Cotton Mather

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Cotton Mather

Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 13 Feb 1728 (aged 65)
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Burial Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Memorial ID 684 · View Source
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Theologian, Author. He is most remember for his associate with Salem Witch Trials held in the American colony of Massachusetts, a Puritan minister and for being the author of numerous publications. His father, Rev. Increase Mather, held a position of prominence as a well-admired political leader, minister as well as the presidency of Harvard College. Excelling in his entrance exams in Latin and Greek, he began his studies at Harvard College at the age of twelve. After receiving his M.A. at the age of 18, he felt a calling to follow in his father's footsteps and enter the church ministry; both of his grandfathers were well-known Puritan ministers. Stuttering from childhood forced him to delay entering the ministry as he was expected to preach sermons, instead he started studying medicine to become a physician. After gaining control of stuttering, he went back to his ministry calling but held an interest in medicine. He preached his first sermon in August of 1680, was ordained by 1685 at age 22 and went on to be remembered as one of the most influential Puritan ministers of the era. His sermons were often on the subject of “Satan and burning in hell” as he believed that New England was in fact Satan's battleground. Though he was not directly involved with the witch trials, he was the adviser to the judges of the court. He wrote several documents giving his opinion on the work of Satan in an innocent person which influenced the judges of these trials. Rev. Mather did believe in witches. His most important publications on the supernatural are ”Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions” in 1689 and “Wonders of the Invisible World” in 1693. Published writings from his personal diary proved that the subject of eternal damnation was always on his mind. From February 1692 to May 1693 twenty people, mostly women, were found guilty of being witches and executed, and depending on whose interpretation of history is his actual role in this miscarriage of justice. Several more died in jail from being abused while waiting trial including a newborn baby. Although he received an honorary Doctorate in Divinity in 1710 from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, he never achieved his father's success as a political leader or the president of Harvard College, but he did find success in the pen with his prolific writings. He published over 450 of his books or pamphlets, ranging from the subject of witchcraft, smallpox vaccination, sermons, poetry, history, religious and scientific essays. He wrote his books in seven different languages, which were studied for generations by many notable men world-wide. His greatest work was his 1702 “Magnalia Christi Americana”, a narrative of the history of the church in New England. His publication “Curiosa Americana” from 1712 to 1724, demonstrated his abilities as an accomplished scientist, and earned him election to the prestigious Royal Society of London, England. Recognized as being a progressive medical advocate for his day, he believed strongly in the vaccination for smallpox, but was met strongly with public resistance. He nearly killed his own son to prove his point. He had to deal with heartbreaking ordeals during his life. At one point, he sought to sue a man for slander about what was said about him and the witch trials, but in the end, he did nothing and took the scorn of his witch-hunting. The trials did block any chance of him becoming presidency of Harvard College. As the years passed, his thoughts on the subject mellowed, thus had regret and remorse that the trials had happened. His early bitter criticisms of other churches later gave way to a spirit of acceptance. In November 1713, Mather's wife, newborn twins, and two-year-old daughter all succumbed during a measles epidemic. Only six of his fifteen children lived to adulthood. His third wife was declared insane. Being the oldest child in his family, he was responsible for three widowed sisters, hence he always had financial burdens. He died at age 66, leaving his third wife and only two of his children as survivors.

Bio by: Linda Davis

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 684
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Cotton Mather (12 Feb 1663–13 Feb 1728), Find a Grave Memorial no. 684, citing Copp's Hill Burying Ground, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .