Rev. Increase Mather

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Increase Mather

Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Dorchester, Suffolk, Massachusetts
Death: August 23, 1723 (84)
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
Place of Burial: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Rev. Richard Mather and Catherine Mather
Husband of Maria Mather and Anne Mather
Father of Rev. Cotton Mather, Salem Witch Trials; Maria Fifield; Elizabeth Byles; Nathaniel Mather; Sarah Walter and 5 others
Brother of Rev. Samuel Mather; Timothy Mather; Rev. Nathaniel Mather; Joseph Mather and Rev. Eleazer Mather

Occupation: Clergyman, Reverand, Religion, Author, Minister, pastor of North Church in Boston and president of Harvard in 1684, President of Harvard College, Reverend
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Rev. Increase Mather

Wikipedia says (downloaded March 20, 2010 from

Increase Mather (June 21, 1639 – August 23, 1723) was a major figure in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay (now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). He was a Puritan minister who was involved with the government of the colony, the administration of Harvard College, and most notoriously, the Salem witch trials. He was the son of Richard Mather and father of Cotton Mather, both influential Puritan ministers.


Early life

Mather was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on June 21, 1639 to Rev. Richard Mather and Kathrine Holt Mather following their participation in the Great Migration from England due to nonconformity with the Church of England. He was the youngest of six brothers: Samuel, Nathaniel, Eleazar, Joseph, and Timothy.

Three of his brothers (Samuel, Nathaniel and Eleazar) also became ministers.


In 1651 Mather was admitted to Harvard where he roomed with and studied under John Norton. When he graduated (1656) with a B.A., he began to train for the ministry and gave his first sermon on his eighteenth birthday. He quickly left Massachusetts and went to Ireland, where he studied at Trinity College in Dublin for an M.A.. He graduated in 1659 and spent the next 3 years as a chaplain attached to a garrison in the Channel Islands.

During his time at Trinity College he was licensed as a Commonwealth Minister by Oliver Cromwell to the joint charge of St. Tida's Church at Ballyscullion and St. Swithan's Church in Magherafelt. On Cromwell's death in 1659 his joint charge at these South Londonderry churches was quickly severed by the new authorities.

Harvard was to later award him the first honorary degree in the New World, a S.T.D., in 1692.

The house built in 1677 by Increase Mather near the north corner of Hanover and North Bennet Streets, Boston, survived into the 20th century

Establishing himself in Massachusetts

In 1661, with the advent of the English Restoration and resurgence of Anglicanism, Increase returned to Massachusetts, where he married Maria Cotton. She was his stepsister[6] by virtue of his father's marriage to Sarah Hankredge, the widow of John Cotton and mother of Maria. She gave birth to Cotton Mather in February, 1663.

He published in 1676 A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England, a contemporary account of King Philip's War.

He was ordained as minister of the North Church, whose congregation included many of the upper class and governing class, on May 27, 1664. He held this post until he died. By virtue of his position he quickly became one of the most influential people in the colony, both religiously and politically.


In June 11, 1685 he became the Acting President of Harvard University (then Harvard College) and steadily advanced: A little over a year later on July 23, 1686 he was appointed the Rector. On June 27, 1692 he became the President of Harvard, a position which he held until September 6, 1701.

He was rarely present on campus or in the town, especially during his term of Rector as he was out of the Colony for all but two years of his term in that office. Despite his absences he did make some changes: reimplementation of Greek and Hebrew instruction, replacement of classical Roman authors with Biblical and Christian authors in ethics classes, enactment of requirements that students attend classes regularly, live and eat on campus and that seniors not haze other students.

Involvement in politics

While politics and Puritan religion were closely related during Increase's life time, his first direct involvement with politics occurred as a result of James II of England's manipulation of the New England governments. In 1686 James revoked the Charter of Massachusetts in the process of creating the unresponsible Dominion of New England.

The Dominion was headed by Edmund Andros, who not only disliked puritanism and was haughty, but ruled as a near absolute dictator: Town meetings were outlawed, leaving the Dominion without consent of the governed, marriage was removed from the clergy, and the Old South Church was temporarily appropriated for Anglican services. The 1687 Declaration of Indulgence, prohibiting discrimination against Catholics, also saw staunch opposition from the Puritan establishment. When Mather successfully roused opposition to revocation of the charter, he was nearly framed for treason. He then traveled to London (eluding spies out to catch him) to petition the King.

While engaged in petitioning he published pieces to build popular support for his positions, such as A Narrative of the Miseries of New-England, By Reason of an Arbitrary Government Erected there Under Sir Edmund Andros (1688) and A Brief Relation for the Confirmation of Charter Privileges (1691).

He also attempted to restore the old charter and obtain a royal charter for Harvard; however, he abandoned that course and changed his petitions to a new charter not lacking any of the rights previously granted. Following the Glorious Revolution and subsequent overthrow of Andros, a new charter was granted to the colony. The 1692 charter was a major departure from its predecessor, granting sweeping home rule, establishing an elective legislature, enfranchising all freeholders (previously only men admitted to a congregation could vote), and uniting the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony. Following Andros' deposition and arrest, he had William Phips appointed as Royal Governor and they returned to Massachusetts, arriving on May 14 1692.

Following his return, the administration of Harvard grew increasingly insistent that he reside nearer to the institution. Not wanting to leave his Second Church, he didn't, eventually resigning the Presidency.

Involvement in the Salem witch trials

As an influential member of the community, Increase was involved in the notorious witch hysteria of Salem, Massachusetts. As the court of oyer and terminer was beginning to hear cases of suspected witchcraft, Increase published "The Return of Several Ministers Consulted," which urged moderation in the use and credence of "spectral evidence." In June and July 1692 as the trials and executions grew, Mather made a number of sermons interpreted as a plea to cool the heated atmosphere. In September he published Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men, Witchcrafts, infallible Proofs of Guilt in such as are accused with that Crime (more commonly known as just "Cases of conscience concerning evil spirits"), which defended the judges and trials, but strongly denounced the spectral evidence used by them. It said, "It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned." (A slightly altered version of this phrase would later become known as Blackstone's formulation.) Afterwards, his reputation was not improved by his involvement and association with the trials, nor by his subsequent refusal to denounce them. His refusal to repudiate was likely because of his longtime friendship with the judges involved. He was also defamed by Robert Calef in his harshly critical More Wonders of the Invisible World (referred to as More Wonders of the Spiritual World by the Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition).

The Pavement song "Give It A Day" is about the Salem Witch Trials and both Increase and Cotton Mather's involvement in them.

Later life and death

The Mather tomb in Copp's Hill Cemetery

Following Maria's death in August 1714, he remarried. On September 27, 1722 he fainted and was bedridden thereafter. In August 1723 he suffered bladder failure and died three weeks later on August 23, 1723 in Boston and was buried on Copp's Hill.


Throughout his life Mather was a staunch Puritan, opposing anything openly contradictory to, mutually exclusive with, or potentially "distracting" from his religious beliefs. He supported suppression of intoxication, unnecessary effort on Sundays and ostentatious clothing. He was initially opposed to the Half-Way Covenant but later supported it. He firmly believed in the direct appearance of God's disfavor in everyday life, e.g. the weather, political situations, attacks by "Indians", fires and floods, etc.

He was strenuous in attempting to keep people to his idea of morality, making strong use of jeremiads to try to prevent indifference and especially to try to get government officials to enforce public morality.

During his tenure at Harvard he regularly stamped out any relaxation of Puritan strictness, such as latitudinarianism, which had flourished during his overseas absence.

Following his acceptance of the Covenant, Solomon Stoddard and others attempted to further liberalize Puritanism by baptism of children who had nonmember parents and admittance of all but the openly immoral to services. To try and stop this, he had a synod called in an attempt to outlaw similar measures. A declaration was adopted, but never made binding. Following this, reform-minded members were sent to the body and it took on a less conservative tone, bitterly disappointing Mather.

Given name

The stated reason for his first name was "...the never-to-be-forgotten increase, of every sort, wherewith God favoured the country about the time of his nativity." ["Increase" is a literal translation of the Hebrew name "Yosëf" (Joseph).]


Among his more than 125 published works, the following are most notable (Note that his name, Latinized was "Crecentius Matherius"):

   * The Mystery of Israel's Salvation (1669)
   * The Life and Death of That Reverend Man of God, Mr. Richard Mather (1670)
   * Wo to Drunkards: Two sermons Testifying against the Sin of Drunkenness (1673)
   * The Day of Trouble Is Near (1674)
   * A Discourse concerning the Subject of Baptisme (1675)
   * The Wicked Mans Portion (1675)
   * A Brief History of the Warr With the Indians in New-England (1676) Online text
   * An Earnest Exhortation To the Inhabitants of New-England (1676) Online text
   * A Relation of the Troubles which Have Hapned in New-England by Reason of the Indians There from the Year 1614 to the Year 1675 (1677)
   * A Discourse concerning the Danger of Apostasy (1679)
   * The Divine Right of Infant-Baptisme Asserted and Proved from Scripture and Antiquity (1680)
   * A Confession of Faith Owned and Consented unto by the Elders and Messengers of the Churches Assembled at Boston (1680)
   * Heavens Alarm to the World (1681)
   * Diatriba de signo Filii Hominis, et de secundo Messiæadventu; ubi de modo futuræ judæorum conversionis; nec non de signis novissimi diei, disseritur (1682)
   * Kometographia, or, A Discourse concerning Comets (1683)
   * An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684)
   * An Arrow against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing Drawn out of the Quiver of Scriptures (1684)
   * The Mystery of Christ Opened and Applyed in Several Sermons concerning the Person, Office, and Glory of Jesus Christ (1686)
   * De successu evangelij apud Indos in Novâ-Angliâ epistola (1688)
   * A Narrative of the Miseries of New-England, by Reason of an Arbitrary Government Erected There under Sir Edmond Andross (1688)
   * Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits (1693) Online text
   * A Further Account of the Tryals of the New-England Witches (1693) Online text
   * Angelographia, or, A Discourse concerning the Nature and Power of the Holy Angels (1696)
   * The Order of the Gospel, Professed and Practised by the Churches of Christ in New-England (1700)
   * The Blessed Hope, and the Glorious Appearing of the Great God our Saviour, Jesus Christ (1701)
   * Ichabod: or, The Glory Departing (1702)
   * Soul-saving Gospel Truths (1703)
   * A Discourse concerning Earthquakes (1706)
   * A Dissertation concerning the Future Conversion of the Jewish Nation (1709)
   * Meditations on the Glory of the Heavenly World (1711)
   * A Disquisition concerning Ecclesiastical Councils (1716)

[edit] Works About

Search Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Increase Mather

   * Michael G. Hall. The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather. Wesleyan, 1992.
   * Thomas James Holmes. Increase Mather: a Bibliography of his Works. Cleveland, 1931.
   * Mason I. Lowance. Increase Mather. New York, 1974.
   * Robert Middlekauf. The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728. New York, 1971.
   * Kenneth B. Murdock. Increase Mather: The Foremost American Puritan. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1925.


American Congregational minister, born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on the 21st of June 1639, the youngest son of Richard Mather. He entered Harvard in 1651, and graduated in 1656. In 1657, on his eighteenth birthday, he preached his first sermon; in the same year he went to visit his eldest brother in Dublin, and studied there at Trinity College, where he graduated M.A. in 1658. He was chaplain to the English garrison at Guernsey in April to December 1659 and again in 1661; and in the latter year, refusing valuable livings in England offered on condition of conformity, he returned to America. In the winter of 1661-62 he began to preach to the Second (or North) Church of Boston, and was ordained there on the 27th of May 1664. As a delegate from Dorchester, his father's church, to the Synod of 1662, he opposed the Half-Way Covenant adopted by the Synod and defended by Richard Mather and by Jonathan Mitchell (1624-1668) of Cambridge; but soon afterwards he "surrendered a glad captive" to "the truth so victoriously cleared by Mr. Mitchell", and like his father and his son became one of the chief exponents of the Half-Way Covenant. He was bitterly opposed, however, to the liberal practices that followed the Half-Way Covenant and (after 1677) in particular to "Stoddardeanism", the doctrine of Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729) that all "such Persons as have a good Conversation and a Competent Knowledge may come to the Lord's Supper", only those of openly immoral life being excluded. In May 1679 Mather was a petitioner to the General Court for the call of a Synod to consider the reformation in New England of "the Evils that have Provoked the Lord to bring his Judgments", and when the "Reforming Synod" met in September it appointed him one of a committee to draft a creed; this committee reported in May 1680, at the Synod's second session, of which Mather was moderator, the Savoy Declaration (slightly modified, notably in the chapter "Of the Civil Magistrate"), which was approved but was not made mandatory on the churches by the General Court, and in 1708 was reaffirmed at Saybrook, Connecticut. With the Cambridge Platform of 1646, drafted by his father, the Confession of 1680, for which Increase Mather was largely responsible, was printed as a book of doctrine and government for the churches of Massachusetts.

After the threat of a Quo Warranto writ in 1683 for the surrender of the Massachusetts charter, Mather used all his tremendous influence to persuade the colonists not to give up the charter; and the Boston freemen unanimously voted against submission. The royal agents immediately afterwards sent to London a treasonable letter, falsely attributed to Mather; but its spuriousness seems to have been suspected in England and Mather was not "fetch'd over and made a Sacrifice." He became a leader in the opposition to Sir Edmund Andros, to his secretary Edward Randolph, and to Governor Joseph Dudley. He was chosen by the General Court to represent the colony's interests in England, eluded officers sent to arrest him, and in disguise boarded a ship on which he reached Weymouth on the 6th of May 1688. In London he acted with Sir Henry Ashurst, the resident agent, and had two or three fruitless audiences with James II. His first audience with William III was on the 9th of January 1689; he was active in influencing the Commons to vote (1689) that the New England charters should be restored; and he published A Narrative of the Miseries of New-England, By Reason of an Arbitrary Government Erected there Under Sir Edmund Andros (1688), A Brief Relation for the Confirmation of Charter Privileges (1691), and other pamphlets. In 1690 he was joined by Elisha Cooke (1638-1715) and Thomas Oakes (1644-1719), additional agents, who were uncompromisingly for the renewal of the old charter. Mather, however, was instrumental in securing a new charter (signed on October 7, 1691), and prevented the annexation of the Plymouth Colony to New York. The nomination of officers left to the Crown was reserved to the agents. Mather had expressed strong dissatisfaction with the clause giving the governor the right of veto and regretted the less theocratic tone of the charter which made all freemen (and not merely church members) electors. With Sir William Phips, the new governor, a member of Mather's church, he arrived in Boston on the 14th of May 1692. The value of his services to the colony at this time is not easily over-estimated. In England he won the friendship of divines like Baxter, Tillotson and Burnet, and effectively promoted the union in 1691 of English Presbyterians and Congregationalists. He was at heavy expense throughout his stay, and even greater than his financial loss was his loss of authority and control in the church and in Harvard College because of his absence.

Mather had been acting president of Harvard College in 1681-82, and in June 1685 he again became acting president (or rector), but still preached every Sunday in Boston and would not comply with an order of the General Court that he should reside in Cambridge. In 1701 after a short residence there he returned to Boston and wrote to the General Court to "think of another President for the Colledge." The opposition to him had been increasing in strength, his resignation was accepted, and Samuel Willard took charge of the college as vice-president, although he also refused to reside in Cambridge. That Mather's administration of the college was excellent is admitted even by his harsh critic, Josiah Quincy, in his History of Harvard University. The Liberal party, which now came into control in the college repeatedly disappointed the hopes of Cotton Mather that he might be chosen president, and by its ecclesiastical laxness and its broader views of Church polity forced the Mathers to turn from Harvard to Yale as a truer school of the prophets.

The Liberal leaders, John Leverett (1662-1724), William Brattle (1662-1713) -- who graduated with Leverett in 1680, and with him as tutor controlled the college during Increase Mather's absence in England -- William Brattle's eldest brother, Thomas Brattle (1658-1713), and Ebenezer Pemberton (1671-1717), pastor of the Old South Church, desired an "enrichment of the service", and greater liberality in the matter of baptism. In 1697 the Second Boston Church, in which Cotton Mather had been his father's colleague since 1685, upbraided the Charlestown Church "for betraying the liberties of the churches in their late putting into the hands of the whole inhabitants the choice of a minister." In 1699 Increase Mather published The Order of the Gospel, which severely, although indirectly, criticized the methods of the "Liberals" in establishing the Brattle Street Church and especially the ordination of their minister Benjamin Colman by a Presbyterian body in London; the Liberals replied with The Gospel Order Revived, which was printed in New York to lend color to the (partly true) charge of its authors that the printers of Massachusetts would print nothing hostile to Increase Mather. The autocracy of the Mathers in church, college, colony and press, had slipped from them. The later years of Mather's life were spent almost entirely in the work of the ministry, now beginning to be a less varied career than when he entered on it. He died on the 23rd of August 1723. He married in 1662 Maria, daughter of Sarah and John Cotton. His first wife died in 1714; and in 1715 he married Ann Lake, widow of John Cotton, of Hampton, New Hampsire, a grandson of John Cotton of Boston.

Increase Mather was a great preacher with a simple style and a splendid voice, which had a "Tonitruous Cogency", to quote his son's phrase. His style was much simpler and more vernacular than his son's. He was an assiduous student, commonly spending sixteen hours a day among his books; but his learning (to quote Justin Winsor's contrast between Increase and Cotton Mather) "usually left his natural ability and his education free from entanglements." He was not so much self-seeking and personally ambitious as eager to advance the cause of the church in which he so implicitly believed. That it is a mistake to consider him a narrow churchman is shown by his assisting in 1718 at the ordination of Elisha Callender in the First Baptist Church of Boston. Like the most learned men of his time he was superstitious and a firm believer in "praesagious impressions"; his Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences: Wherein an Account is Given of many Remarkable and very Memorable Events which have Hapned in this Last Age, Especially in New England (1684) shows that he believed only less thoroughly than his son in witchcraft, though in his Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits (1693) he considered some current proofs of witchcraft inadequate. The revulsion of feeling after the witchcraft delusion undermined his authority greatly, and Roberts Calef's More Wonders of the Spiritual World (1700) was a personal blow to him as well as to his son. With Jonathan Edwards, than whom he was much more of a man of affairs, and with Benjamin Franklin, whose mission in England somewhat resembled Mather's, he may be ranked among the greatest Americans of the period before the War of Independence.

The first authority for the life of Increase Mather is the work of his son Cotton Mather, Parentator: Memoirs of Remarkables in the Life and Death of the Ever Memorable Dr. Increase Mather (Boston, 1724); there are also a memoir and constant references in Cotton Mathers Magnalia (London, 1702).

Father: Richard Mather (Puritan minister)

Mother: Katherine Holt Mather

Brother: Samuel Mather (Puritan minister)

Brother: Nathaniel Mather (Puritan minister)

Wife: Maria Cotton Mather (m. 1662)

Son: Cotton Mather (Puritan minister, b. 1663, d. 1728)

   University: BA, Harvard University (1656)
   University: MA, Trinity College Dublin (1658)
   Administrator: Acting President, Harvard University (1681-82)
   Administrator: Acting President, Harvard University (1685-1701)

Author of books:

A History of the War with the Indians (1676)

An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684)

Case of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men (1693)

view all 20

Rev. Increase Mather's Timeline

June 21, 1639
Dorchester, Suffolk, Massachusetts
June 23, 1639
Dorchester, Norfolk, Massachusetts
February 12, 1663
Age 23
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
March 17, 1664
Age 24
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
January 6, 1665
Age 25
Boston, Suffolk, MA, USA
July 6, 1669
Age 30
November 9, 1671
Age 32
Boston, MA, USA
Age 34
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
April 16, 1677
Age 37
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts Bay Colony