Important Persons in the Salem Court Records

People and TopicsBiographical Data

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather, one of the most famous (and infamous) figures in the history of Puritan New England, was a complex man of great influence upon American history and the discourse that accompanied the Salem witch trials in the years following 1692. As a prominent Bostonian minister, author, and born on Feb. 12th 1663 as the son of the Harvard president Increase Mather, Cotton's reputation as a stalwart believer in the direct influence of the devil upon the physical world through the spiritual realm was already in place by the start of the witch trials. Consulted by three of the five judges, and friends with all of the major authorities involved, Cotton's self-contradicting positions on the use of spectral evidence and the prosecution of the Salem witches heavily swayed the directions of the trial proceedings and the executions. Cotton was also appointed as the somewhat reluctant first historian of the trials, through the commissioning of his book, The Wonders of the Invisible World, that served to justify the trials to the higher powers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was for this book that Cotton found himself spit upon in the streets (and some annals of history) to the day of his death on Feb. 13th 1728.

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