Cotton Mather

Born: 1663 Boston, Massachusetts Died: 1728 Boston, Massachusetts

Clergyman, scientist, and writer

Puritan minister Cotton Mather was instrumental in escalating the witch-hunts in New England during the late 1600s. Along with his father, Increase Mather (1639-1723; see primary source entry), who was also a prominent minister, he published works providing evidence that witchcraft was being practiced in Massachusetts communities. In 1693, after the start of the Salem trials, Cotton Mather wrote The Wonders of the Invisible World, in which he claimed that the devil was testing Puritans by bringing witches into their midst (see The Wonders of the Invisible World in the Primary Sources section). He advocated (supported) waging a holy war against the forces of evil by tracking down and eliminating witches. Yet Mather's involvement in the trials continues to intrigue modern historians: although he was one of the great colonial American theologians (reliogious scholar) and readily accepted such superstitions as the belief in witchcraft, he was also a leading scientist. Mather and inventor Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) were the only colonial Americans to be elected to the Royal Society of London, a prestigious scientific organization in England. Reconciling this aspect of his life with his religious views,

Cotton Mather was a prominent minister and scientist.

Reproduced courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Mather advocated the study of science as a means of teaching about God. A well-informed amateur physician (one who has no formal medical training), Mather was at the forefront of promoting medical advances such as smallpox inoculation. His book The Angel of Bethesda (1722), a catalog of common ailments and their remedies, made significant contributions to colonial American medicine. A man of extreme contradictions, Mather had a life filled with disappointment and anguish.

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