Defending the "New England Way": Cotton Mather's "Exact Mapp of New England and New York"

By Dillman, Jefferson | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Defending the "New England Way": Cotton Mather's "Exact Mapp of New England and New York"


Dillman, Jefferson, Historical Journal of Massachusetts


Abstract: In 1702 Cotton Mather published his two volume Magnalia Christi Americana: The Ecclesiastical History of NewEngland from its First Planting in the Year 1620 unto . . . 1698. Mather argued that England would come to dominate North America due to God's will that New England become the "New Jerusalem " after the second coming of Christ. Mather detailed the religious development of Massachusetts and the New England colonies. Among many topics, he described the Salem Witch Trials and criticized some of the court's methods in an attempt to distance himself from the event. He also argued that Puritan slaveholders should do more to convert their slaves to Christianity.

While the Magnalia is well known, this article examines Mather's intriguing "Exact Mapp of New England" and demonstrates how it illuminates and reinforces the major themes of Mather's narrative. Though the Magnalia has long been regarded as a powerful piece of polemic, the map has received little attention. Mather's employment of a map with a particular rhetorical purpose is placed within the larger context of contemporary New England authors and cartography, particularly William Hubbard.

Just over three centuries ago, eminent New England intellectual and theologian Cotton Mather rejoiced at the publication of what has become his most famous work, the Magnalia Christi Americana. Subtitled the "Ecclesiastical History of New-England," it was a blend of history, biography, ecclesiology, and theology. The Magnalia has secured a place as a classic example of early American literature and as an important source document for New England history and American Puritanism, in particular. Less well known, perhaps, and certainly less studied, is the map, "An Exact Mapp of New England and New York," that accompanies Mather's massive text.

The "Exact Mapp" appears, at first glance, plain and simplistic, and even, in certain aspects, hurriedly drawn. Certainly when considered alongside the granthose, extravagant text to which it is attached, it seems incongruous. The map, viewed on its surface, seems merely a representation of physical space intended to provide geographic reference points for the Magnalia s readers. Yet if this is the map's only intended purpose, why did Mather not simply include, unaltered, one of the many available high-quality maps of New England? John Thornton, Philip Lea, John Speed, and Cornelius Visscher, among others, had produced detailed maps of the region that were seemingly more than adequate for the simple purpose of depicting a geographic location. The answer lies within the pages of the Magnalia itself. The "Exact Mapp" is more than a map - it is a rhetorical device designed and included to amplify the issues that Mather addresses in the text: the history and legacy of a godly community; an attempt to reverse, or at least forestall, the decline of piety in the colony; and a demonstration of the fidelity of Massachusetts to the English crown. Further, the map may also reflect something of Mather the man, highlighting the spiritual and psychological tensions that existed within him.

Cotton Mather was born in Boston in 1663, the son of a famous New England minister, Increase Mather, and the grandson of two equally famous ancestors, John Cotton and Richard Mather. Drawing on a rich spiritual and intellectual heritage, the young Mather excelled in the standard curriculum of Puritan classical learning: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, church history, mathematics, logic, and rhetoric. His education also fostered within him a lifelong interest in the sciences, leading him to explore and even publish papers in the fields of astronomy, geology, geography, and meteorology. In 1678, at the age of fifteen, Mather graduated from Harvard University and began to prepare for a life in the ministry. Two years later, in 1 680, he received his M.A. from Harvard and preached his first public sermon. By 1685, Mather was installed as the pastor at the Second Church of Boston, a position he remained in until his death in 1728. …

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