Cotton Mather Additional Biography

Biography

Cotton Mather (MATH-ur), born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1663, was one of the outstanding leaders of the early New England Puritan theocracy; he was also one of the last. He came to power at a time when the control of the church was nearing its end—an end which he spent his adult life trying to prevent, yet which some historians believe he actually hastened.

Cotton was the son of Increase Mather and eventually succeeded him as minister of the Second, or Old North, Church in Boston. First, from 1680 until 1723 (the year of Increase Mather’s death), he served as his father’s assistant. During much of his tenure as assistant minister he was actually in full charge, however, his father being either absent on political missions (as in the Andros affair, which took him to England) or engaged in other activities, such as those connected with his duties as president of Harvard College.

The son of a prominent minister and a child destined to become one of the influential leaders of the colony, Cotton Mather attended Harvard. A nervous, oversensitive, and precocious child, he was a college student at the age of twelve. His first intentions were to study medicine because he had a nervous stutter that he believed would keep him from the ministry, but he mastered this defect, partly through sheer determination, and began his duties at Old North Church upon his graduation in 1680, becoming ordained in 1685, after receiving his master’s degree in...

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Bibliography

Mages, Michael J. “Magnalia Christi Americana”: America’s Literary Testament. San Francisco: International Scholars, 1999. A modern discussion of Mather’s ecclesiastical history of New England.

Middlekauff, Robert. The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. A perspective on the Mather family’s contribution to early New England.

Post, Constance J. “Signs of the Times” in Cotton Mather’s “Paterna”: A Study of Puritan Autobiography. New York: AMS Press, 2000. A study of Mather’s autobiography.

Silverman, Kenneth. The Life and Times of Cotton Mather. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Helps to balance the once overly negative public estimate of Mather.