Happy Birthday, Cotton Mather! One of the earliest Boston writers was born this day in 1663. The son of Increase Mather, a Boston powerhouse in the spiritual and educational realms, and the grandson of the Richard Mather and John Cotton, the church fathers of the Colony, Mather was a graduate of the Boston Latin School and Harvard College before receiving an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Glasgow University. Though he was a minister and pastor first, he wrote over 450 books and pamphlets, was a certified medical practitioner, dabbled in plant hybridization, promoted inoculation in the Colonies, and played a bit of a complicated role in the Salem witch trials.
Yes, he wrote a lot. Here are some of his main projects:
Magnalia Christi Americana (1702): the Mather Project calls this an “ecclesiastical history of New England in the contemporary tradition of providence literature.” It’s his most well-known work.
Problema Theologicum (written 1695-1703): a short work looking at theology and eschatology, specifically millenialism.
Triparadisus (written 1712, 1720-27): more on millennial theology in response to debate in Europe.
Biblia Americana: Massive (4,500 pages), unfinished commentary on the Bible (beat that!).
Witchcraft and the Supernatural
Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (1689): a study on the Goodwin children and their odd behaviors.
Wonders of the Invisible World (1693): a defense of the Salem witch trial verdicts.
Other Random Stuff
Bonifacius, An Essay . . . to Do Good (1710): his essay on civics.
The Christian Philosopher (1720/1): his work on reconciling Christian faith to the New Sciences
The Angel of Bethesda (written 1723/24): a medical handbook.
He was a definitely a Renaissance man, and was the foremost divine of the time and the greatest theologian in New England until Jonathan Edwards came along. He died on February 13, 1728 and is buried in Copp’s Hill Cemetery in the North End, if you’d like to pay him a visit.