and ministers, and the story of Harvard College and of the Congregational Church. The Magnalia provides a detailed statement of the Puritan mind.

Decline of power

Cotton Mather recorded the passing of an era. The Massachusetts Bay Colony had been an extreme, Bible-based community of "saints," whose existence as an example to the rest of the world was to be safeguarded till Christ's second coming. In Mather's lifetime the separation of church and state and the development of the frontier and of a society absorbed in business and profits made the people's interest in church lessen. American-born colonists turned to nature and to reason for the sources of their new identity.

Cotton Mather outlived his father by only five years, dying on February 13, 1728, in Boston. Later American writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882), Henry Thoreau (18171862), Harriet Beecher Stowe (18111896), James Russell Lowell (18191891), Nathaniel Hawthorne (18041864), and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (18071882) all acknowledged their debt to him.

For More Information

Levin, David. Cotton Mather: The Young Life of the Lord's Remembrancer, 1663-1703. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Lutz, Norma Jean. Cotton Mather. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.

Silverman, Kenneth. The Life and Times of Cotton Mather. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

Wendell, Barrett. Cotton Mather. New York: Chelsea House, 1980.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton

"Mather, Cotton." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton (1663-1728)

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Clergyman and physician

Sources

Mather Family. Cotton Mather was born at a time when Boston was the capital of American science. Cottons father, Increase Mather, was a leader of the scientific community. A historian of note and leading Boston clergyman, Increase Mather adopted the new scientific ideas coming from Europe in the 1600s. Influenced by Francis Bacon and Robert Hooke, Increase Mather incorporated scientific ideas into his Sunday sermons. He tried to counter superstition with realistic explanations about comets and the nature of the universe. Newtons Comet of 1680 in particular inspired Increase Mathers interest in astronomy. Acting upon his scientific interests, Mather organized the Philosophical Club of Boston in 1683. One of the members was twenty-year-old Cotton Mather.

Christian Philosopher. Cotton Mathers life and work illustrate two sides of early American science. As a Congregational clergyman and a firm believer in divine revelation and miracles, Mather accepted some very unscientific notions, such as the power of witchcraft. His first publication was an analysis of the validity of the story of Noahs Ark. Mather firmly believed in the literal truth of the Bible and in Gods constant providence at work in world affairs. At the same time, Mather was one of the leading American scientists of the early eighteenth century. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1713. He read and praised the work of such European scientists as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. Mather believed that the study of science could teach humans about God. Natural phenomena were second causes to God, the First Cause. There is not a Fly, Mather wrote in 1690, but what would confute an Atheist . In 1721 Mathers philosophy about religion and science appeared in The Christian Philosopher. Mather argued that everything in the universe had a reason and a purpose. The universe glorified the wisdom of its Creator, who with perfect thrift and economy created only necessary things. Everything in Gods kingdom was essential.

Medical Knowledge. Mather had broad scientific interests. He wrote on fossils, astronomy, mathematics, zoology, entomology, ornithology, and botany. Medicine particularly interested him. Like other clergymen, Mather studied and practiced medicine as an amateur. He was the foremost advocate of smallpox inoculation in America. His interest was perhaps due to the terrible toll the disease had wrought on his own life: two of his children and his wife succumbed to it. Indeed, only two of Mathers fifteen children survived him. In his autobiography Mather explained his attraction to medicine as owing to hypochondria. As a teenager he read widely in medical literature, which spurred his mind into imagining upon himself the symptoms of dread diseases. As the years passed, Mather became interested in the causes and cures of mental illness, measles, scurvy, fevers, and of course smallpox.

Angel of Bethesda. In 1724 Mather wrote a learned medical treatise, The Angel of Bethesda. In this book Mather argued that disease resulted from sin: there was a clear connection between the mind and the body. He provided a sympathetic appraisal of mental illness and discussed techniques of psychotherapy. He prescribed prayer as a means of combating illness. Otherwise the book was an extensive clinical description of diseases, modes of prevention, and cures. Mather also discussed in detail the theory, then debated in Europe but not well known in America, that microorganisms (germs) were causal agents in disease. Notwithstanding his religious views, Cotton Mather was clearly one of the great scientists of colonial America.

Sources

Otho Beall and Richard Shryock, Cotton Mather: First Significant Figure in American Medicine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1954);

George Daniels, Science in American Society: A Social History (New York: Knopf, 1971).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton (1663-1728)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton (1663-1728)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mather-cotton-1663-1728

"Mather, Cotton (1663-1728)." American Eras. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mather-cotton-1663-1728

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton

Cotton Mather (măŧħ´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 Andros 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 Calef. 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).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton

"Mather, Cotton." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton

Mather, Cotton (1663–1728) Puritan minister in colonial Massachusetts. His father, Increase Mather (1639–1723) doubted the reliability of testimony at the Salem witch trials, and his Cases of Conscience (1693) helped to stop the executions. In 1723, Cotton succeeded his father at the Boston ministry. He supported the Salem witch trials, although not the subsequent executions, yet was sympathetic to scientific and philosophical ideas. He was one of the founders of Yale University and a member of the Royal Society, London.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton

"Mather, Cotton." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather was a Puritan clergyman in Boston, Massachusetts , in the colonial period. Born into the third generation of a New England founding family, he was educated at Harvard College and had a lifelong interest in science. He played a controversial role during the Salem witch trials , holding personal opinions against the trials but receiving public blame for them.

Early life

Cotton Mather was born in March 1663 in Boston, the leading town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony . Mather's parents were Increase and Maria Mather. Increase was the Puritan minister of the Second Church in Boston as well as an agent of the colony in its affairs with England and, from 1865 to 1701, president of Harvard College. He used science in his sermons to fight superstition concerning comets and other natural phenomenon.

Mather was an intelligent child who learned Latin and Greek. At age twelve, he entered Harvard College, where he studied Hebrew, philosophy, and science. He received a bachelor's degree at age sixteen and, after studying medicine, a master's degree at age nineteen. In 1865, Mather became assistant minister at the Second Church under his father.

Marriage

Mather married three times. His first wife, Abigail Phillips, died in 1702; they had nine children. His second wife, Elizabeth Hubbard, died in 1713; they had six children. His last wife, Lydia George, whom he married in 1715, eventually became insane. Only six of Mather's fifteen children lived to maturity, and only two of them outlived him.

Politics

In 1688, Increase Mather sailed to England to try to have the charter restored for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In Increase's absence, Cotton was in charge of the Second Church. He also led local opposition to King James II (1633–1701) and the king's representative in Boston, Governor Edmund Andros (1637–1714). James II was removed from power in England, and Increase returned to Boston in 1692 with a new charter and a new governor, Sir William Phips (1651–1695).

One of Phips's first acts as governor was to hold witch trials, after which nineteen people were hanged for the crime of witchcraft. The judges at these trials used controversial procedures and evidence, including spectral evidence. Spectral evidence was testimony by a person who said he or she could see the ghostly apparition of the tormenting witch.

Mather personally disapproved of the procedures used at the witch trials. His father signed a letter by ministers urging courts not to convict on the basis of spectral evidence alone. Mather, however, did not speak out against the trials as they occurred. Because of his position in the community and his published writings on witchcraft, many blamed him for the panic that led to the witchcraft trials.

Later years

Mather was an avid writer, writing over four hundred books. He wrote about witchcraft, history, biography, theology, science, and poetry. Mather also had a strong interest in science. During a smallpox epidemic in Boston, he urged the community to use inoculation, a technique one of his slaves brought from Africa. Many religious people believed that preventing disease with inoculation interfered with God's plan for life and death. Mather's belief in the technique demonstrates how he blended religious faith with scientific knowledge.

Increase Mather died in 1723, which elevated Mather to minister of the Second Church. Mather lived only another five years, dying in Boston in February 1728 at the age of sixty-four.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton." U*X*L Encyclopedia of U.S. History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton." U*X*L Encyclopedia of U.S. History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton-1

"Mather, Cotton." U*X*L Encyclopedia of U.S. History. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton

Mather, Cotton

March 19, 1663

Boston, Massachusetts

February 13, 1728

Boston, Massachusetts

Clergyman and scientist

"There is not a Fly but would confute [refute conclusively] an Atheist."

Cotton Mather.

Cotton Mather's life and work illustrate two sides of early American scientific thinking. As a Congregational (Puritan) clergyman and a firm believer in divine revelation (the word of God) and miracles, Mather accepted such unscientific notions as witchcraft. He supported the Salem witch trials, although he later changed his position. The author of hundreds of books and sermons, he ranks highly among the early American theologians. Yet he was also a leading scientist and only one of two colonial Americans to be elected to the Royal Society of London, a prestigious scientific organization in England. (Benjamin Franklin was the other American member; see entry.) Reconciling his interest in science with his religious views, Mather advocated the study of science as a means of teaching about God. A well-informed amateur physician (one who has no formal medical training), Mather was at the forefront of promoting medical advances such as the smallpox inoculation. (Smallpox is a highly contagious, often fatal, disease, and inoculation is the introduction of the disease-causing agent into the body in order to create resistance.) His book The Angel of Bethesda, a catalog of common ailments and their remedies, made significant contributions to colonial American medicine. In spite of his success, however, Mather's personal life was filled with disappointment and anguish.

Increase Mather

Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather, was an historian and prominent Boston clergyman. He was also a leader in the scientific community. Increase Mather adopted the new ideas of such European scientists as Francis Bacon and Robert Hooke. He even incorporated scientific theories into his sermons. For instance, he tried to combat superstition by giving realistic explanations about comets and the nature of the universe. Newton's Comet of 1680 in particular inspired his interest in astronomy. Mather organized the Philosophical Club of Boston in 1683; one of the members was twenty-year-old Cotton Mather.

In 1684 Increase Mather wrote Remarkable Providence, and eight years later he actively supported the witch trials that began in Salem, Massachusetts. By 1693, however, he had changed his mind, calling the witch hunts a mistake in his book Cases of Conscience Concerning EvilSpirits. This work is credited with bringing the executions to an end. Mather served as president of Harvard College from 1685 until 1701.

Must fulfill family expectations

Cotton Mather witnesses witchcraft trials

Cotton Mather approved of the witchcraft trials held at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692–93, during which nineteen people were executed. He published Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), defending the trials as being necessary in order to rid the colony of the influence of the Devil. An excerpt from the "The Trial of Martha Carrier," a chapter in Mather's book, describes a typical case that came before the Salem court.

At the Court of Oyer and Terminer [to hear and determine], Held by Adjournment at Salem, August 2, 1692

I. Martha Carrier was indicted [brought to trial] for the bewitching of certain persons, according to the form usual in such cases, pleading not guilty, to her indictment; there were first brought in a considerable number of the bewitched persons; who not only made the court sensible [aware] of an horrid witchcraft committed upon them, but also deposed [reported] that it was Martha Carrier, or her shape, that grievously tormented them by biting, pricking, pinching and choking of them. It was further deposed that while this Carrier was on her examination before the magistrates [judges], the poor people were so tortured that every one expected their death upon the very spot, but that upon the binding of Carrier they were eased. Moreover the look of Carrier then laid the afflicted people for dead; and her touch, if her eye at the same time were off them, raised them again: which things were also now seen upon her trial. And it was testified that upon the mention of some having their necks twisted almost round, by the shape of this Carrier, she replied, "It's no matter though their necks had been twisted quite off."

II. Before the trial of this prisoner, several of her own children had frankly and fully confessed not only that they were witches themselves, but that this their mother had made them so. This confession they made with great shows of repentance, and with much demonstration of truth. They related place, time, occasion; they gave an account of journeys, meetings and mischiefs by them performed, and were very credible in what they said. Nevertheless, this evidence was not produced against the prisoner at the bar [in court], inasmuch as there was other evidence enough to proceed upon. . . . After recording the testimony of numerous witnesses, Mather attached this note: Memorandum. This rampant hag, Martha Carrier, was the person of whom the confessions of the witches, and of her own children among the rest, agreed that the Devil had promised her she should be Queen of Heb [Queen of Hebrews].

Mather later reversed his position and supported the view that the witch hunts had been unjustified.

Reprinted in: Elliot, Emory, and others, eds. American Literature: a Prentice Hall Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991, p. 190.

Cotton Mather was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1663. At that time, Boston was the capital of American science. His father, Increase Mather, was an historian and prominent Boston clergyman. Cotton's grandfather was Richard Mather, a famous Puritan minister. (Puritanism is a branch of Christianity that stresses strict moral and spiritual codes.) His mother, Maria Cotton Mather, was the daughter of an equally esteemed Puritan minister, John Cotton (see entry). Such an impressive family background placed considerable pressure on Mather as a young boy. He was expected to become a successful theologian (a specialist in the study of religion) like his father and grandfathers, and he set about fulfilling these high expectations. By the time he was a teenager he had mastered Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages. He had also learned how to deliver formal religious sermons. When Mather was fifteen he graduated from Harvard College in Boston, and three years later he earned a master's degree. In 1685, when he was twenty-two, he was ordained (officially appointed by the church) as his father's colleague in the ministry at the prestigious Second Church in Boston. The following year Mather married Abigail Phillips.

Caught between religion and science

Soon Mather was a prominent member of New England's powerful and influential class. At the same time he found himself involved in a period of profound religious and social change. Although he and his father were preaching the strict Puritanism introduced by the founding fathers of the Massachusetts colony, Mather realized his world was changing. New scientific ideas were rapidly reaching the American colonies from Europe, and many of these theories undermined the traditional teachings of Christianity. For instance, Christians believed that God created and controlled the universe, whereas scientists were arguing that man could learn about the world by observing and studying nature itself. In fact, from a scientific perspective, a divine creator seemed to have no place in scientific analysis.

Throughout his life Mather continued to preach traditional Christian principles. In the spirit of the Puritan fathers, he warned his congregations that God would punish unrepentant (not regretful) sinners. Mather claimed that God spoke to him in thunderstorms and appeared to him in the form of angels. Like his father, Mather approved of the witchcraft trials and executions held at Salem, Massachusetts, in the winter 1692–93. These trials were the result of some teenage girls in Salem who identified several people as witches (those who can control events through the use of supernatural powers). By the time the hysteria finally died down, 156 suspected witches were in prison (most of them women), and 19 people were eventually executed. Mather published Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), in which he defended the trials as being necessary to rid the colony of the influence of the Devil. Mather later reversed his position and—again like his father—supported the view that the witch hunts had been unjustified and excessive.

Pursues science with religion

Despite his success as a minister, Mather felt a strong pull toward science. Consequently, for forty years he struggled to make a connection between two apparently opposite world views. He firmly believed in the literal truth of the Bible (the holy book of the Christian faith), and he never doubted that God controlled world affairs. Nevertheless, when he was in his thirties he became one of the leading scientists of the early eighteenth century. In an effort to reconcile religion with science, he asserted that the world was created by God and but could be understood through scientific study. Mather's first publication was an analysis of the validity of the story of Noah's Ark. (According to the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, Noah was a Jewish patriarch, or one of the original leaders of the Jews. He built a boat in which he, his family, and living creatures of every kind survived a flood that destroyed the rest of the world.)

In 1690 Mather wrote: "There is not a Fly but would confute an Atheist." In other words, even the tiniest creature in nature will disprove the argument of a person who claims that there is no God. His masterpiece, Magnalia Christi Americana (a religious history of New England), appeared in 1702. Admitted to the Royal Society in 1713, he studied the work of such European scientists as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. Mather published his views about the connection between religion and science in The Christian Philosopher (1721). In this work he argued that everything in the universe has a reason and a purpose. According to Mather, the natural world glorifies the wisdom of God, who with perfect efficiency made only necessary things. By the end of his life Mather had published more than four hundred books and sermons. Numerous other works remained in manuscript (unpublished) form upon his death.

Encourages smallpox inoculation

During this time Mather pursued other wide-ranging scientific interests. He wrote about fossils, astronomy, mathematics, zoology, entomology (a branch of zoology that deals with insects), ornithology (a branch of zoology dealing with birds), and botany (the study of plants). Like other clergymen, he studied and practiced medicine as an amateur. In his autobiography he explained that his attraction to medicine resulted from his own hypochondria (having imagined illnesses). When he was a teenager he had an intense curiosity about medical literature. Devouring book after book, he eventually imagined that he himself had the symptoms of the diseases he was reading about. Over the years Mather became an authority on the causes and cures of mental illness, measles, scurvy (a disease caused by lack of vitamin C), fevers, and smallpox. In fact, in 1721 he was the foremost advocate of smallpox inoculation in America. Mather possibly promoted this new technique because two of his fifteen children and one of his three wives had died from smallpox.

Writes medical manual

In 1722 Mather wrote The Angel of Bethesda, a detailed study of the prevention and cure of common illnesses. Arguing that disease is the result of sin, he found a direct connection between the mind and the body. He also discussed techniques of psychotherapy (treatment of mental illness). Another important feature of the work was Mather's explanation of microorganisms (germs) as the cause of disease, a theory then being debated in Europe but not yet well known in America. Mather also kept a diary (published in 1911, 1912, and 1976), which ultimately reached seventeen volumes. The diary reveals the extent of Mather's anguish and profound disappointment in life.

Experiences setbacks and tragedy

Despite his achievements, Mather was constantly experiencing personal setbacks and tragedy. After the death of his first wife, Abigail, with whom he had a happy marriage, he wed Elizabeth Clark Hubbard in 1703. He and Elizabeth were happy together, but she too died at a young age. Mather's third marriage, to Lydia Lee George, was disastrous: Lydia reportedly ruined him financially before she went insane. With his three wives Mather had fifteen children, but only two were living at the time of his death in 1728. Only a few months before he died he completed Paterna, a book he wrote for his children, in which he portrayed his own death as being exactly like Christ's crucifixion. (Jesus of Nazareth, also called Christ, was the founder of Christianity. He was put to death by being nailed to a cross, or crucified.) Neither of Mather's children, however, was capable of carrying on the intellectual tradition of three previous generations of Mathers. For instance, Mather's son Increase—named for Mather's father—preferred to spend his time in pubs instead of preparing for the ministry. Yet Cotton Mather was even more disappointed in himself than he was in his children. When he was not chosen to succeed his father as president of Harvard College, he concluded that he was a failure because he had not carried on the Mather tradition.

For further research

Elliot, Emory, and others, eds. American Literature: a Prentice Hall Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991, p. 190.

Levin, David. Cotton Mather: The Young Life of the Lord's Remembrancer, 1663–1703. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978.

The Puritans: American Literature Colonial Period (1608-1700).http://www.falcon.jmu.edu/-ramseyil/amicol.htm Available July 13, 1999.

Silverman, Kenneth. The Life and Times of Cotton Mather. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

Wendell, Barrett. Cotton Mather. New York: Chelsea House, 1980.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton." Colonial America Reference Library. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton." Colonial America Reference Library. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton-0

"Mather, Cotton." Colonial America Reference Library. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mather-cotton-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton

Mather, Cotton

From The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693)

Reprinted in American Literature: A Prentice
Hall Anthology, Volume 1 in 1991

Edited by Emory Elliott and others

Cotton Mather (see biography and primary source entry with Ezekial Cheever) was a prominent minister in Boston, Massachusetts, who became closely involved in the Salem witch trials. Although he was not a trial judge, he worked in conjunction with his father, Increase Mather (see primary source entry), to root out witches who were doing the work of the devil in New England. Cotton Mather thought that witches were not possessed by spirits, but that they were agents of the devil. Modern historians have been mystified by Cotton Mather: although he was one of the foremost American intellectuals and scientists of the time, he was capable of deep superstition, even ignorance, in religious matters. According to Mather, witches had been sent as divine judgment against a sinful people. Therefore, witches—or sin—had to be destroyed before the Puritans could fulfill their destiny as "a people of God" in America ("once the Devil's territories").

In 1693 Mather wrote The Wonders of the InvisibleWorld, in which he defended the Salem trials in lofty theological (religious) terms, with biblical references to support his view of the Puritan mission in the New World. According to Mather, the devil was trying "all sorts of methods to overturn this poor plantation, the Puritan colony." Yet Mather saw this as a special challenge: once the Puritans were rid of the witches in their midst (had trodden "all the vultures of Hell" under their feet), God would bless them with eternal happiness ("halcyon days").

Things to remember when reading The Wonders of the Invisible World:

  • Unlike his father (Increase Mather), in the beginning Cotton Mather rejected the concept of spectral evidence (proof of possession by spirits); instead, he regarded Salem as a battleground between the forces of good and evil.
  • Like all Puritans, Mather believed that God had dispatched him on a special mission to the New World: his role was to root out evil and establish the "kingdom of God."

From The Wonders of the Invisible World

The New-Englanders are a people of God settled in those, which were once the Devil's territories; and it may easily be supposed that the Devil was exceedingly disturbed, when he perceived such a people here accomplishing the promise of old made unto our blessedJesus, That He should have the utmost parts of the earth for his possession. There was not a greater uproar amongEphesians, when theGospel was first brought among them, than there was among the powers of the air (after whom those Ephesians walked) when first the silver trumpets of the Gospel here made the joyful sound. The Devil thus irritated immediately tried all sorts of methods to overturn this poor plantation: and so much of the church, as was fled into this wilderness, immediately found the serpent cast out of his mouth a flood for the carrying of it away. I believe that never were more satanical devices used for the unsettling of any people under the sun, than what have been employed for theextirpation of the vine which God has here planted, casting out theheathen, and preparing a room before it, and causing it to take deep root, and fill the land, so that it sent its boughs unto the Atlantic Sea eastward, and its branches unto the Connecticut River westward, and the hills were covered with the shadow thereof. But, all those attempts of Hell, have hitherto been abortive, many anEbeneezer has been erected unto the praise of God, by his poor people here; and having obtained help from God, we continue to this day. Wherefore the Devil is now making one attempt more upon us; an attempt more difficult, more surprising, more

Jesus: Jesus of Nazareth, founder of Christianity

Ephesians: people of Ephesus, in present-day Turkey, to whom Saint Paul preached

Gospel: the word of the Christian God

extirpation: the destruction of

heathen: an uncivilized or irreligious person

Ebeneezer: stone set up by Samuel in the Bible to commemorate victory over the Philistines

snarl'd with unintelligible circumstances than any that we have hitherto encountered; an attempt so critical, that if we get well through,we shall soon enjoyhalcyon days with all the vultures of Hell troddenunder our feet. He has wanted hisincarnate legions topersecute us,as the people of God have in the other hemispheres been persecuted:he has therefore drawn forth his more spiritual ones to make anattack upon us.

halcyon: happy

incarnate: in bodily form

persecute: to cause to suffer because of belief

What happened next . . .

By September 1693 many intellectuals and ministers started to question the use of spectral evidence in the witch trials. The belief that accused witches were possessed by the devil, rather than acting freely as a follower of the devil, started to take hold. Once people started to feel that the accused were really victims, the basis for the trials started to crumble. Mather, who had originally been against the use of spectral evidence but had pushed for the prosecution of some of the accused solely on that charge, worked to distance himself from the shame of the outcome of more than a year of trials and executions.

In 1700 Robert Calef published More Wonders of theInvisible World, a book mostly devoted to mocking Mather's book (see biography and primary source entries). Although Mather defended his views on witchcraft for the rest of his life, he was mostly ignored. He is still considered to be at fault for a great deal of the witchcraft hysteria.

Did you know . . .

  • Although Cotton Mather was an extremely intelligent and well-educated man, he was passed over for the presidency of Harvard all his professional life. Bitter and angry for the slight, Mather assisted in the founding of Yale University, which to this day is one of Harvard's greatest rivals.

For Further Study

Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of EarlyNew England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Discovery Online—A Village Possessed: A True Story of Witchcraft.http://www.discovery.com/stories/history/witches/witches.html (Accessed July 7, 2000).

Elliot, Emory, and others, eds. American Literature: A Prentice Hall Anthology, Volume 1. Englewood Cliffs, New jersey: Prentice Hall, 1991.

Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: George Braziller, 1969.

Hill, Frances. A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Rice, Earle, Jr. The Salem Witch Trials. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, 1997.

Starkey, Marion L. The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into theSalem Witch Trials. New York: Doubleday, 1989.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton." Witchcraft in America. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton." Witchcraft in America. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/social-sciences-magazines/mather-cotton-0

"Mather, Cotton." Witchcraft in America. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/social-sciences-magazines/mather-cotton-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mather, Cotton

Mather, Cotton

Born: 1663 Boston, Massachusetts

Died: 1728 Boston, Massachusetts

Clergyman, scientist, and writer

Puritan minister Cotton Mather was instrumental in escalating the witch-hunts in New England during the late 1600s. Along with his father, Increase Mather (1639–1723; see primary source entry), who was also a prominent minister, he published works providing evidence that witchcraft was being practiced in Massachusetts communities. In 1693, after the start of the Salem trials, Cotton Mather wrote The Wonders of the Invisible World, in which he claimed that the devil was testing Puritans by bringing witches into their midst (see The Wonders of the Invisible World in the Primary Sources section). He advocated (supported) waging a holy war against the forces of evil by tracking down and eliminating witches. Yet Mather's involvement in the trials continues to intrigue modern historians: although he was one of the great colonial American theologians (reliogious scholar) and readily accepted such superstitions as the belief in witchcraft, he was also a leading scientist. Mather and inventor Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) were the only colonial Americans to be elected to the Royal Society of London, a prestigious scientific organization in England. Reconciling this aspect of his life with his religious views, Mather advocated the study of science as a means of teaching about God. A well-informed amateur physician (one who has no formal medical training), Mather was at the forefront of promoting medical advances such as smallpox inoculation. His book The Angel of Bethesda (1722), a catalog of common ailments and their remedies, made significant contributions to colonial American medicine. A man of extreme contradictions, Mather had a life filled with disappointment and anguish.

Must fulfill family expectations

Cotton Mather was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1663, into a third generation of prominent Puritans. His father, Increase Mather, was an historian and prominent Boston clergyman and his grandfather, Richard Mather (1596–1669), was a famous Puritan minister. His mother, Maria Cotton Mather, was the daughter of John Cotton (1584–1652), an equally esteemed Puritan minister. Such an impressive family background placed considerable pressure on Mather as a young boy. He was expected to become a successful theologian like his father and grandfathers, and he set about fulfilling these high expectations. By the time he was a teenager he had mastered Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages. He had also learned how to deliver formal sermons (religious speeches). When Mather was fifteen he graduated from Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and three years later he earned a master's degree from that institution. In 1685, when he was twenty-two, he was ordained (officially appointed by the church) as his father's colleague in the ministry at the prestigious Second Church in Boston. The following year Mather married Abigail Phillips.

Increase Mather

Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather, was an historian and prominent Boston clergyman. He was also a leader in the scientific community. Mather adopted the new ideas of such European scientists as Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and Robert Hooke (1635–1703). He even incorporated scientific theories into his sermons. For instance, he tried to combat superstition by giving realistic explanations about comets and the nature of the universe. Newton's Comet of 1680 in particular inspired his interest in astronomy (the study of stars and planets). Mather organized the Philosophical Club of Boston in 1683; one of the members was twenty-year-old Cotton Mather.

In 1684 Increase Mather compiled Remarkable Providences, a collection of "proofs" of witchcraft. Eight years later he actively supported the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. By 1693, however, he had changed his mind, calling the witch-hunts a mistake in his book Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits. This work was instrumental in bringing the executions to an end. Mather served as president of Harvard College from 1685 until 1701.

Caught between religion and science

Soon Mather was a prominent member of the New England elite (powerful and influential class). At the same time he found himself involved in a period of profound religious and social change. Although he and his father were preaching the strict Puritanism introduced by the founding fathers of the Massachusetts colony, Mather realized the world was changing. New scientific ideas were rapidly reaching the American colonies from Europe, and many of these theories undermined the traditional teachings of Christianity. For instance, Christians believed that God created and

Cotton Mather Witnesses Witchcraft Trials

Cotton Mather approved of the witchcraft trials held at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692–1693, during which twenty people were executed. He published Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), defending the trials as being necessary in order to rid the colony of the influence of the devil. An excerpt from the "The Trial of Martha Carrier," a chapter in Mather's book, describes a typical case that came before the Salem court:

At the Court of Oyer and Terminer [to hear and determine], Held by Adjournment at Salem, August 2, 1692

I. Martha Carrier was indicted [brought to trial] for the bewitching certain persons, according to the form usual in such cases, pleading not guilty, to her indictment; there were first brought in a considerable number of the bewitched persons; who not only made the court sensible [aware] of an horrid witchcraft committed upon them, but also deposed [reported] that it was Martha Carrier, or her shape, that grievously tormented them by biting, pricking, pinching and choking of them. It was further deposed that while this Carrier was on her examination before the magistrates [judges], the poor people were so tortured that every one expected their death upon the very spot, but that upon the binding of Carrier they were eased. Moreover the look of Carrier then laid the afflicted people for dead; and her touch, if her eye at the same time were off them, raised them again: which things were also now seen upon her trial. And it was testified that upon the mention of some having their necks twisted almost round, by the shape of this Carrier, she replied, "It's no matter though their necks had been twisted quite off.

II. Before the trial of this prisoner, several of her own children had frankly and fully confessed not only that they were witches themselves, but that their mother had made them so. This confession they made with great shows of repentance, and with much demonstration of truth. They related place, time, occasion; they gave an account of journeys, meetings and mischiefs by them performed, and were very credible in what they said. Nevertheless, this evidence was not produced against the prisoner at the bar [in court], inasmuch as there was other evidence enough to proceed upon. . . . After recording the testimony of numerous witnesses, Mather attached this note: Memorandum. This rampant hag, Martha Carrier, was the person of whom the confessions of the witches, and of her own children among the rest, agreed that the Devil had promised her she should be Queen of Heb [Queen of Hebrews]. (From Emory Elliot,and others, editors, American Literature: A Prentice Hall Anthology, p. 190.)

Mather later reversed his position and supported the view that the witch-hunts had been unjustified.

controlled the universe, whereas scientists were arguing that man could learn about the world by observing and studying nature itself. In fact, a divine creator seemed to have no place in scientific analysis.

Throughout his life Mather continued to preach traditional Christian principals. In the spirit of the Puritan fathers, he warned his congregations that God would punish unrepentant (not regretful) sinners. Mather claimed that God spoke to him in thunderstorms and appeared to him in the form of angels. Like his father, Mather approved of the witchcraft trials and executions held in Salem. When he published Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693, he defended the trials as being necessary to rid the colony of the influence of the devil. Mather later reversed his position and—again like his father—supported the view that the witch-hunts had been unjustified.

Pursues science with religion

Despite his success as a minister, Mather felt a strong pull toward science. Consequently, for forty years he struggled to make a connection between two apparently opposite world views. He firmly believed in the literal truth of the Bible (the holy book of the Christian faith), and he never doubted that God controlled world affairs. Nevertheless, when he was in his thirties he became one of the leading scientists of the early eighteenth century. In an effort to reconcile religion with science, he asserted that the world was created by God and understood through scientific study.

Mather's first publication was an analysis of the validity of the story of Noah's Ark. (According to the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, Noah was a Jewish patriarch, or one of the original leaders of the Jews. He built a boat in which he, his family, and living creatures of every kind survived a flood that destroyed the rest of the world.) His masterpiece, Magnalia Christi Americana, a religious history of New England, appeared in 1702. Admitted to the Royal Society in 1713, he studied the work of such European scientists as Robert Boyle (1627–1691) and Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Mather published his views about the connection between religion and science in The Christian Philosopher (1721). In this work he argued that everything in the universe has a reason and a purpose. According to Mather, the natural world glorifies the wisdom of God, who with perfect efficiency made only necessary things. By the end of his life Mather had published more than four hundred books and sermons. Numerous other works remained in manuscript (unpublished) form upon his death.

Encourages smallpox inoculation

During this time Mather also pursued his wide-ranging scientific interests. He wrote about fossils, astronomy, mathematics, zoology (the study of animals), entomology (a branch of zoology that deals with insects), ornithology (a branch of zoology dealing with birds), and botany (the study of plants). Like other clergymen, he studied and practiced medicine as an amateur. In his autobiography he explained that his attraction to medicine came about as a result of his own hypochondria (fear of illnesses). When he was a teenager he had an intense curiosity about medical literature. Devouring book after book, he eventually began to imagine that he himself had the symptoms of the diseases he was reading about. Over the years Mather became an authority on the causes and cures of mental illness, measles, scurvy (a disease caused by lack of vitamin C), fevers, and smallpox. In fact, in 1721 he was the foremost advocate of smallpox inoculation in America. (Smallpox is a highly contagious, often fatal viral disease that produces skin sores on the body. Inoculation is the introduction of the disease-causing agent into the body in order to create an immunity, or resistance.) Mather possibly promoted this new technique because of the terrible toll the disease had taken in his own life: two of his fifteen children and one of his three wives had died from smallpox.

Writes medical manual

In 1722 Mather wrote The Angel of Bethesda, a detailed study of the prevention and cure of common illnesses. Arguing that disease is the result of sin, he found a direct connection between the mind and the body. He also discussed techniques of psychotherapy (treatment of mental illness). Another important feature of the work was Mather's explanation of microorgasims (germs) as the cause of disease, a theory then being debated in Europe but not yet well known in America. Mather also kept a diary (published in 1911, 1912, and 1976), which ultimately expanded to seventeen volumes. The diary reveals the extent of Mather's anguish and profound disappointment in life.

Experiences setbacks and tragedy

Despite his achievements, Mather was constantly experiencing setbacks and tragedy. After the death of his first wife, Abigail, with whom he had a happy marriage, he wed Elizabeth Clark Hubbard in 1703. He and Elizabeth were happy together, but she too died at a young age. Mather's third marriage, to Lydia Lee George, was disastrous: Lydia reportedly ruined him financially before she went insane. With his three wives Mather had fifteen children, but only two survived at the time of his death. Neither of them was capable of carrying on the intellectual tradition of three previous generations of Mathers. For instance, his son Increase—named for Mather's father—preferred to spend his time in pubs (bars) instead of preparing for the ministry. Yet Cotton Mather was even more disappointed in himself. When he was not chosen to succeed his father as president of Harvard College, he concluded that he was a failure because he had not carried on the Mather tradition.

For Further Reading

Elliot, Emory, and others, eds. American Literature: A Prentice-Hall Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1991.

Levin, David. Cotton Mather: The Young Life of the Lord's Remembrancer, 1663–1703. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Silverman, Kenneth. The Life and Times of Cotton Mather. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

Wendell, Barrett. Cotton Mather. New York: Chelsea House, 1980.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mather, Cotton." Witchcraft in America. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mather, Cotton." Witchcraft in America. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/social-sciences-magazines/mather-cotton

"Mather, Cotton." Witchcraft in America. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/social-sciences-magazines/mather-cotton

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.