Rev. Cotton Mather, Salem Witch Trials

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Cotton Mather

Birthdate: (65)
Birthplace: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Death: Died in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Place of Burial: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Rev. Increase Mather and Maria Mather
Husband of Abigail Mather; Elizabeth Mather and Lydia Mather
Father of Abigail Willard and Rev. Dr. Samuel Mather
Brother of Maria Fifield; Elizabeth Byles; Nathaniel Mather; Sarah Walter; Rev. Samuel Mather and 4 others

Occupation: Clergyman, Reverend
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Rev. Cotton Mather, Salem Witch Trials

Cotton Mather (February 12, 1663 – February 13, 1728; A.B. 1678, Harvard College; A.M. 1681, honorary doctorate 1710, University of Glasgow) was a socially and politically influential New England Puritan minister, prolific author and pamphleteer; he is often remembered for his connection to the Salem witch trials. He was the son of Increase Mather, and grandson of Richard Mather, both also prominent Puritan ministers.


Mather was named after his maternal grandfather, John Cotton (1585–1652). He attended Boston Latin School, where his name was posthumously added to its Hall of Fame, and graduated from Harvard in 1678 at 16 years of age. After completing his post-graduate work, he joined his father as assistant pastor of Boston's original North Church. In 1685 Mather assumed full responsibilities as pastor at the Church.

Author of more than 450 books and pamphlets, Cotton Mather's ubiquitous literary works made him one of the most influential religious leaders in America. Mather set the moral tone in the colonies, and sounded the call for second- and third-generation Puritans, whose parents had left England for the New England colonies of North America, to return to the theological roots of Puritanism.

The most important of these, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), is composed of seven distinct books, many of which depict biographical and historical narratives which later American writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Elizabeth Drew Stoddard and Harriet Beecher Stowe would look to in describing the cultural significance of New England for later generations following the American Revolution. Mather's text thus was one of the more important documents in American history because it reflects a particular tradition of seeing and understanding the significance of place. Mather, as a Puritan thinker and social conservative, drew on the figurative language of the Bible to speak to contemporary audiences. In particular, Mather's review of the American experiment sought to explain signs of his time and the types of individuals drawn to the colonies as predicting the success of the venture. From his religious training, Mather viewed the importance of texts for elaborating meaning and for bridging different moments of history (for instance, linking the Biblical stories of Noah and Abraham with the arrival of eminent leaders such as John Eliot, John Winthrop and his own father Increase Mather).

The struggles of first-, second- and third-generation Puritans, both intellectual and physical, thus became elevated in the American way of thinking about its appointed place among other nations. The unease and self-deception that characterized that period of colonial history would be revisited in many forms at political and social moments of crisis (such as the Salem witch trials which coincided with frontier warfare and economic competition among Indians, French and other European settlers) and during lengthy periods of cultural definition (e.g., the American Renaissance of the late 18th- and early 19th-century literary, visual and architectural movements which sought to capitalize on unique American identities).

Highly influential due to his prolific writing, Mather was a force to be reckoned with in secular, as well as in spiritual, matters. After the fall of James II of England in 1688, Mather was among the leaders of a successful revolt against James's governor of the consolidated Dominion of New England, Sir Edmund Andros.

[image of] The Mather tomb in Copp's Hill Cemetery, Boston

Mather was influential in early American science as well. In 1716, as the result of observations of corn varieties, he conducted one of the first experiments with plant hybridization. This observation was memorialized in a letter to a friend:

"My friend planted a row of Indian corn that was colored red and blue; the rest of the field being planted with yellow, which is the most usual color. To the windward side this red and blue so infected three or four rows as to communicate the same color unto them; and part of ye fifth and some of ye sixth. But to the leeward side, no less than seven or eight rows had ye same color communicated unto them; and some small impressions were made on those that were yet further off."

Of Mather's three wives and 15 children, only his last wife and two children survived him. Mather was buried on Copp's Hill near Old North Church.

Cotton Mather: It's Personal

Cotton Mather was not known for writing in a neutral, unbiased perspective. Many, if not all, of his writings had bits and pieces of his own personal life in them or were written for personal reasons. According to literary historian Sacvan Bercovitch:

"Few puritans more loudly decried the bosom serpent of egotism than did Cotton Mather; none more clearly exemplified it. Explicitly or implicitly, he projects himself everywhere in his writings. In the most direct compensatory sense, he does so by using literature as a means of personal redress. He tells us that he composed his discussions of the family to bless his own, his essays on the riches of Christ to repay his benefactors, his tracts on morality to convert his enemies, his funeral discourses to console himself for the loss of a child, wife, or friend."

From Bercovitch's quote it is apparent that Mather took things personally and allowed his biases to seep through into his writings. A few examples of this are Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion and Wonders of the Invisible World in which his abrasive feelings about women were revealed.

Mather's relationship with his father and the aftereffects in Mather's Works

Cotton Mather's relationship with his well-known father, Increase Mather, was often a strained and difficult one. Increase Mather was a pastor of the Old North Church and led an accomplished life that Cotton was determined to live up to. Despite Cotton Mather's efforts, he never became quite as well known and successful in politics as his father. He did surpass his father's talents as a writer, writing over 400 books. One of the most public displays of their strained relationship appeared during the Salem Witch Trials. Despite the fact that Increase Mather did not support the trials, Cotton Mather documented them (Hovey 531-2).

Mather and his relationship with women

Mather had three wives and often wrote about them in his diaries in not so flattering ways, even attributing his third wife, Lydia, with a mental illness historians question whether she had. Mather also faces backlash today for how he wrote about and described women in Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion and Wonders of the Invisible World. In Wonders of the Invisible World, Mather sided with the witch trial judges more so than he did with the accused women. He encouraged and supported the trials, which more often than not resulted in the deaths of the women accused.

In Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion, Mather wrote about how he thought women should act in the colonial times. He gave very specific requirements of what women had to do to be thought of as proper wives, which included reading the Bible and obeying her husband. And if a woman acted out of line or displeased her husband, she was expected to take beatings without complaint. According to Mather women weren't allowed to wear makeup or dress in fancy clothes. Their primary duty was to obey their husbands and make sure that their husbands were always satisfied.

Smallpox inoculation

A smallpox epidemic struck Boston in May 1721 and continued through the year.

The practice of smallpox inoculation (as opposed to the later practice of vaccination) had been known for some time. In 1706 a slave, Onesimus, had explained to Mather how he had been inoculated as a child in Africa. Mather, was fascinated by the idea. He encouraged physicians to try it, without success. Then, at Mather's urging, one doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, tried the procedure on his only son and two slaves – one grown and one a boy. All recovered in about a week.

In a bitter controversy the New England Courant published writers who opposed inoculation. The stated reason for this editorial stance was that the Boston populace feared that inoculation spread, rather than prevented, the disease; however, some historians, notably H. W. Brands, have argued that this position was a result of editor-in-chief James Franklin's (Benjamin Franklin's brother) contrarian positions. Boylston and Mather encountered such bitter hostility that the selectmen of the city forbade him to repeat the experiment.

The opposition insisted that inoculation was poisoning, and they urged the authorities to try Boylston for murder. So bitter was this opposition that Boylston's life was in danger; it was considered unsafe for him to be out of his house in the evening. A lit grenade was even thrown into the house of Mather, who had favored the new practice and had sheltered another clergyman who had submitted himself to it.

After overcoming considerable difficulty and achieving notable success, Boylston traveled to London in 1724, There he published his results and was elected to the Royal Society in 1726.

Cotton Mather and the Salem Witch Trials

A friend of a number of the judges charged with hearing the Salem witch trials, Mather admitted the use of spectral evidence, (compare The Devil in New England) but warned that, though it might serve as evidence to begin investigations, it should not be heard in court as evidence to decide a case. Despite this, he later wrote in defense of those conducting the trials, stating:

"If in the midst of the many Dissatisfaction among us, the publication of these Trials may promote such a pious Thankfulness unto God, for Justice being so far executed among us, I shall Re-joyce that God is Glorified..." (Wonders of the Invisible World).

New Englanders perceived themselves abnormally susceptible to the Devil’s influence in the 17th century. The idea that New Englanders now occupied the Devil’s land established this fear. In their mind it would only be natural for the Devil to fight back against the pious invaders. Cotton Mather shared this general concern; and combined with New England’s lack of piety, Mather feared divine retribution. English writers, who shared Mather’s fears, cited evidence of divine actions to restore the flock.

In 1681 a conference of ministers met to discuss how to rectify the lack of faith. In an effort to combat the lack of piety, Cotton Mather considered it his duty to observe and record illustrious providences. Cotton Mather’s first action related to the Salem Witch Trials was the publication of his 1684 essay Illustrious Providences. Mather, being an ecclesiastical man, believed in the spiritual side of the world and attempted to prove its existence with stories of sea rescues, strange apparitions and witchcraft. Mather aimed to combat materialism in New England.

Such was the social climate of New England when the Goodwin children received a strange illness. Mather, seeing an opportunity to explore the spiritual world, attempted to treat the children with fasting and prayer. After treating the children of the Goodwin family, Mather wrote Memorable Providences, a detailed account of the illness. In January 1692 Abigail Williams and Betty Parris had a similar illness to the Goodwin children; and Mather emerged as an important figure in the Salem Witch trials. Even though Mather never presided in the jury, he exhibited great influence over the witch trials. On May 31, 1692, Mather sent a letter Return of the Several Ministers, to the trial. This article advised the judges to limit the use of Spectral evidence, and recommended the release of confessed criminals.

Wonders of the Invisible World, describing the Salem Witch Trials, is one of Cotton Mather's most well known books and the witch trials themselves are what Mather is well known for. One of the main reasons that Mather wrote about the witch trials was that he believed it would "encourage a spiritual awakening in the face of widespread religious complacency" (Hovey 532).

Mather as a negative influence on the trial

Critics of Cotton Mather assert that he caused the trials because of his 1688 publication Remarkable Providences, and attempted to revive the trial with his 1692 book Wonders of the Invisible World, and in general encouraged witch hunting zeal. Others have stated, “His own reputation for veracity on the reality of witchcraft prayed, "for a good issue.” Charles Upham mentions Mather called accused witch Martha Carrier a rampant hag. The critical evidence of Mather’s zealous behavior comes later, during the trial execution of George Burroughs {Harvard Class of 1670}. Upham gives the Robert Calef account of the execution of Mr. Burroughs;

Mr. Burroughs was carried in a cart with others, through the streets of Salem, to execution. When he was upon the ladder, he made a speech for the clearing of his innocency, with such solemn and serious expressions as were to the admiration of all present. His prayer (which he concluded by repeating the Lord’s Prayer) was so well worded, and uttered with such composedness as such fervency of spirit, as was very affecting, and drew tears from many, so that if seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution. The accusers said the black man stood and dictated to him. As soon as he was turned off, Mr. Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a horse, addressed himself to the people, partly to declare that he (Mr. Burroughs) was no ordained minister, partly to possess the people of his guilt, saying that the devil often had been transformed into the angel of light…When he [Mr. Burroughs] was cut down, he was dragged by a halter to a hole, or grave, between the rocks, about two feet deep; his shirt and breeches being pulled off, and an old pair of trousers of one executed put on his lower parts: he was so put in, together with Willard and Carrier, that one of his hands, and his chin, and a foot of one of them, was left uncovered.

The second issue with Cotton Mather was his influence in construction of the court for the trials. Bancroft quotes Mather, “Intercession had been made by Cotton Mather for the advancement of William Stoughton, a man of cold affections, proud, self-willed and covetous of distinction.” Later, referring to the placement of William Stoughton on the trial, which Bancroft noted was against the popular sentiment of the town. Bancroft referred to a statement in Mather’s diary;

"The time for a favor is come,” exulted Cotton Mather; “Yea, the set time is come. Instead of my being a made a sacrifice to wicked rulers, my father-in-law, with several related to me, and several brethren of my own church, are among the council. The Governor of the province is not my enemy, but one of my dearest friends.

Bancroft also noted that Mather considered witches "among the poor, and vile, and ragged beggars upon Earth", and Bancroft asserts that Mather considered the people against the witch trials to be witch advocates.

Mather as a positive influence on the trial

Chadwick Hansen’s Witchcraft at Salem, published in 1969, defined Mather as a positive influence on the Salem Trials. Hansen considered Mather's handling of the Goodwin Children to be sane and temperate. Hansen also noted that Mather was more concerned with helping the affected children than witch-hunting. Mather treated the affected children through prayer and fasting.

Mather also tried to convert accused witch Goodwife Glover after she was accused of practicing witchcraft on the Goodwin children. Most interestingly, and out of character with the previous depictions of Mather, was Mather’s decision not to tell the community of the others whom Goodwife Clover claimed practiced witch craft. One must wonder if Mather desired an opportunity to promote his church through the fear of witchcraft, why he did not use the opportunity presented by the Goodwin family. Lastly, Hansen claimed Mather acted as a moderating influence in the trials by opposing the death penalty for lesser criminals, such as Tituba and Dorcas Good. Hansen also notes that the negative impressions of Cotton Mather stem from his defense of the trials in Wonders of the Invisible World. Mather became the chief defender of the trial, which diminished accounts of his earlier actions as a moderate influence.

Some historians who have examined the life of Cotton Mather after Chadwick Hansen’s book share his view of Cotton Mather. For instance, Bernard Rosenthal noted that Mather often gets portrayed as the rabid witch hunter. Rosenthal also described Mather’s guilt about his inability to restrain the judges during the trial. Larry Gregg highlights Mather’s sympathy for the possessed, when Mather stated, “the devil have sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent, but also the very virtuous.” And John Demos considered Mather a moderating influence on the trial.


After the trial, Cotton Mather was unrepentant for his role. Of the principal actors in the trial, only Cotton Mather and William Stoughton never admitted guilt. In fact, in the years after the trial Mather became an increasingly vehement defender of the trial. At the request of then Lt.-Gov. William Stoughton, Mather wrote Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693. The book contained a few of Mather’s sermons, the conditions of the colony and a description of witch trials in Europe. Mather also contradicted his own advice in Return of the Several Ministers, by defending the use of spectral evidence. Wonders of the Invisible World appeared at the same time as Increase Mather’s Case of Conscience, a book critical of the trial. Upon reading Wonders of the Invisible World, Increase Mather publicly burned the book in Harvard Yard. Also, Boston merchant, Robert Calef began what became an eight-year campaign of attacks on Cotton Mather.

The last event in Cotton Mather's involvement with witchcraft was his attempt to cure Mercy Short and Margaret Rule. Mather later wrote A Brand Pluck’d Out of the Burning and Another Brand Pluckt Out of the Burning about curing the women.

Major works

The Biblia Americana (1693-1728)

Bonifacius (1710)

The Christian Philosopher (1721)

Decennium Luctuosom: a History of the Long War (1699)

Magnalia Christi Americana (1702)

Manductio ad Ministerium (1726)

The Negro Christianized (1706)

Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion (1692)

Wonders of the Invisible World (1693)

Pillars of Salt (1699)

Magnalia Christi Americana

Magnalia Christi Americana, considered Mather's greatest work, was published in 1702, when he was 39. The book, which was done through several biographies of saints, describes the process of the New England settlement (Meyers 23-24). It was composed of seven total books. Despite being one of Mather's most well-known works, many [names?] have openly criticized it, labeling it as hard to follow and understand, and poorly paced and organized. Random quotes in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew appear throughout. However, other critics have praised Mather's works, believing it to be one of the best efforts at properly documenting the establishment of America and growth of the people (Halttunen 311).

The Biblia Americana

When Cotton Mather died, he had an abundance of unfinished writings left behind, including one entitled The Biblia Americana. Mather believed that Biblia Americana was the best thing he had ever written, believing it to be his masterwork (Hovey 533).

Biblia Americana contained Cotton Mather's thoughts and opinions on the Bible and how he interpreted it. Biblia Americana is incredibly large and Mather worked on it from 1693-1728, when he died. Mather tried to convince others that philosophy and science could work together with religion instead of against it. People did not have to choose one or the other and in Biblia Americana Mather looked at the Bible through a scientific perspective, the complete opposite of when he wrote The Christian Philosopher, in which he decided to approach science in a religious manner (Smolinksi 280-281).

The Christian Philosopher

In 1721 The Christian Philosopher was published. Written by Mather, it was the first systematic book on science published in America. Mather attempted to show how Newtonian science and religion were in harmony. It was in part based on Robert Boyle's The Christian Virtuoso (1690).

Mather also took inspiration from Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, a philosophical novel by Abu Bakr Ibn Tufail (who he refers to as "Abubekar"), a 12th-century Islamic philosopher. Despite condemning the 'Mahometans' as infidels, he viewed the protagonist of the novel, Hayy, as a model for his ideal Christian philosopher and monotheistic scientist. Mather also viewed Hayy as a noble savage and applied this in the context of attempting to understand the Native American Indians in order to convert them to Puritan Christianity.

Pillars of Salt

The Puritan execution sermon, preached on the occasion of a public hanging, then quickly printed up in pamphlet form and sold for a few pence, was an early form of true-crime literature. Mather's first published sermon, which appeared in 1686, concerned the crime and punishment of James Morgan, a reprobate who in a drunken rage impaled a man with an iron spit. Thirteen years later, following the execution of a Boston woman named Sarah Threeneedles for killing her baby, Mather issued Pillars of Salt. This compilation of a dozen accounts (half of which, including the case of Morgan, had been previously published) stands as a landmark work, a Puritan precursor of the true-crime miscellanies that, stripped of all religious intent, would become a staple of the genre in subsequent centuries. In 2008 The Library of America reprinted the entirety of Pillars of Salt in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.

Source: downloaded March 20, 2010 from

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Cotton Mather Birth 12 Feb 1662 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts Death 13 Feb 1728 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts

Family Members


Rev. Increase Mather 1639 – 1723

Maria Cotton 1641 – 1714

Show siblings Spouse & Children

Abigail Phillips 1670 – 1702

Abigail one Mather 1687 – 1687

Catharine Mather 1690 – 1716

Maria Mather 1691 – 1693

Joseph Mather 1693 – 1693

Abigail two Mather 1694 – 1721

Mehitabel Mather 1695 –

Hannah Mather 1697 – 1699

Increase Mather 1699 – 1728

Samuel Mather 1700 – 1700

Other Spouse & Children

Elizabeth Hubbard Clarke 1674 – 1713

Elizabeth Mather 1704 – 1726

Rev. Dr. Samuel Mather 1706 – 1785

Nathaniel Mather 1707 – 1709

Jerusha Mather 1711 – 1713

Eleazer Mather 1713 – 1713

Martha Mather 1713 – 1713

Other Spouse & Children

Lydia Lee 1665 – 1734

1662 12 Feb Birth Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States 6 source citations 1680 Age: 18 Arrival Massachusetts 1 source citation 1686 4 May Age: 24 Marriage to Abigail Phillips Charlestown, Suffolk, Massachusetts, USA wife #1 1686 Age: 24 Marriage Charlestown, Suffolk, MA 3 source citations 1703 18 Aug Age: 41 Marriage to Elizabeth Hubbard Clarke Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, USA wife #2 1715 5 Jul Age: 53 Marriage to Lydia Lee Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, USA 1728 13 Feb Age: 66 Death Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States 4 source citations

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American Congregational clergyman and author, born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 12th of February 1663. He was the grandson of Richard Mather, and the eldest child of Increase Mather and Maria, daughter of John Cotton. After studying under the famous Ezekiel Cheever (1614-1708), he entered Harvard College at twelve, and graduated in 1678. While teaching (1678-85), he began the study of theology, but soon, on account of an impediment in his speech, discontinued it and took up medicine. Later, however, he conquered the difficulty and finished his preparation for the ministry. He was elected assistant pastor in his father's church, the North, or Second, Church of Boston, in 1681 and was ordained as his father's colleague in 1685. In 1688, when his father went to England as agent for the colony, he was left at twenty-five in charge of the largest congregation in New England, and he ministered to it for the rest of his life.

He soon became one of the most influential men in the colonies. He had much to do with the witchcraft persecution of his day; in 1692 when the magistrates appealed to the Boston clergy for advice in regard to the witchcraft cases in Salem he drafted their reply, upon which the prosecutions were based; in 1689 he had written Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions, and even his earlier diaries have many entries showing his belief in diabolical possession and his fear and hatred of it.

Thinking as he did that the New World had been the undisturbed realm of Satan before the settlements were made in Massachusetts, he considered it natural that the Devil should make a peculiar effort to bring moral destruction on these godly invaders. He used prayer and fasting to deliver himself from evil enchantment; and when he saw ecstatic and mystical visions promising him the Lord's help and great usefulness in the Lord's work, he feared that these revelations might be of diabolic origin. He used his great influence to bring the suspected persons to trial and punishment. He attended the trials, investigated many of the cases himself, and wrote sermons on witchcraft, the Memorable Providences and The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), which increased the excitement of the people. Accordingly, when the persecutions ceased and the reaction set in, much of the blame was laid upon him; the influence of Judge Samuel Sewall, after he had come to think his part in the Salem delusion a great mistake, was turned against the Mathers; and the liberal leaders of Congregationalism in Boston, notably the Brattles, found this a vulnerable point in Cotton Mather's armor and used their knowledge to much effect, notably by assisting Robert Calef (died circa 1723) in the preparation of More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700) a powerful criticism of Cotton Mather's part in the delusion at Salem.

Mather took some part as adviser in the Revolution of 1689 in Massachusetts. In 1690 he became a member of the Corporation (probably the youngest ever chosen as Fellow) of Harvard College, and in 1707 he was greatly disappointed at his failure to be chosen president of that institution. He received the degree of D.D. from the University of Glasgow in 1710, and in 1713 was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. Like his father he was deeply grieved by the liberal theology and Church polity of the new Brattle Street Congregation, and conscientiously opposed its pastor Benjamin Colman, who had been irregularly ordained in England and by a Presbyterian body; but with his father he took part in 1700 in services in Colman's church. Harvard College was now controlled by the Liberals of the Brattle Street Church, and as it grew farther and farther away from Calvinism, Mather looked with increasing favor upon the college in Connecticut; before September 1701 he had drawn up a "scheme for a college", the oldest document now in the Yale archives; and finally (January 1718) he wrote to a London merchant, Elihu Yale, and persuaded him to make a liberal gift to the college, which was named in his honor. During the smallpox epidemic of 1721 he attempted in vain to have treatment by inoculation employed, for the first time in America; and for this he was bitterly attacked on all sides, and his life was at one time in danger; but, nevertheless, he used the treatment on his son, who recovered, and he wrote An Account of the Method and further Success of Inoculating for the Small Pox in London (1721). In addition he advocated temperance, missions, Bible societies, and the education of the negro; favored the establishing of libraries for working men and of religious organizations for young people, and organized societies for other branches of philanthropic work.

His later years were clouded with many sorrows and disappointments; his relations with Governor Joseph Dudley were unfriendly; he lost much of his former prestige in the Church — his own congregation dwindled — and in the college; his uncle John Cotton was expelled from his charge in the Plymouth Church; his son Increase turned out a ne'er-do-well; four of his children and his second wife died in November 1713; his wife's brothers and the husbands of his sisters were ungodly and violent men; his favorite daughter Katherine, who "understood Latin and read Hebrew fluently", died in 1716; his third wife went mad in 1719; his personal enemies circulated incredible scandals about him; and in 1724-25 he saw a Liberal once more preferred to him as a new president of Harvard. He died in Boston on the 13th of February 1728 and is buried in the Copps Hill burial ground, Boston. He was thrice married, but of his fifteen children only two survived him.

Though self-conscious and vain, Cotton Mather had on the whole a noble character. He believed strongly in the power of prayer and repeatedly had assurances that his prayers were heard; and when he was disappointed by non-fulfillment his grief and depression were terrible. His spiritual nature was high-strung and delicate; and this condition was aggravated by his constant study, his long fasts and his frequent vigils — in one year, according to his diary, he kept sixty fasts and twenty vigils. In his later years his diaries have less and less of personal detail, and repeated entries prefaced by the letters "G.D." meaning Good Device, embodying precepts of kindliness and practical Christianity. He was remarkable for his godliness, his enthusiasm for knowledge, and his prodigious memory. He became a skilled linguist, a widely read scholar — though much of his learning was more curious than useful — a powerful preacher, a valued citizen, and a voluminous writer, and did a vast deal for the intellectual and spiritual quickening of New England. He worked with might and main for the continuation of the old theocracy, but before he died it had given way before an increasing Liberalism — even Yale was infected with the Episcopalianism that he hated.

Among his four hundred or more published works, many of which are sermons, tracts and letters, the most notable is his Magnalia Christi Americana: or the Ecclesiastical History of New England, from Its First Planting in the Year 1620 unto the Year of Our Lord, 1698. Begun in 1693 and finished in 1697, this work was published in London, in 1702 in one volume, and was republished in Hartford in 1820 and in 1853-55 in two volumes. It is in seven books and concerns itself mainly with the settlement and religious history of New England. It is often inaccurate, and it abounds in far-fetched conceits and odd and pedantic features. Its style, though in the main rather unnatural and declamatory, is at its best spontaneous, dignified and rhythmical; the book is valuable for occasional facts and for its picture of the times, and it did much to make Mather the most eminent American writer of his day.

His other writings include A Poem Dedicated to the Memory of the Reverend and Excellent Mr. Urian Oakes (1682); The Present State of New England (1690); The Life of the Renowned John Eliot (1691), later included in Book III of the Magnalia; The Short History of New England (1694); Bonifacius, usually known as Essays To Do Good (Boston, 1710; Glasgow, 1825; Boston, 1845), one of his principal books and one which had a shaping influence on the life of Benjamin Franklin; Psalterium Americanum (1718), a blank verse translation of the Psalms from the original Hebrew; The Christian Philosopher: A Collection of the Best Discoveries in Nature, with Religious Improvements (1721) Parentator (1724), a memoir of his father; Ratio Disciplinae (1726), an account of the discipline in New England churches; Manuductio ad Ministerium: Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry (1726), one of the most readable of his books. He also left a number of works in manuscript, including diaries, a medical treatise and a huge commentary on the Bible, entitled Biblia Americana.

Father: Increase Mather (Puritan minister, b. 1639, d. 1723)

Son: Samuel Mather

Wife: Abigail Phillips (m. 1686, d. 1702)

Wife: Elizabeth Hubbard (m. 1703, d. 1713)

Wife: Lydia George (m. 1715, d. 1734)

University: BA, Harvard University (1678)

University: MA, Harvard University (1681)

Royal Society 1713

Author of books:

  • Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions (1689)
  • Wonders of the Invisible World (1693)
  • Magnalia Christi Americana (1702, history)
  • Bonifacius, or Essays to Do Good (1710, essays)
  • Curiosa Americana (1712-24, nonfiction)

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Despite the difference in their ages, Cotton Mather was a friend to Ben Franklin. Franklin mentioned Mather in some of his letters.

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Altogether, tens of thousands of innocent women were cruelly accused, tortured and executed because of two bible verses:

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22:18)

"A man or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them." (Leviticus 20:27)

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Rev. Cotton Mather, Salem Witch Trials's Timeline

February 12, 1663
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
June 14, 1694
Age 31
Boston, MA, USA
October 30, 1706
Age 43
Boston, Suffolk County, Province of Massachusetts
February 13, 1728
Age 65
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States