- The Mathers were one of the leading New England Congregationalist families of the 17th century. They offered theological and practical guidance to the church, when religion still played a key role in shaping the Massachusetts Bay Colony.Richard Mather (1596-1669) was a self-educated teacher in Toxteth Park, near Liverpool. A convert to Puritanism, he was ordained to the ministry in 1620 and became pastor of a Puritan flock in Toxteth Park. in 1633, he was silenced by the authorities for refusing to conform to the practice of the Church of England. To avoid further trouble, he, his wife, Catherine, and their sons Samuel, Timothy, and Nathaniel moved to New England, where two more sons were born, Eleazer and Increase.Shortly after his arrival in 1636, Mather became pastor of the North Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the site of his ministry for the next 34 years. He emerged as a leading figure in the colony and was frequently invited to help settle disputes within the Congregational churches. He also became the editor of Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in what would become the United States. He died in Boston on April 22, 1669.Increase Mather (1639-1723) attended Harvard and Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. He remained in Britain while the Puritan Commonwealth was in power but returned to New England in 1660 at the restoration of the monarchy. In 1661, he became pastor of the North Church, Boston, where he stayed for the rest of his life. In 1685, he was named president of Harvard. Increase was a defender of the Congregational system and resisted the attempts of British representatives, particularly Sir Edmond Andros (1637-1714), to bring Massachusetts into conformity with Anglican practice. In 1688, he presented Massachusetts's case in England and was able to obtain a new charter that, among other things, brought the separatists at Plymouth into the colony. Increase remained active during the Salem witchcraft trials, about which he wrote one book, Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits (1693).Cotton Mather (1663-1728), the last of the leading lights of the family, was born and raised in Boston. He entered Harvard when only 11 and graduated at age 15. Overcoming a pronounced stutter, Cotton was ordained in 1685 and served with his father at North Church, Boston, eventually succeeding him in 1723. By continuous study, Cotton turned himself into one of the leading scholars of his era. His library of 450 volumes was the largest personal library in North America at the time.In 1689, Cotton published his Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (1689), which served as a background for the trials at Salem. He first approved of the trials, but later worked actively to end them. However, he continued to pursue the subject in his next book, Wonders of the Invisible World (1693). By this time, public sentiment had turned against all who had been involved in the trials, and Cotton was sharply criticized by Robert Calef, the major voice of the posttrial skeptics.Cotton's magnum opus, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), was an ecclesiastical history of New England, which explored how God's will had been manifested in the colony. He was deeply interested in science and was the first native-born American to become a fellow of the Royal Society (1713). He supported smallpox inoculation when it was still controversial. He became one of the founders of Yale.Further reading:■ Barry Richard Burg, Richard Mather of Dorchester (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976)■ Increase Mather, Life and Death of Richard Mather (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969)■ Robert Middlekauff, The Mathers; Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971)■ Kenneth B. Murdock, Increase Mather. The Foremost American Puritan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1925)■ Kenneth Silverman, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (New York: Harper & Row, 1984)■ Barrett Wendell, Cotton Mather, Puritan Priest (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1891; reprint, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1925).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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