Cotton Mather

Reiner Smolinski

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Cotton Mather


Few colonial Americans continue to divide public opinion as sharply as does Cotton Mather (b. 1663–d. 1728), whose sullied reputation has never fully recovered from the Salem witchcraft tragedy. While the Menkens of this world persist in invoking his name as the epitome of everything that is wrong with America, recent scholars have been more nuanced in their contextual reconstruction of Mather’s life and times. The eldest child of the New England clergyman Increase Mather and grandson of the Bay Colony’s Puritan founders Richard Mather and John Cotton, Cotton Mather was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and became the most prominent scion of a family dynasty of clergymen that spanned four generations (1596–1785). Entering Harvard College at age eleven (BA, 1678; MA, 1681), he studied for the ministry and the medical profession. He was ordained in 1685 and ministered to his father’s (Old) North Church (Congregational) for more than forty-two years. Well known both at home and in Europe, he corresponded with colleagues as far away as India, received an honorary DD degree from Glasgow University, Scotland (1710), and was elected a member of the Royal Society of London (1713) for his scientific contributions to this illustrious society. Among the most significant chapters in his life are his role in the Glorious Revolution in New England (April 1689); his involvement in the Salem witchcraft debacle (1691–1693); his Pietist ecumenism; his millennialism; his promotion of reform societies (1700–1728); his advocacy of smallpox inoculation (1721–1723); and his numerous writings on history, biography, natural science, medicine, theology, and biblical criticism. In all, Cotton Mather published more than 450 titles on virtually every subject of significance at the time. He owned the largest private library in the English colonies of North America and left behind in manuscript form several major works that only recently have begun to appear in print. Most important, he was at the forefront of the scientific and hermeneutic debate (early Enlightenment) and tried to reconcile the old with the new cosmologies in the first American Bible commentary, his Biblia Americana. In light of his numerous publications, only a selection of some of his most important and thematically linked publications can be treated in this bibliography.

Article.  21570 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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