The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather

The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather

The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather

The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather


Cotton Mather (1663-1728) was America's most famous pastor and scholar at the beginning of the eighteenth century. People today generally associate him with the infamous Salem witch trials, but in this new biography Rick Kennedy tells a bigger story: Mather, he says, was the very first American evangelical.

A fresh retelling of Cotton Mather's life, this biography corrects misconceptions and focuses on how he sought to promote, socially and intellectually, a biblical lifestyle. As older Puritan hopes in New England were giving way to a broader and shallower Protestantism, Mather led a populist, Bible-oriented movement that embraced the new century -- the beginning of a dynamic evangelical tradition that eventually became a major force in American culture.

Incorporating the latest scholarly research but written for a popular audience, The First American Evangelical brings Cotton Mather and his world to life in a way that helps readers understand both the Puritanism in which he grew up and the evangelicalism he pioneered.

Watch a 2015 interview with the author of this book here:


Search the internet for “Cotton Mather” and you will get an amazing array of material — much of it about the Salem witch trials and most of that information rooted in one source, Robert Calef, a man who hated Mather so much, and portrayed him so wildly, that reputable historians discount most of what he reports. Calef created a Mather that people love to hate. Type in “Marvel Comics Database” and you will find a cartoon image of Cotton Mather as a threatening, be-muscled villain whose cape spreads wide behind him as he leaps toward you brandishing a glowing sword. the database offers the following biographical information: Alias: Witchslayer; Citizenship: American; Origin: Human; Alignment: Bad. a better source on Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, warmly remembered Cotton Mather as a generous man eager to do good. Mather was, in truth, one of the most energetic do-gooders in colonial America. He was a family man much respected in his native Boston, a pastor who was considered a leader of the churches of New England, and a scholar with a transatlantic reputation. If it had been up to him, the Salem witchcraft problem would have been handled without hysteria. Before the trials began, he recommended that the girls who professed to be afflicted by witches and demons should be separated and distributed to good homes where their diet and sleep could be regulated. He also advised the judges that the testimony of the girls about what they saw was very weak evidence, and did not alone warrant the conviction of any of the accused witches. Aligning himself with most of the other ministers of colonial Boston, Cotton did not support the court’s rush to execute witches.

Such matters will be more fully discussed later. Here I simply intro-

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