Increase Mather (June 21, 1639 O.S. – August 23, 1723 O.S.) was a
major figure in the early history of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony
Massachusetts Bay Colony and
Province of Massachusetts Bay
Province of Massachusetts Bay (now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts).
He was a
Puritan minister who was involved with the government of the
colony, the administration of Harvard College, and most notoriously,
the Salem witch trials. He was the son of Richard Mather, and the
father of Cotton Mather, both influential
1.1 Early life
1.2 Establishing himself in Massachusetts
1.2.1 Harvard College
1.3 Involvement in politics
1.4 Involvement in the Salem witch trials
1.5 Later life and death
3 Given name
4 In popular culture
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Mather was born in
Dorchester, Massachusetts Bay Colony, on June
21, 1639 to Rev.
Richard Mather and Kathrine Holt Mather, following
their participation in the Great Migration from England due to
nonconformity with the Church of England.
He was the youngest of six brothers, the others being: Samuel,
Nathaniel, Eleazar, Joseph, and Timothy. Three of his brothers
(Samuel, Nathaniel and Eleazar) also became ministers.
In 1651 Mather was admitted to
Harvard College where he roomed with
and studied under Robert Massey. When he graduated in 1656 with a
B.A., he began to train for the ministry and gave his first sermon
on his 18th birthday. He quickly left Massachusetts and went to
Ireland, where he studied at
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin for an M.A. He
graduated in 1659, and spent the next 3 years as a chaplain
attached to a garrison in the Channel Islands.
During his time at Trinity College he was licensed as a Commonwealth
Oliver Cromwell to the joint charge of St Tida's Church
(Ballyscullion), and St Swithan's Church (Magherafelt). Upon
Cromwell's death in 1658, Mather's joint charge at these churches was
quickly severed by the new authorities.[why?] Harvard later awarded
Mather the first honorary degree in the New World, becoming a Doctor
of Sacred Theology, in 1692.
The house built in 1677 by
Increase Mather near the north corner of
Hanover and North Bennet Streets, Boston, survived into the 20th
century; pictured in 1898
Establishing himself in Massachusetts
In 1661, with the advent of the
English Restoration and resurgence of
Anglicanism, Increase returned to Massachusetts, where he married
Maria Cotton. She was his step-sister by virtue of his father's
marriage to Sarah Hankredge, widow of John Cotton and mother of
Maria. She gave birth to
Cotton Mather in 1663. In 1676, he
published A Brief History of the War with the Indians in
New-England, a contemporary account of King Philip's War.
He was ordained as minister of the North Church, whose congregation
included many of the upper class and governing class, on May 27, 1664.
He held this post until he died.
On June 11, 1685, he became the Acting President of Harvard College
and steadily advanced: A little over a year later, on July 23, 1686,
he was appointed the Rector. On June 27, 1692, he became the President
of Harvard, a position which he held until September 6, 1701.
He was rarely present on campus or in the town, especially during his
term of Rector as he was out of the Colony for all but two years of
his term in that office. Despite his absences he did make some
changes: re-implementation of Greek and Hebrew instruction,
replacement of classical Roman authors with Biblical and Christian
authors in ethics classes, enactment of requirements that students
attend classes regularly, live and eat on campus, and that seniors not
haze other students.
Involvement in politics
While politics and
Puritan religion were closely related during
Increase's lifetime, his first direct involvement with politics
occurred as a result of James II of England's manipulation of the New
England governments. In 1686 James revoked the Charter of
Massachusetts in the process of creating the Dominion of New
The Dominion was headed by Edmund Andros, who not only disliked
puritanism and was haughty, but ruled as a near absolute dictator:
Town meetings were outlawed, leaving the Dominion without consent of
the governed, marriage was removed from the clergy, and the Old South
Church was temporarily appropriated for Anglican services.
The 1687 Declaration of Indulgence, prohibiting discrimination against
Catholics, saw staunch opposition from the
Puritan establishment. When
Mather successfully roused opposition to revocation of the charter, he
was nearly framed for treason. He traveled to London (eluding spies
out to catch him) to petition the King. While engaged in petitioning
he published pieces to build popular support for his positions, such
as A Narrative of the Miseries of New-England, By Reason of an
Arbitrary Government Erected there Under Sir
Edmund Andros (1688) and
A Brief Relation for the Confirmation of Charter Privileges (1691).
He attempted to restore the old charter and obtain a royal charter
for Harvard; however, he abandoned that course and changed his
petitions to a new charter not lacking any of the rights previously
granted. Following the
Glorious Revolution and subsequent overthrow of
Andros, a new charter was granted to the colony. The 1692 charter
was a major departure from its predecessor, granting sweeping home
rule, establishing an elective legislature, enfranchising all
freeholders (previously only men admitted to a congregation could
vote), and uniting the
Massachusetts Bay Colony
Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth
Colony. Following Andros' deposition and arrest, he had William
Phips appointed as Royal Governor and they returned to Massachusetts,
arriving on May 14, 1692. Following his return, the administration
of Harvard grew increasingly insistent that he reside nearer to the
institution. Not wanting to leave his Second Church, he did not do so,
and eventually resigned the Presidency.
Involvement in the Salem witch trials
As an influential member of the community, having handpicked Governor
Phips and his deputy Stoughton, Mather was involved in the notorious
witch hysteria of Salem, Massachusetts. As the court of oyer and
terminer was beginning to hear cases of suspected witchcraft,
Increase's son Cotton wrote a letter known as "The Return of Several
Ministers Consulted", which urged caution but failed to denounce the
use of "spectral evidence". In June and July 1692 as the trials
and executions grew,
Increase Mather made a number of sermons
interpreted as a plea to cool the heated atmosphere.
In September 1692 he published Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil
Spirits Personating Men, Witchcrafts, infallible Proofs of Guilt in
such as are accused with that Crime (more commonly known as just
"Cases of conscience concerning evil spirits"), which defended the
judges and trials, but strongly denounced the spectral evidence used
by them. It said, "It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should
escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned." (A
slightly altered version of this phrase would later become known as
Blackstone's formulation.) Notwithstanding this, his reputation was
not improved afterwards or for posterity due to his association with
the trials as well as his subsequent refusal, for whatever reasons, to
denounce them. He was also briefly mentioned in a thorough
treatment of his son Cotton by
Robert Calef in his comprehensive book
of the Salem Trials and their aftermath, More Wonders of the Invisible
World (referred to as More Wonders of the Spiritual World by the
Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition).
Increase Mather was
said to have burned Calef's book in Harvard Yard.
Later life and death
The Mather tomb in
Copp's Hill Cemetery
In 1715, following the death of his wife Maria the previous year, he
married Ann Cotton, widow of his nephew John.
On September 27, 1722, he fainted and was thereafter bedridden. In
August 1723 he suffered bladder failure and died three weeks later on
August 23, 1723, in Boston, aged 84. He was buried on Copp's Hill.
Before his death, he took lodging at the retreat of Mineral Spring
Pond to recover from his illness and drink from the famous healing
waters of the springs from Spring Pond.
Throughout his life Mather was a staunch Puritan, opposing anything
openly contradictory to, mutually exclusive with, or potentially
"distracting" from his religious beliefs. He supported suppression of
intoxication, unnecessary effort on Sundays and ostentatious clothing.
He was initially opposed to the
Half-Way Covenant but later supported
it. He firmly believed in the direct appearance of God's disfavor in
everyday life, e.g. the weather, political situations, attacks by
Native Americans, fires and floods, etc.
He was strenuous in attempting to keep people to his idea of
morality, making strong use of jeremiads to try to prevent
indifference and especially to try to get government officials to
enforce public morality. During his tenure at Harvard he regularly
stamped out any relaxation of
Puritan strictness, such as
latitudinarianism, which had flourished during his overseas
Following his acceptance of the Covenant,
Solomon Stoddard and others
attempted to further liberalize Puritanism by baptism of children who
had nonmember parents and admittance of all but the openly immoral
to services. To try and stop this, Mather had a synod called to outlaw
similar measures. A declaration was adopted, but never made
The stated reason for his first name was "...the never-to-be-forgotten
increase, of every sort, wherewith God favoured the country about the
time of his nativity." The name "Increase" is a literal translation
of the Hebrew "Yosëf" (Joseph).
In popular culture
Increase Mather is played by
Stephen Lang in the 2014 TV series
A portrait of
Increase Mather hangs in the Middle Common Room of
Mansfield College, Oxford.
Salem witch trials
^ a b c d e "Mather, Increase. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth
Edition. 2001–05". Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2006-10-12.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Mather, Increase, 1639–1723. Papers of
Increase Mather: an inventory". Harvard University. Archived from the
original on 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2006-10-12.
^ Atheneum, Dorchester. "Dorchester Atheneum: Richard Mather".
Archived from the original on 2006-09-06. Retrieved 2006-10-12.
^ a b The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable
Americans. VII. Boston: The Biographical Society. 1904.
access-date= requires url= (help) — The relevant excerpt can be
^ Webster, Richard (1911). "Mather, Richard". In Chisholm, Hugh.
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ a b c d e f g Webster, Richard (1911). "Mather, Increase". In
Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge
^ Profile, digitalcommons.unl.edu; accessed December 24, 2014.
^ (the original Old North meetinghouse, not to be confused with the
Anglican/Episcopal Old North Church),
^ a b "Interactive State House". Governors of Massachusetts.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
^ a b c "Biography of Increase Mather". Archived from the original on
2006-11-07. Retrieved 2006-10-12.
^ a b Madden, Mathew. "Salem Witch Trials: Increase Mather". Archived
from the original on 2006-08-29. Retrieved 2006-10-12.
^ "More wonders of the invisible world". University of Virginia.
^ "Increase Mather", britannica.com; accessed March 3, 2018.
Increase Mather Papers, 1659–1721 Guide to the Microfilm
Edition". Massachusetts Historical Society. 2006-10-21.
^ The Register of the Lynn Historical Society, Volumes 15–16 By Lynn
Historical Society, page 105
^ Sokol, Tony (May 20, 2015). "
Stephen Lang Interview: Salem's Most
Feared Witch-Hunter Speaks". Den of Geek. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
^ Goldman, Eric (May 30, 2014). "Salem Exclusive Clip: Stephen Lang
Makes His Debut as a Formidable Witch Hunter". IGN. Retrieved
^ "Increase Mather". Retrieved May 30, 2016.
Michael G. Hall. The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase
Mather. Wesleyan, 1992.
Thomas James Holmes. Increase Mather: a Bibliography of his Works.
Mason I. Lowance. Increase Mather. New York, 1974.
Robert Middlekauff. The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan
Intellectuals, 1596–1728. New York, 1971.
Kenneth B. Murdock. Increase Mather: The Foremost American Puritan.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1925.
Increase Mather's Catechismus Logicus: "A Translation and an Analysis
of the Role of a Ramist Catechism at Harvard", co-authored with Thomas
Knoles, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 109 (1999):
Mather, Frederic Gregory (1900). "Mather, Richard". Appletons'
Cyclopædia of American Biography.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Increase Mather.
Increase Mather at Project Gutenberg
Increase Mather at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Works by or about
Increase Mather at Internet Archive
Increase Mather at Google Books
President of Harvard College
Samuel Willard, acting
Old North Church
Salem witch trials
Salem witch trials (1692–93)
Nathaniel Saltonstall (aka Nathanial Saltonstall; resigned from the
court in protest over nature of proceedings)
George Burroughs (convicted of withcraft and hanged)
Politicians and public figures
William Barker Sr.
John Bly Sr. and Rebecca Bly
Thomas and Mary Jacobs
Margaret Wilkins Knight
Abigail Martin Jr.
Samuel and Ruth Perley (or Pearly)
John and Lydia Porter
Ann Putnam Jr.
Ann Putnam Sr.
John Putnam Jr.
John Putnam Sr.
Jonathan (or Johnathan) Putnam
Timothy Swan or Swann
Accused but survived
Nehemiah Abbot Jr.
Edward Bishop III
Mary Bridges Sr.
John Busse (or Buss)
Thomas Carrier Jr.
Bethiah Carter Jr.
Bethiah Carter Sr.
Daniel and Lydia Eames
Rebecca Blake Eames
Thomas Farrar Sr.
Abigail Faulkner Jr.
Abigail Faulkner Sr.
Sarah Noyes Hale (wife of John Hale)
Elizabeth Hutchinson Hart
Sarah Hawkes Jr.
Elizabeth Johnson Sr.
Jane Lilly (or Lillie)
Robert and Sarah Pease
Joan Penney (or Penny)
Lady Mary Phips
Elizabeth Bassett Proctor
Sarah Davis Rice
Sarah Clapp Swift
Mary Harrington Taylor
Mary Lovett Tyler
Hezekiah Usher II
Mary Whittredge (or Witheridge)
Sarah Wilson Jr.
Sarah Wilson Sr.
Confessed and/or accused others
William Barker Jr.
William Barker Sr.
Mary Bridges Jr.
Rebecca Blake Eames
Mary Lacey Jr.
Mary Lacey Sr.
Executed by hanging
George Jacobs Sr.
Mary Ayer Parker
Pressed to death
Born in prison
Mercy, infant child of Sarah Good
John Proctor III
Died in prison
Mercy, infant child of Sarah Good
Infant child of Elizabeth Scargen
Escaped or otherwise fled
Phillip and Mary English
George Jacobs Jr.
Presidents of Harvard University
Mather # (1685–1701)
S. Willard # (1701–1707)
Winthrop # (1769)
Locke # (1770–1773)
Winthrop # (1773)
J. Willard (1781–1804)
Pearson # (1804–1806)
Bok # (2006–2007)
† – Eaton was known as the Schoolmaster; # indicates acting
ISNI: 0000 0000 8384 5842
BNF: cb12182865j (data)