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Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather (1664 - 1728). B.A. 1678 (Harvard), M.A. 1681; honorary doctorate 1710 (University of Glasgow). Son of Increase Mather. Socially and politically influential Puritan minister, prolific author, and pamphleteer.

Mather graduated from Harvard in 1678 at only 15 years of age. After completing his post-graduate work, he joined his father as assistant Pastor of Boston's Old North Church. It was not until his father's death in 1723 that Mather assumed full responsibilities as Pastor at the Church.

Author of more than 450 books and pamphlets, his ubiquitous literary works made him one of the most influential religious leaders in America. In his numerous writings, Mather set the nation's moral tone, 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.

A friend of a number of the Judges charged with hearing the Salem Witch Trials, Mather urged the judges to give weight to spectral evidence. Writing of the trials later, Mather stated:

"If in the midst of the many Dissatisfactions 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).

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

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 fifteen children, only one wife and two children survived him. Mather was buried on Copp's Hill.

Mather's Major Works By Date

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