The Life and Times of Cotton Mather


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Table of Contents

Disapproval unnerved him because he desperately craved praise. Yet Mather's inability to be a completely selfless servant of God saddened him. He detested himself for his ''abominably proud Fishing for popular Applause. Silverman hypothesizes that Cotton Mather's immense vanity often made him act unwisely. This is truly a revisionist view. For years, biographers and historians have depicted him as inherently inhumane and even sadistic.

Mather's contemporaries, as well as generations of writers, saw his actions as definitive proof of his evil nature. But Silverman claims that the preacher would do virtually anything to win affection, even if his deeds contradicted his good judgment. Mather coveted renown. Silverman explains that ''he wished to become what he understood his father to have been, ' Unfortunately, he garnered sneers as well as compliments.

Mather's father disdainfully remarked that his son's torrent of publications evolved from ''Vanity, which the Earth Groans under. Silverman argues that Mather had a valid reason for desiring attention.

Cotton Mather at the Congregational Library: An Annotated Bibliography

His father, Increase, was a renowned Boston preacher whose remoteness made Mather wonder how much Increase cared for him. His self-esteem suffered, due to this father's detachment and the lofty standards of conduct and achievement he imposed upon his son. Increase did love Mather, but he was a man who did not display affection. Thomas Hutchinson summarized the Return, "The two first and the last sections of this advice took away the force of all the others, and the prosecutions went on with more vigor than before.

On August 19, , Mather attended the execution of George Burroughs [25] and four others who were executed after Mather spoke and Robert Calef presents him as playing a direct and influential role:. Buroughs [sic] 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 [as witches were not supposed to be able to recite] 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.


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The accusers said the black Man [Devil] stood and dictated to him. As soon as he was turned off [hanged], 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.

And this did somewhat appease the People, and the Executions went on; 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 [John] Willard and [Martha] Carrier, that one of his Hands, and his Chin, and a Foot of one of them, was left uncovered.

On September 2, , after eleven of the accused had been executed, Cotton Mather wrote a letter to Chief Justice William Stoughton congratulating him on "extinguishing of as wonderful a piece of devilism as has been seen in the world" and claiming that "one half of my endeavors to serve you have not been told or seen. Regarding spectral evidence, Upham concludes that "Cotton Mather never in any public writing 'denounced the admission' of it, never advised its absolute exclusion; but on the contrary recognized it as a ground of 'presumption' … [and once admitted] nothing could stand against it.

Character, reason, common sense, were swept away. The S. The later exclusion of spectral evidence from trials by Governor Phips, around the same time his own wife's Lady Mary Phips name coincidentally started being bandied about in connection with witchcraft, began in January This immediately brought about a sharp decrease in convictions. Due to a reprieve by Phips, there were no further executions. Phips's actions were vigorously opposed by William Stoughton.

Bancroft notes 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. In the years after the trials, of the principal actors in the trial, whose lives are recorded after, neither he nor Stoughton admitted strong misgivings.

Wonders of the Invisible World contained a few of Mather's sermons, the conditions of the colony and a description of witch trials in Europe. There are fourteen worthy ministers that have newly set their hands unto a book now in the press, containing Cases of Conscience about Witchcraft. The last major events in Mather's involvement with witchcraft were his interactions with Mercy Short in December and Margaret Rule in September He quotes the public apologies of the men on the jury and one of the judges.

Increase Mather was said to have publicly burned Calef's book in Harvard Yard around the time he was removed from the head of the college and replaced by Samuel Willard.

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In , William Frederick Poole quoted from various school textbooks of the time demonstrating they were in agreement on Cotton Mather's role in the Witch Trials:. If anyone imagines that we are stating the case too strongly, let him try an experiment with the first bright boy he meets by asking, Let him try another boy Poole was a librarian, and a lover of literature, including Mather's Magnalia "and other books and tracts, numbering nearly [which] were never so prized by collectors as today. Poole's critique, in book form, runs less than 70 pages but the name "Mather" occurs many more times than the other book, which is more than ten times as long.

Upham shows a balanced and complicated view of Cotton Mather, such as this first mention: "One of Cotton Mather's most characteristic productions is the tribute to his venerated master. It flows from a heart warm with gratitude. Upham's book refers to Robert Calef no fewer than 25 times with the majority of these regarding documents compiled by Calef in the mids and stating: "Although zealously devoted to the work of exposing the enormities connected with the witchcraft prosecutions, there is no ground to dispute the veracity of Calef as to matters of fact.

Calef produced only the one book; he is self-effacing and apologetic for his limitations, and on the title page he is listed not as author but "collector". Poole, champion of literature, cannot accept Calef whose "faculties, as indicated by his writings appear to us to have been of an inferior order;…", and his book "in our opinion, has a reputation much beyond its merits.

Upham responded to Poole referring to Poole as "the Reviewer" in a book running five times as long and sharing the same title but with the clauses reversed: Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather. Many of Poole's arguments were addressed, but both authors emphasize the importance of Cotton Mather's difficult and contradictory view on spectral evidence, as copied in the final pages, called "The Return of Several Ministers", of Increase Mather's "Cases of Conscience".

His book often expresses agreement with Upham but also announces an intention to show Cotton Mather in a more positive light. In , George Lyman Kittredge published an essay that would become foundational to a major change in the 20th-century view of witchcraft and Mather culpability therein. Kittredge is dismissive of Robert Calef, and sarcastic toward Upham, but shows a fondness for Poole and a similar soft touch toward Cotton Mather. Responding to Kittredge in , George Lincoln Burr , a historian at Cornell, published an essay that begins in a professional and friendly fashion toward both Poole and Kittredge, but quickly becomes a passionate and direct criticism, stating that Kittredge in the "zeal of his apology… reached results so startlingly new, so contradictory of what my own lifelong study in this field has seemed to teach, so unconfirmed by further research… and withal so much more generous to our ancestors than I can find it in my conscience to deem fair, that I should be less than honest did I not seize this earliest opportunity share with you the reasons for my doubts…" [40] In referring to "ancestors" Burr primarily means the Mathers, as is made clear in the substance of the essay.

The final paragraph of Burr's essay pushes these men's debate into the realm of a progressive creed. Perhaps as a continuation of his argument, in , George Lincoln Burr published a large compilation "Narratives". This book arguably continues to be the single most cited reference on the subject. Unlike Poole and Upham, Burr avoids forwarding his previous debate with Kittredge directly into his book and mentions Kittredge only once, briefly in a footnote citing both of their essays from and , but without further comment.

Poole that Brattle here means Cotton Mather himself, is adequately answered by Upham…" [43] Burr's "Narratives" reprint a lengthy but abridged portion of Calef's book and introducing it he digs deep into the historical record for information on Calef and concludes "…that he had else any grievance against the Mathers or their colleagues there is no reason to think. Murdock's father was a banker hired in to run the Harvard Press [45] and he published his son's dissertation as a handsome volume in Increase Mather, The Foremost American Puritan Harvard University Press.


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Kittredge was right hand man to the elder Murdock at the Press. Scholars have demonstrated that his advice to the witch judges was always that they should be more cautious in accepting evidence" against the accused. But one wonders who Murdock would have meant by "scholars" at this time other than Poole, Kittredge, and TJ Holmes below [48] and Murdock's obituary calls him a pioneer "in the reversal of a movement among historians of American culture to discredit the Puritan and colonial period…" [49].

Holmes was an Englishman with no college education, but he apprenticed in bookbinding and emigrated to the U. Mather Library in Ohio [50] where he likely met Murdock. In , Holmes wrote an essay for the Bibliographical Society of America identifying himself as part of the Poole-Kittredge lineage and citing Kenneth B. Murdock's still unpublished dissertation. Holmes often cites Murdock and Kittredge and is highly knowledgeable about the construction of books.

Holmes' work also includes Cotton Mather's October 20, letter see above to his uncle opposing an end to the trials. Morison chose not to include anyone with the surname Mather or Cotton in his collection of twelve "builders" and in the bibliography writes "I have a higher opinion than most historians of Cotton Mather's Magnalia … Although Mather is inaccurate, pedantic, and not above suppresio veri , he does succeed in giving a living picture of the person he writes about. Morison's view seems to have evolved over the course of the s, as can be seen in Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century published while Kittredge ran the Harvard press, and in a year that coincided with the tercentary of the college: "Since the appearance of Professor Kittredge's work, it is not necessary to argue that a man of learning…" of that era should be judged on his view of witchcraft.

Like Poole, Morison suggests Calef had an agenda against Mather, without providing supporting evidence. Miller seems to imagine Cotton Mather as sensitive, tender, and a good vehicle for his jeremiad thesis: "His mind was bubbling with every sentence of the jeremiads, for he was heart and soul in the effort to reorganize them. Hansen states a purpose to "set the record straight" and reverse the "traditional interpretation of what happened at Salem…" and names Poole and Kittredge as like-minded influences. Hansen reluctantly keys his footnotes to Burr's anthology for the reader's convenience, "in spite of [Burr's] anti-Puritan bias…" Hansen presents Mather as a positive influence on the Salem Trials and considers Mather's handling of the Goodwin children sane and temperate.

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In the preface, Wood discusses the Harvard-based revision and writes that Kittredge and Murdock "added to a better understanding of a vital and courageous man…". Debate continues on the attitude and role of Cotton Mather…". Toward the later half of the twentieth century, a number of historians at universities far from New England seemed to find inspiration in the Kittredge lineage.

Historian Larry Gregg highlights Mather's cloudy thinking and confusion between sympathy for the possessed, and the boundlessness of spectral evidence when Mather stated, "the devil have sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent, but also the very virtuous. The practice of smallpox inoculation as opposed to the later practice of vaccination was developed possibly in 8th-century India [63] or 10th-century China.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the Royal Society in England was discussing the practice of inoculation, and the smallpox epidemic in spurred further interest. Smallpox was a serious threat in colonial America, most devastating to Native Americans, but also to Anglo-American settlers. New England suffered smallpox epidemics in , —90, and During this era, public authorities in Massachusetts dealt with the threat primarily by means of quarantine.

Incoming ships were quarantined in Boston harbor, and any smallpox patients in town were held under guard or in a "pesthouse". In , Mather's slave, Onesimus , explained to Mather how he had been inoculated as a child in Africa. Mather then declared, in a letter to Dr John Woodward of Gresham College in London, that he planned to press Boston's doctors to adopt the practice of inoculation should smallpox reach the colony again. By , a whole generation of young Bostonians was vulnerable and memories of the last epidemic's horrors had by and large disappeared.

Despite attempts to protect the town through quarantine, nine known cases of smallpox appeared in Boston by May 27, and by mid-June, the disease was spreading at an alarming rate. As a new wave of smallpox hit the area and continued to spread, many residents fled to outlying rural settlements. The combination of exodus, quarantine, and outside traders' fears disrupted business in the capital of the Bay Colony for weeks. Guards were stationed at the House of Representatives to keep Bostonians from entering without special permission.

The death toll reached in September, and the Selectmen , powerless to stop it, "severely limited the length of time funeral bells could toll. On June 6, , Mather sent an abstract of reports on inoculation by Timonius and Jacobus Pylarinus to local physicians, urging them to consult about the matter. He received no response. Next, Mather pleaded his case to Dr. Zabdiel Boylston , who tried the procedure on his youngest son and two slaves—one grown and one a boy.

All recovered in about a week. Boylston inoculated seven more people by mid-July. The epidemic peaked in October , with deaths; by February 26, , Boston was again free from smallpox. The total number of cases since April came to 5,, with deaths—more than three-quarters of all the deaths in Boston during Boylston and Mather's inoculation crusade "raised a horrid Clamour" [76] among the people of Boston. Both Boylston and Mather were "Object[s] of their Fury; their furious Obloquies and Invectives", which Mather acknowledges in his diary.

Boston's Selectmen, consulting a doctor who claimed that the practice caused many deaths and only spread the infection, forbade Boylston from performing it again. The New-England Courant published writers who opposed the practice. The editorial stance was that the Boston populace feared that inoculation spread, rather than prevented, the disease; however, some historians, notably H.

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The life and times of Cotton Mather

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Cotton Mather - Samples From The Diary of Cotton Mather 1681, Calling Upon God for Assistance

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The Life and Times of Cotton Mather The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
The Life and Times of Cotton Mather The Life and Times of Cotton Mather

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