Cotton Mather

From Early Minority Literature
Jump to: navigation, search
Cotton Mather (February 12, 1663 – February 13, 1728) was born to "a distinguished family of puritanical ministers" in Boston. He was the son of a prominent New England Reverend, and distinguished himself "as Boston’s leading minister and most famous preacher, ruling fellow and then president of Harvard College, and for years powerful consultant of the colony’s rulers." [1] He wrote several books and pamphlets including Biblia Americana (1693-1728),Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) and The Negro Christianized (1706), and received notoriety for his contributions to several scientific advancements. He did work researching the hybridization of plants such as corn, melons, and gourds,[2] and wrote "reports on the successful practice of inoculation" that were valuable to the growing field of preventative medicine. [3]
Cotton Mather

Personal Life

Early Years

Born in Boston on February 12, 1663, Cotton Mather was the son of Increase Mather and Maria Cotton Mather. His grandfathers, John Cotton and Richard Mather, were both influential New England preachers, and his father would eventually become the minister of Old North Church and the president of Harvard College. Throughout his life, Mather sought to follow in his father's footsteps, and in 1685 he succeeded his father as the minister of Old North Church, although the Harvard presidency was never offered to him.[4]

At the age of 11, Mather began his academic career at Harvard. His classmates mistreated him because of his serious, pious lifestyle; however, his tutors lauded his scholarly endeavors. [5] Mather developed a stammer while he was at Harvard; he eventually overcame this difficulty. In his youth, Mather began to suffer from stressful bouts of guilt, depression, and feeling unworthy as a result of sin. These emotional pains lasted throughout his life. To alleviate his distresses Mather would participate in exhausting prayer sessions. [6]

Marriage and Family

Cotton Mather had a tumultuous and difficult personal life. He was married three times. His first marriage was to Abigail Philips in 1686. The Mathers were happily married for 15 years until Abigail passed away in December, 1702. The couple had a total of 9 children, only four of which lived past the age of two.[7]

He remarried to Elizabeth (Clark) Hubbard in August of 1703, who grew ill and passed away ten years later. Out "of the six children of this second marriage, only two lived beyond babyhood," [8] Mather's relationships with his first two wives were loving and copacetic since both wives held strong religious convictions.[9]

Mather's third marriage, however, brought him various challenges. He married Lydia Lee George in 1713, and she briefly left the marriage. Mather grew depressed and suffered financially as a result of the marriage. Mather's congregation assisted him throughout his difficulties. [10]To add to these familial difficulties, Mather's eldest son "was in serious trouble, publicly accused of immorality," by the time he was eighteen, which caused Mather, the devout Puritan Minister much distress. [11]

Ministry and the Role of Children

While his adult congregants helped him through a traumatic period of time, Mather did not neglect to appreciate how children were in his ministerial sphere. His philosophy on the education of children provides a meaningful approach that Puritan parents could apply to the spiritual upbringing of their children. Mather encourages parents to send their children to school and to teach them to read so that they may understand biblical histories, commandments, and principles. Mather believed children could succumb to sinful temptations at a very early age. [12]

Another instance of Mather's interest in young minds is found in his work with Mercy Short, an adolescent girl who witnessed her family's brutal murder while she was held captive during French and Indian attacks. Although Mather ministered to many girls in Salem, Short's story is the only one that he so thoroughly details.[13] While he sought to alleviate Short's supposed demon possession, Mather documented her case study in A Brand Pluk'd out of the Burning (1692). This work is unique in that it functions as a "possession narrative" not disimilar to Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, a work that Mather's own father reportedly crafted. [14]

Slave Owner

In 1706, Mather’s congregation offered a young slave to him as a gift. [15] The congregants reportedly paid forty to fifty pounds for the slave that Mather would name Onesimus. [16] The name “Onesimus” means “serviceable” or “useful.” The biblical book of Philemon documents the story of Onesimus, a slave from Colossae, who was arrested and imprisoned for attempting to flee from his owner. [17] In prison, Onesimus met Paul (early Christian disciple and biblical writer), who came to consider Onesimus as a son. [18] Paul encouraged Onesimus to admit his crime and return to his owner. Philemon serves as Paul’s written request for Onesimus’ owner to receive him as a brother in Christ and consider the owner-slave relationship secondary to religious union. [19]

Mather was familiar with the origin of the name "Onesimus" due to his religious occupation. By choosing this name for his slave, Mather invited Onesimus into “kinship” with his family. The practice of kinship removed slaves’ former association with their culture and placed them exclusively into their master’s household. [20] As a member of the Mather family, Onesimus was expected to convert to the Christian faith. Mather’s diaries chronicle the religious education that Onesimus received, which closely followed the catechisms listed in The Negro Christianized. Onesimus remained unconverted to the Puritan faith for over a decade. His slave’s lack of repentance to God threatened Mather’s reputation among his congregants. If Onesmius was not saved, then Mather’s entire household was not saved. [21]

Mather allowed Onesimus to marry and obtain wages outside of the household. [22] Onesmius and his wife had two children, but both children died at an early age. After the death of his second child, Onesimus became less cooperative in the Mather household. The slave's misbehavior, combined with his refusal to convert to the Puritan faith, prompted Mather to grant Onesimus freedom. His freedom came with conditions: helping the family on a daily basis, shoveling snow in the winter, carrying corn to the mill, and fetching water for washing. Onesimus’ freedom was more of an act by Mather to remove Onesimus from "kinship" than it was to release the slave from his duties. [23]

One year after Onesimus was granted freedom, Mather received another slave whom he named, “Obadiah." Mather granted this biblical name, which means “servant of the Lord,” to his slave and educated him in the same manner as Onesimus, but was unable to convert Obadiah to the Puritan faith. Mather’s third slave, Ezer, was the only slave of the household to convert to the Puritan faith and receive baptism. [24]

Public Life

Ministry and Slavery

The Negro Christianized (1706)

In The Negro Christianized (1706), Mather complicates his position as slave owner and Puritan minister. Throughout The Negro Christianized, Mather justifies slavery with scripture, including Colossians 4:1 which states, "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven."[25] In this pamphlet, he advocated that his fellow Christian slave owners evangelize their slaves so that they too would become Christians. Mather encourages slave owners to convert "the Blackest instances of Blindness and Baseness, into admirable Candidates of Eternal Blessedness." He also reminds slave owners that those "Scorched and Blacken'd by the Sun of Africa" may "have their Minds Healed by the more Benign Beams of the Sun of Righteousness.[26] Mather uses self-preservationist rhetoric to convince his flock to give their slaves religion. Those without knowledge will be destroyed, according to Mather, but "their Destruction must very much lay at Your doors; You must answer for it". [27] Mather exhorts his followers to teach their slaves so that the white owners will not suffer in the afterlife for withholding the faith. In a bold statement, Mather claimed that baptism should not be withheld from slaves, and that Christians, both slaves and white slave owners, were brothers in Christ. Mather also suggested that slave holders, as part of a slave's Christian education, encourage their children to guide slaves in learning Christian doctrine.

Publication History

The pamphlet was printed in Boston in 1706. Mather's name did not originally appear on it, "but his authorship of it was generally known."[28]

Catechisms and Prayers

In addition to an essay exhorting American slave-owners to Christianize their slaves, The Negro Christianized also contains a series of catechisms, prayers, and explications intended to guide readers through the process of catechizing their slaves. The list includes:

  • Two recommended daily prayers.
  • A paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer that serves to explain and simplify its contents.
  • A Shorter Catechism, intended for "the Negroes of a Smaller Capacity."[29]
    • In the Shorter Catechism, Mather recommends that slaves be asked three basic questions about who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and what happens to people when they die.
  • A Larger Catechism, intended for "the Negroes of a bigger Capacity."[30]
    • The Larger Catechism contains 15 questions dealing with various topics, including the Holy Trinity, original sin, salvation, obedience, and justification.
  • A section in which Mather recommends that slaves be asked to list and explicate each of the Ten Commandments.
  • A list of Biblical verses for memorization.
  • A shortened version of The Apostles Creed for memorization.
  • An explanation of "the Doctrine and the Design of Baptism."[31]

Medical and Religious Controversies

Experimentation with the Technique of Inoculation

In the early years of Onesimus's time in Mather's household, Mather gained a basic knowledge of the practice of inoculation through questioning of his slave as well as "several other Negroes and some Guinea slave traders." [32] The practice of inoculation in America therefore derived from African slaves, but the practice had been in use in parts of Africa, India,China and Constantinople for centuries before the treatment was attempted in America. [33]

In a 1916 letter to Dr. John Woodward, who had endorsed this practice in front of the Royal Society, Mather stated that if he "should live to see the Small-Pox again enter into [the] city" he would "immediately procure a Consult of our Physicians, to Introduce a Practice [of inoculation]." [34] In 1721, Mather had his chance to enact this plan of action as small-pox broke out once more in Boston. Early that June, he disseminated a letter to the physicians of Boston encouraging them to begin to talk about using inoculation. Later that month Dr. Zabdiel Boylston made the first test of this method in America by inoculating his own son and two of his slaves. The positive results encouraged the doctor to spread his use of this method to other patients. The people of Boston were quick to take sides on the issue and while Mather assigned the success of the treatment to their creator, God, many were convinced that it came from the devil. Both Mather and Boylston were attacked by other doctors,especially the Scottish-born physician William Douglas, and responded, in the newspapers and pamphlet literature of Boston.[35] The opposition was based both in medical and religious arguments.

The Religious Argument

While most of the clergy sided with Mather and "eased religious qualms by arguing that inoculation...prevented a more severe sickness," much of the public retained the fear of using preventative measures. [36] The religious pro-inoculators wanted the medical knowledge of the treatment to be widely disseminated and their tracts supported a "democratic approach to dealing with the developing medical science".[37]

The Medical Argument

Out of the eleven men who practiced medicine in Boston at this time Douglass was the only one who was trained and licensed to practice medicine.[38] There were many reasons for the fledgling medical community to resist inoculation. The first was a resentment at the interference of the clergy, especially Mather, in the medical arena. The second was a distrust of the method itself and the fear that while it often worked it could also spread the epidemic. The argument that the inoculationists were endangering public health was very effective in frightening said public and both Boylston and Mather were threatened by mobs. Mather even had a bomb, which did not explode, thrown through a window into his house with a note saying "COTTON MATHER, You Dog, Dam You; I'l inoculate you with this, with a Pox to you" [39]

They were ordered to stop performing the procedure by the Selectmen of the city. However, they ignored the order and between June and December of 1721 about 300 people in and around Boston, including Mather's son, were inoculated. [40] Mather continued to fight in favor of the treatment even after the epidemic had subsided at the end of 1721 and Boylston, although his use of the treatment was greatly reduced after early 1722, inoculated the nephew of Samuel Sewall and his family that May. The controversy over this practice continued in both the religious and medical spheres long after this bout of the epidemic was over. [41]

Salem Witch Trials

There is some debate about the degree to which Cotton Mather was responsible for inciting the paranoid actions and attitudes of the Salem Witch Trials; many have cited him as the primary cause of the witch-hunt-hysteria, but others claim that his arguments for fair and careful trials indicate that he probably spent less time inciting the public than we often credit him for. Regardless of the degree of his involvement with the Salem Witch Trials, scholars do agree that it is clear he was involved. Mather clearly believed that New England was dealing with witches, and he thought that those who doubted the presence of witches were lacking in either logic or faith. He was involved enough with the Trials that he was asked by the governor of the time to "employ his pen in justifying what had been done," which led to the book Wonders of the Invisible World (1693) in which he gives "an account of the seven trials at Salem, compares the doings of the witches in New England to those in other parts of the world, and adds an elaborate dissertation on witchcraft in general." [42]

Beyond the Salem Witch Trials, there is evidence that Mather attempted to aid women and children who were dealing with individual cases of demon "possession", further demonstrating his strong belief in the spiritual world, both its positive and negative inhabitants. [43]

Magnum Opus

Although his writings affiliated with slavery and the Salem Witch Trials are considered frequently for critical examination, one important work that has only recently been the subject of scholarly attention is Mather's Biblia Americana, a substantial multivolume biblical commentary in which the Puritan minister provides numerous annotations for every book of the Bible. This work is considered the oldest biblical commentary to emerge from America.[44]

In spite of his controversial reputation, some scholars suggest that Biblia Americana positions Mather as a proponent of Enlightenment thought. In this commentary, Mather presents the Bible from "scientifice, patristic, classical, historical, and geographical" perspectives.[45]

An enormous undertaking, Biblia Americana consists of thousands of pages. Mather considered the work his masterpiece; however, it was not published during his lifetime. Professors Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann are editing a forthcoming multivolume edition of Biblia Americana, and a digital companion will be hosted by the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. [46]

References

  1. "Personal Life of the “Principal Ornament of this Country”1." Cotton Mather. Babette M. Levy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. p.16. Twayne's United States Authors Series 328. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  2. "Man of Religion, Man of Science." Cotton Mather. Babette M. Levy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. p.35. Twayne's United States Authors Series 328. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  3. "Man of Religion, Man of Science." Cotton Mather. Babette M. Levy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. p.36. Twayne's United States Authors Series 328. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  4. Arndt, Murray. "Cotton Mather." American Historians, 1607-1865. Ed. Clyde Norman Wilson. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 30. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.
  5. "Chronology of Cotton Mather." Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana: America's First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal. Ed. Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. p.xv. Print.
  6. Middlekauf, Robert. "Mather, Cotton." American National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  7. "Personal Life of the “Principal Ornament of this Country”1." Cotton Mather. Babette M. Levy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. p.20. Twayne's United States Authors Series 328. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  8. "Personal Life of the “Principal Ornament of this Country”1." Cotton Mather. Babette M. Levy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. p.22. Twayne's United States Authors Series 328. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  9. Middlekauf, Robert. "Mather, Cotton." American National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  10. Middlekauf, Robert. "Mather, Cotton." American National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  11. "Personal Life of the “Principal Ornament of this Country”1." Cotton Mather. Babette M. Levy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. p.23. Twayne's United States Authors Series 328. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  12. Mather, Cotton. Corderius Americanus: An Essay Upon the Good Education of Children and What May Hopefully Be Attempted for the Good of the Flock, in a Funeral Sermon upon Mr. Ezekiel Cheever. Boston, 1708. Sabin Americana. Gale Cengage Learning. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  13. Kloepfer, Deborah K. "Cotton Mather's 'Dora': The Case History of Mercy Short." Early American Literature 44.1 (2009): 3-38. JSTOR. Web. 4 Sept. 2014.
  14. Kloepfer, 3.
  15. Koo, Kathryn S. "Strangers in The House of God: Cotton Mather, Onesimus, and an Experiment in Christian Slaveholding." Proceedings Of The American Antiquarian Society 117.1 (2007): 143-175. America: History and Life with Full Text. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  16. Silverman, Kenneth. The Life and Times of Cotton Mather. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. ACLS Humanities. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  17. Koo, 157.
  18. Silverman, 264.
  19. Koo, 157
  20. Koo, 150.
  21. Koo, 151.
  22. Silverman, 264.
  23. Koo, 166-169.
  24. Koo, 172-173.
  25. The Holy Bible, New International Version. Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2007. Print.
  26. Mather, Cotton and Royster, Paul, editor, “The Negro Christianized. An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in Christianity (1706)” (1706). Electronic Texts in American Studies. Paper 28. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.
  27. Mather, 10
  28. Mather, Cotton and Royster, Paul , editor, "The Negro Christianized. An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in Christianity (1706)" (1706): 2. Electronic Texts in American Studies. Paper 28. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/28
  29. Mather, Cotton and Royster, Paul , editor, "The Negro Christianized. An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in Christianity (1706)" (1706): 15. Electronic Texts in American Studies. Paper 28. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/28
  30. Mather, Cotton and Royster, Paul , editor, "The Negro Christianized. An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in Christianity (1706)" (1706): 15. Electronic Texts in American Studies. Paper 28. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/28
  31. Mather, Cotton and Royster, Paul , editor, "The Negro Christianized. An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in Christianity (1706)" (1706): 18. Electronic Texts in American Studies. Paper 28. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/28
  32. Blake, John B. "The Inoculation Controversy in Boston: 1721-1722." The New England Quarterly 25.4 (1952): 490. Print.
  33. Blake, 489
  34. Blake, 490-491
  35. Sivils, Matthew Wynn. "Dissecting the Pamphlet Literature of the Boston Smallpox Inoculation Controversy." Literature and Medicine 29.1 (2011): 39-57. Print.
  36. Sivils, 39
  37. Sivils,46
  38. Sivils, 43
  39. qtd in Sivils, 45
  40. Sivils, 45
  41. Blake, 489-506
  42. Mather, Cotton. The wonders of the invisible world: being an account of the trials of several witches lately executed in New-England. Smith, 1862.
  43. "Witchcraft: Cotton Mather’s Part in the “Sad Errours” of 1692." Cotton Mather. Babette M. Levy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. p.56-61. Twayne's United States Authors Series 328. Twayne's Authors on GVRL. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  44. Stout, Harry. Preface. Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana: America's First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal. Ed. Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. ix. Print.
  45. Stout, x.
  46. Stout, x.