Increase Mather

From Remarkable Providences (1684)

Reprinted in Major Problems in American Colonial History in 1993 Edited by Karen O. Kupperman

In 1684 the prominent Boston minister Increase Mather (1639-1723) wrote An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences, the first work published in the American colonies on the subject of witchcraft. Most commonly referred to as Remarkable Providences, it was also the document that helped spark the witch-hunts in New England. Mather was the son of Richard Mather, an English Puritan minister who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. Increase was born in 1639, his unusual name a product of an era of religious fervor, when Puritans gave their children religiously significant names. "Increase" refers to the belief that God increased his favor for the world by sending his son, Jesus of Nazareth, to save sinners. In 1663, Increase had a son whom he named Cotton after his father-in-law, John Cotton. Cotton Mather (see biography and primary source entries) also became a prominent minister in Boston. Increase Mather served as president of Harvard College from 1685 to 1701.

The early government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called the General Court, was based on the laws of the Old Testament (the first part of the Bible, the Christian holy m

Many accused witches feared that their fate might be burning at the stake, as witches were executed in England. Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.

Glorious Revolution: a political rebellion in Britian in which King James II, a Catholic, was replaced by Protestant monarchs William III and Mary II.

book). Only men who were church members had the right to vote. The government, simply put, was a small group of men making decisions for everyone else. Within this group, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather enjoyed the highest positions of power. By 1684, however, the English Crown had taken away the New England colonies' right to govern themselves and appointed Sir Edmund Andros (1637-1714), an English governor, to rule over them. The Puritans did not like Andros, and after the Glorious Revolution and fall of King James II (1633-1701) in 1688-89, Andros was removed from office. The New England colonies fell into a period of unrest, and Increase Mather went to England in an effort to obtain a new charter (contract granting the right to form a government).

The following excerpt from Remarkable Providences describes events in the case of Ann Cole from Hartford, Connecticut. Described as a pious woman overtaken by the spirit of the devil, Cole was the victim of visions, hysterics, and bodily possession. She identified a husband and wife, along with

Kiribati 1700s

The practice of dunking or "ducking" an accused witch was a quite popular test, although not always as safely done as pictured here. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

several others, as being the witches responsible for her bewitchment. The husband and wife were executed, while the others fled for their lives. An interesting element of this account is that two people were subjected to the water test. It was a popular belief at the time that witches would float in water, rather than sink like "non-witches." To determine whether the two suspects were witches, they were bound and thrown into the water, only to half sink and half swim. It is noted that a bystander, who suggested that anyone bound in such a way would float, was himself tied up and put into the water. He sunk straight to the bottom. While floating was not used as evidence against the two accused witches, they decided to flee for their lives. They were never seen again.

The practice of dunking or "ducking" an accused witch was a quite popular test, although not always as safely done as pictured here. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation (Bellevue).

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Responses

  • Dolly
    Why did increase mather write remarkable providences?
    2 years ago
  • Ralph
    Who wrote elegies for prominent individuals, like Increase Mather?
    2 years ago
  • tanja
    Who wote elegies for prominent indivdulas like increase mather?
    5 months ago

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