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3-4 page Research Paper on Cotton Mather
?The Salem witchcraft trials,? a phrase not too often heard these days in everyday conversation. Witches burning at the stake, or drowning in a tub of water, and perhaps the most humane way of their execution, hanging (5). This piece of American history is a prudent example of how everyday people can, and were, be lead astray from what would normally be considered ridiculous and preposterous ideas, into something that warrants these horrible means of human demise. What or more importantly who was responsible for this catastrophic loss of life? The Quaker society of colonial America was where these events took place. The term Quaker refers to a member of a religious sect called The Society of Friends, which had significant religious influence in the northeastern parts of America, perhaps too much influence. The man who played a great part in these events was Cotton Mather.
Cotton Mather was an extremely influential man during the 65 years of his life here on earth (1663-1728). Cotton was the son of Increase Mather and Maria (Cotton) Mather (1). His father, an educated man who was pastor of the Old North Church in Boston and also the president of Harvard College, set a high precedent for his young son to follow (2). Cotton, inspired by his father?s success, graduated from Harvard College at the age of sixteen and went on to be ordained as minister of the Old North Church in 1685 (2). It is here where Cotton gains the seemingly blind trust of the members of this community, which enables him to have such a significant influence on the outcome of this period of history. Cotton used his influence as pastor through the church to convince the people that witches were living amongst their society. This is perhaps the only negative influence he had to society. Cotton was also an excellent writer. His major publications were Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693, Magnalia Christi Americana in 1702, Bonifacius year 1710, Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions in 1689 and several others. What type of man was Cotton Mather? What did he value? And how did his writing reflect his beliefs?
Let us first start by evaluating a writing related to the events described above, The Wonders of the Invisible World. In this publication, Mather makes many references to accounts of eyewitness testimonies and confessions of the accused; not only to justify, but also to prove that the Salem witchtrials were a God sanctioned attack against Satanic works. Mather says, ?He (the devil) has wanted incarnate legions to persecute us, as the people of God have in the other hemisphere been persecuted: he (the devil) has therefore drawn upon his more spiritual ones to make an attack upon us.? (2) Mather?s use of the term ?spiritual ones,? is meant to represent the accused witches of the time. Witches, Mather believes, are the work of the devil. Throughout this writing Mather quotes from the Bible. Mather knows that the people of his church would not dare question the validity of the Bible. So, by choosing specific verses that favor the intended goal of his writings he is able to add rock solid validity to the statements he is making to the members of his church. References to past situations illustrated in the Bible prove to Mathers? audience that these situations happened once and could happen again. The references to the Bible combined with Mather?s claim of witchcraft were obviously enough to convince the people of this town that their pastor was correct in his beliefs.
The Negro Christianized is an essay by Mather about the relationship between slaves and slave owners. Mather again uses the Bible to add validity to the main message. Mather quotes Ephesians 5.9, ?Masters, know that your Master is in Heaven. (7)? With this he sends a message to slave owners so strong it is almost as if it came from God himself.
After reading many of Mather?s works it is clearly evident that he will do anything necessary to carry out what he believes to be Gods will. Mather is a very religious man and does everything in the name of God. A title to one of his writings was labeled ?What Must I do to be Saved?? When Mather refers to being saved he is referring to being saved in the eyes of God. Mather believes himself to be an authority concerning the matters of God, and at this time, especially with the Puritan society, he was considered the authority. Every one of Mather?s works has a distinct and clear point, which very often relates to improving some aspect of ones relationship with God. At the very least his goal is to in someway aid the reader into becoming what he believes to be a better person. It is my belief that Mather lived his life in accordance of what he thought to be God?s will. While it is certain that Cotton Mather put forth his best effort to serve God, I do believe that he got carried away with himself at times. Perhaps Mather was too ambitious with his attempts to exceed his father?s fame. I think that at times Mather concentrated too much on the ?how? of a situation instead of the ?why.? One incident that shows this clearly is at the execution of George Burrows. At his own execution, Burrows recited the Lords prayer perfectly, something that was believed impossible for witches to do (6). The crowd shouted out for the execution to be stopped, but Mather intervened and said to the crowd that Burrows was convicted in a court of law so the execution must not be stopped (6). Was Burrows truly a witch? Or was he executed an innocent man? Or if not a witch, nor innocent, did his crimes warrant death? With the court weighed so heavily by Mather?s influential friends and members of his church on the panel, we will never know.
Mather was influenced by many things that caused him to steer this way or that way through life. With his father being so successful, I can imagine the admiration as a boy Mather must have had for his popular and well-liked dad. His father, who was the president of Harvard, probably placed great importance on his son?s education. One aspect that I personally think had a direct relationship to Mather?s obsession with witches is this; from the three wives he had, Mather fathered fifteen children, most of which died from unknown causes. Losing one child, even though not entirely uncommon in this era was terrible enough, but to lose most of your fifteen children would put just about anyone in a mad rage eager to strike out and place blame on anything. Above all I would say that the Bible influenced Mather the most.
In conclusion, I have learned something that can be applied to a very pressing situation in our country right now, the attack on our country by an unknown enemy. Mather lost sight of the whole picture when he could have saved the life of George Burrows; it is critical that we as Americans do not become overly eager to act in retaliation for the chance that we might act in retaliation on the wrong people.
Brockner, Frances L. ?Ephemera of Cotton Mather – Collection 62.?
Billy Graham Center at Wheaton University
Hovey, Kenneth Alan, and Joseph Fitchelberg. ?Cotton Mather.? Introduction.
The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed. 1 vols. Lexington: ? Heath, 1994.
Mather, Cotton. What Must I Do To Be Saved? The Hall Church of History. ?
Mather, Cotton. Introduction. Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and
Possessions. University of Missouri 2001
Mather, Cotton. The Tryal of G.B. at a Court of Oyer and Terminer, Held in Salem,
Linder, Dr. Doug. Cotton Mather. University of Missouri 2001
Mather, Cotton. ?The Negro Christianized.? The Heath Anthology of American
Literature. 3rd ed. 1 vols. Lexington: ? Heath, 1994.
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