Here to return to
DUNTON's letters abound, as we have seen, in references to the Mathers, "Increase and Cotton; and the same thing is true of all the literature of the period. Brooks Adams has cuttingly observed in his remarkable volume, "The Emancipation of Massachusetts," that one weak point in the otherwise strong position of the early Massachusetts clergy was that the spirit of their age did not permit them to make their order hereditary. With the Mathers, however, the priesthood was hereditary, and they constituted a veritable dynasty in the government of Boston. The story of their lives offers a remarkable illustration of power — theological and otherwise — transmitted through at least four generations.
When "the shining light" was extinguished by death, late in 1652, he left a widow who became, before long, the second wife of the Reverend Richard Mather, minister of Dorchester.
This Mather had already a theologically minded son named increase, who had been born in Dorchester in June, 1639, and who, after preaching his first sermon on his birthday, in 1657, sailed for England and Pursued postgraduate studies in Trinity College there. Then he preached for one winter in Devonshire and, in 1659, became chaplain to the garrison of Guernsey. But the Restoration was now at hand and, finding that he must "either conform to the Revived Superstitions in the Church of England or leave the Island," he gave up his charge and, in June, 1661, sailed for home. The following winter he passed preaching alternately for his father and "to the New Church in the North-part of Boston." In the course of that year the charms of Mrs. Mather's daughter, Maria Cotton, impressed themselves upon him and,
"On March 6, 1662, he Came into the Married State; Espousing the only Daughter, of the celebrated Mr. John Cotton; in honor of whom he did... call his First-born son by the Name of COTTON."
Two years after his marriage
Increase Mather was ordained pastor of the North Church in Boston and
twenty years he appears to have performed with notable success the
this important parish. At the same time, he exercised —
beneficently on the
whole — his great power in the temporal affairs of the
colony. For he had good
sense and sound judgment, — exactly the qualities, it may be
his more brilliant son conspicuously lacked.
One of the most attractive traits in the younger Mather's character is his appreciation of his father. Barrett Wendell, who has written a highly readable Life of Cotton Mather, observes dryly that the persecutor of the witches "never observed any other law of God quite so faithfully as the Fifth Commandment." And there seems to have been excellent reason for this. Increase Mather devotedly loved his precocious young son and upon him he lavished a passionate affection which the lad repaid in reverence which was almost worship. The motto of Cotton Mather's life seems indeed to have been, My Father can do no Wrong.
The schoolmaster whose privilege it became to plant the seeds of learning in the mind of this hope of the Mathers was Ezekiel Cheever, whose life Sewall has written for us in the following concise paragraph:
"He was born January 25, 1614. Came over to N. E. 1637, to Boston: To New Haven 1638., Married in the Fall and began to teach School; which work he was constant in till now. First, at New-Haven, then at Ipswich; then at Charlestown; then at Boston, whither he came 1670. So that he has laboured in that Calling Skilfully, diligently, constantly, Religiously, Seventy years. A rare instance of Piety, Health, Strength, Serviceableness. The Wellfare of the Province was much upon his spirit. He abominated Perriwigs."
That Cheever was in truth an excellent teacher may be accepted from the fact that he had Cotton Mather ready at twelve to enter Harvard College. And this, too, in spite of the fact that one fault of the lad was " idleness." Warning his son against this fault, Cotton Mather wrote, the " thing that occasioned me very much idle time was the Distance of my Father's Habitation from the School; which caused him out of compassion for my Tender and Weakly constitution to keep me at home in the Winter. However, I then much employed myself in Church History; and when the Summer arrived I so plied my business, that thro' the Blessing of God upon my endeavours, at the Age of little more than eleven years I had composed many Latin exercises, both in prose and verse, arid could speak Latin so readily, that I could write notes of sermons of the English preacher in it. I had conversed with Cato, Corderius, Terence, Tully, Ovid and Virgil. I had made Epistles and Themes; presenting my first Theme to my Master, Without his requiring or expecting as yet any such thing of me; whereupon he complimented me Laudabilis Diligentia tua [Your diligence deserves Praise]. I had gone through a great part of the New Testament in Greek, I had read considerably in Socrates and Homer, and I had made some entrance in my Hebrew grammar. And I think before I came to fourteen, I composed Hebrew exercises and Ran thro' the other Sciences, that Academical Students ordinarily fall upon."
In a later chapter we shall discuss at some length the rules and regulations, the studies and the social life which, all together, constituted a highly important formative influence in the life of this and the other Puritan youth who went to Harvard. Suffice it, therefore, in this place to say that Cotton Mather was put through the mill duly and was able in 1678 to present himself for the bachelor's degree, being at that time the youngest who had ever applied for it. This fact it was, which added to his illustrious ancestry, inspired President Oakes to single him out at Commencement for the following eulogy delivered in sounding Latin: "The next youth is named Cotton Mather. What a name! Or rather, dear friends, I should have said 'what names.' Of his reverend father, the most watchful of guardians, the most distinguished Fellow of the College I will say nothing, for I dare not praise him to his face. But should this youth bring back among us the piety, the learning, the sound sense, the prudence, the elegant accomplishment and the gravity of his very reverend grandfathers, John Cotton and Richard Mather, he will have done his highest duty. I have no slight hope that in this youth there shall live again, in fact as well as in name, COTTON and MATHER.'
Can you wonder that a boy of sixteen, thus conspicuously praised at the very entrance upon serious life, felt himself to be a person of considerable importance in his community, a man born to sustain a theological dynasty? Of course the ministry was the profession for which he was destined, but, for some seven years after matriculation, he followed the calling of a tutor because he was afflicted with a tendency to stammer. Then he began the study of medicine. Soon after this he was advised to practise speaking with "dilated deliberation," which he did so successfully as completely to overcome the impediment which had bothered him and, possessing already every educational qualification as a preacher, he was thus able (in May, 1685) to become the associate of his father in the charge of the church in North Square. Before accepting this trust he had kept many days of fasting and prayer, for he had long desired remotely to emulate that Rabbi mentioned in the Talmud whose face was black by reason of his fasting. The fasts observed by Cotton Mather throughout his life were so frequent that his son observes of him in his funeral sermon "that he thought himself starved unless he fasted once a month!"
Such then was the Mather to whom the celebrated Eliot had extended, at the age of twenty two, the fellowship of the churches! Ten days after coming into this high estate the young parson was present at a "private Fast" in the home of Samuel Sewall, an occasion which happily supplies us with an authentic glimpse of the manners of the times. For Sewall writes: "The Magistrates... with their wives here. Mr. Eliot prayed, Mr. Willard preached. I am afraid of thy judgments.— Test Mather gave. Mr. Allen prayed; cessation half an hour. Mr. Cotton Mather prayed; Mr. Mather preached, Ps. 79. 9. Mr. Moodey prayed about an hour and half; Sung the 79th Psalm from the 8th to the End; distributed some Biskets & Beer, Cider, Wine. The Lord hear in Heaven his dwelling place."
But of course a young
minister of that day — as of this — must very soon,
if only in self-defence,
take unto himself a wife. Cotton Mather was already matrimonially
had begun to ask "the guidance and blessing of God in what concerns the
change of my condition in the world from Single to married, whereunto I have now many invitations."
These last words we must not
take as an evidence of Leap Year activity in
his parish, but rather as meaning that the young parson desired to
the state of matrimony but "I not as yet met the girl whose charms
draw him thither. His attitude of mind at this age is singularly like
the pure young woman of our own time whose heart is still untouched,
— and it
is in striking contrast to the pronounced dislike with which young men
to-day regard marriage per
The girl was now sure to arrive, and so it came about that the year 1686 — troublous enough to New England, because Edward Randolph and Joseph Dudley had succeeded in wresting away the Charter — was a decidedly happy one for Cotton Mather. His wooing was very godly, as it was bound to be, but it resulted in his bringing home as a wife Abigail, daughter of the Honourable Colonel Phillips of Charlestown. On his wedding day he got up early to ponder; but in spite of his pondering he reached Charlestown ahead of time and had to put in an hour or so in the garden with his Bible while Abigail was being arrayed in her wedding finery. Two Sundays afterwards he preached at his own church in Boston on Divine Delights. This was the very Sunday when Mr. Willard "prayed not for the Governour."
The implications of this just-quoted entry in Sewall's invaluable Diary are enormous. Now that we have married off Cotton Mather, let us turn aside briefly to consider them. From the settlement of the Colony it had been governed under a royal charter granted, as we have seen, to the governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in 1609. Under this none but church members had been freemen, and as these freemen elected all political officers and developed their own system of law it is clear that the government was much more nearly a theocracy than a dependency of the crown. Tacitly, England had agreed to this state of affairs, but this was only because she had been too busy with Civil Wars and internal dissensions to do anything else. For the sovereign did not forget by any means that New England was theoretically the private property of the crown by virtue of its discovery at the hands of the Cabots, who had been fitted out with crown money. What rights the Colonists had to the land came, it was argued, from the Charter; at best, therefore, their positions could be compared only to that of tenants on a private estate. From the very beginning, however, the Charter had been contested by some gentlemen who maintained that it had been given originally in violation of previous royal grants to them Among these contestants was one Gorges, a name we readily recognize as potential in more way than one.
By the time Charles II ascended the throne New England had become so prosperous that the opponents of the Charter could not let the matter longer alone, and there appeared in Boston as their agent, Edward Randolph, "the evil genius of New England," with a letter requiring the governor and Assistants of Massachusetts at once to send representation to England, there to answer the claims of those who contested their rights. The contest thus begun lasted until 1684, a period of nearly nine years, during which Randolph made no less than eight voyages to New England, the colonists sending back to London meanwhile innumerable long-drawn petitions.
But the blow fell at last and on June 18, 1684, the Court of Chancery decreed that the Charter should he vacated. In the Colony itself there bad appeared, by this time, a party which favoured submission to royal authority. This party had been built up chiefly by the exertions of Randolph and at its head was Joseph Dudley, a son of the Colony's second governor. He, as "president of New England," was now named to succeed Simon Bradstreet, the last governor elected by the people of the colony, — and the last survivor, as well, of the magistrates, who, nearly sixty years before, had founded the government.
It was a goodly heritage for which Randolph and his tools had fought. From the day that Winthrop landed, the Puritan State of his ideal had risen steadily, and Boston, its chief town, was now a thriving and well-built, settlement. Moreover, it was distinctly an English town, for the migration had been unmixed, and, 'varied as were the religious beliefs of its inhabitants, they agreed perfectly in their love of English names for their streets, English flowers for their gardens, English furniture for their rooms and English architecture for their homes. But they had few books, no amusements, and no intellectual interest except religion. "The people of Boston," as Henry Cabot Lodge remarks in his excellent study of that city's rise and development, "practically went from work to religion and from religion to work without anything to break the monotony except trouble with England and wars with the savages.... And now the charter, under which they had enjoyed power and exercised independence was taken from them."
If we read Sewall's account of those days in the spring of 1686 with this great impending change in mind the brief entries become dramatic in the extreme. He tells us how the Rose frigate arrived in Nantasket on the 14th of May; how Randolph came to town by eight in the morning and took coach for Roxbury, where Dudley lived; and how, with other magistrates, he himself was summoned to see the judgment against the charter with the great seal of England affixed. He tells how, on the following Sunday, Randolph came to the Old South Church, where Mr. Willard, in his prayer, made no mention of governor or government; but spoke as if all were changing or changed. He tells how, the next day the General Court assembled, and how Joseph Dudley, temporarily made President of New England, exhibited the condemnation of the Charter and his own commission, how the old magistrates began to make some formal answer and how Dudley refused to treat with them as a court. There is a note of very real pathos in Sewall's picture of that sorrowful group of old magistrates, who, when Dudley was gone, decided that there was "no room" for a protest: "The foundations being gone what can the righteous do?"
So, for seven months, Joseph Dudley was President of the Provisional Government of New England, and during those months the birthdays of the king and queen were celebrated by the royalists in Boston, and to Episcopalians was granted the right to hold services in the east end of the Town House. The Puritan Pepys, as Sewall has well been called, duly notes these developments, telling us that on Sunday, May 30, he sang "the 141 Psalm... exceedingly suited to the day. Wherein there is to be worship according to the Church of England, as 'tis called, in the Town House, by countenance of Authority." In August Sewall has grave doubts as to whether he can conscientiously serve in the militia under a flag in which the cross, cut out by Endicott, has been replaced; and three months later he answers his own question by resigning as captain of the South Company. A few Saturdays before this the queen's birthday had been celebrated with drums, bonfires and huzzas, thereby causing Mr. Willard to express, next day, "great grief in a Prayer for the Profanation of the Sabbath last night."
Then, on Sunday, December
19, while Sewall was reading to his family an exposition of Habakkuk,
a great gun or two, which made him think Sir Edmund Andros might be
proved to be the case. The first governor sent out from England had
"in a Scarlet Coat laced." That day Joseph Dudley went to listen to
Mr. Willard preach, and had the chagrin of hearing that personage say,
was fully persuaded and confident God would not forget the Faith of
came first to New England."
Between sermons the President went down the harbour to welcome Sir Edmund. The next afternoon the king's appointee landed in state, and was escorted to the Town House by eight militia companies. Here a commission was read, declaring his power to suspend councillors and to appoint others, — and vesting the legislative power in him and his Council thus appointed. Then he took the oath of allegiance and stood by, with his hat on, while eight councillors were sworn. The same day he demanded accommodation in one of the meetinghouses for the services of the Church of England!
Andros was a gentleman of good family, had served with distinction in the army, had married a lady of rank and for three years had very successfully ruled as governor of New York. When James came to the throne he quite naturally turned to him as a person well fitted, by his previous American experiences well as by his well-known personal devotion to the Stuarts — to preside acceptably over the New England colonies. But, New York was not Boston then any more than to-day and, as ill luck would have it, Andros from the very start, made mistakes which soon caused him to be one of the best-hated men Massachusetts had ever known. Scarcely had he set foot in the town when he proceeded, as we have seen, to assail
the religious sensibilities of the Puritans. All forms and ceremonies, symbols and signs were to them marks of the Beast, and it was a cruel shock, after what they had suffered to get away from the Church of England, to have a priest in a surplice conducting in their Town House a service hateful to them, to see men buried according to the prayer-book and to learn that marriages, which they had made a purely civil contract, must henceforth be solemnized by the rites of the church. Even worse was the enforced celebration of royal anniversaries and the reappearance of old sports upon certain holidays.
Samuel Sewall was the type of a class of well-to-do Puritans, who were, on the whole, inclined to be submissive to the new government, but he shows himself to have been hurt in a tender spot by many of the things Andros did. His Diary may well enough be held to reflect the deep feeling of many. As early as November, 1685, he sees the change coming and records that "the Ministers Come to the Court and complain against a Dancing Master who seeks to set up here and hath mixt dances, and his time of Meeting is Lecture-Day; and 'tis reported he should say that by one Play he could teach more Divinity than Mr. Willard or the Old Testament.... Mr. Mather [Increase] struck at the Root, speaking against mixt Dances." Early in September, 1686, we read, "Mr. Shrimpton . . , and others come in a Coach from Roxbury about 7 aclock or past, singing as they come, being inflamed with Drink: At Justice Morgan's they stop and drink Healths, curse, swear, talk profanely and baudily to the great disturbance of the Town and grief of good people. Such high-handed wickedness has hardly been heard of before in Boston."
With ill-concealed exultation the old diarist notes that the people, for the most part, refused to observe Christmas and the other imported holidays, but kept the shops open, brought firewood into the town and generally went on with their business as under the old regime. But some annoyances they could not avoid. On the "Sabbath Feb. 6, 1686-7," he writes, "Between half hour after eleven and half hour after twelve at Noon many Scores of great guns fired at the Castle and Tower suppose upon account of the King's entering on the third year of his Reign.... This day the Lord's Super was administered at the middle and North Church; the rattling of the Guns during almost all the time gave them great disturbance. 'Twas never so in Boston before." Again he says on "February 15 1686-7, Jos. Maylem carries a Cock at his back with a bell in hand, in the Main Street; several followed him blindfold, and under pretence of striking him or's cock, with great Cartwhips strike passengers and make great disturbance." By countenancing such practices as these did Andros inflame every possible prejudice against the crown he fain would represent.
But the horse-play of Shrove Tuesday, with its suggestions to the Puritans of Papacy and the hated days of Laud, was only a forerunner of what Andros really purposed: i.e. a Church in which the service of his king and country should be fittingly carried on! Pending the erection of such an edifice Sir Edmund determined that, regardless of the wishes of the populace, he would have his prayer-book service read in one of the three meeting-houses of the town and on "Wednesday March 23" Sewall tells us, "the Govr sends Mr. Randolph for ye keys to our Meeting yt may say Prayers there. Mr. Eliot, Frary, Oliver, Savage Davis and self wait on his Excellency; shew that ye Land and House is ours, and that we can't consent to part with it to such use; exhibit an extract of Mrs. Norton's Deed [ — this lady was the widow of the Reverend John Norton, had owned the land upon which the church was built1 and had given the same in trust for ever "for the erecting of a house for their assembling themselves together publiquely to worship God."] and How 'twas built by particular persons as Hull, Oliver 1;100 a piece &c." All this appears to have been of non-avail, however, for three days later, the Diary sadly records: "The Govr has service in ye South Meetinghouse; Goodm. Needham (the Sexton) tho' had resolv'd to ye Contrary, was prevail'd upon to Ring ye Bell and open ye door at ye Governour's Comand, one Smith and Hill, Joiner and Shoemaker, being very busy about it. Mr. Jno. Usher was there, whether at ye very begining, or no, I can't tell."
Yet a year later even Sewall has so far capitulated as to be willing to attend part of a Church of England service in this same church. The occasion, to be sure, was one to make a tender-hearted man forget enmities for the nonce, for it was the "Funeral of ye Lady Andros, I having been invited by ye Clark of Ye South-Company. Between 1 and 8 Lychrs [torches] illuminating the cloudy air The Corps was carried into the Herse drawn by six Horses. The Souldiers making a Guard from ye Governour's House down ye Prison Lane to ye South-M. House, there taken out and carried in at ye western dore and set in ye Alley before ye pulpit with six Mourning women by it. House made light with candles and Torches; was a great noise and clamor to keep people out of ye House, yt might not rush in too soon. I went home, where about nine a clock I heard ye Bell toll again for ye Funeral. It seems Mr. Ratcliff's Text was, Cry, all flesh is Grass." Three years later an Episcopal church, the King's Chapel, was built on the spot where it now stands. But by this time Sir Edmund Andros had paid the penalty of the affront he had put upon the Puritans by forcing them to lend their cherished meeting-house for a service utterly obnoxious to them.
Besides the church affront two others even more vital were offered by this choice of the English crown. One of these was his assumption of the power of taxation without their consent; the other was the laying down of the principle that all titles to lands had been vacated along with the charter and that whoever wanted a sound title must get his claim confirmed by Sir Edmund, — and pay for it. In short, as Cotton Mather said, "all was done that might be expected from a Kirk, Except the Bloody Part. But that was corning on." He and his father honestly believed, as did many other good people of New England that their heads were in danger! Increase Mather accordingly opposed Andros in every possible way beseeching God the while to "send Reviving News out of England." As if in answer to this prayer James II issued in April, 1687, his Declaration of Indulgence which, though designed, of course, to relieve the Catholics, was very grateful to Dissenters as well assuring them, as it did, of entire freedom to meet and serve God in their own way.
So full of joy were the
ministers of New England that they wished to hold a public thanksgiving
when Sir Edmund forbade this, with threats of military force, they drew
the motion of Increase Mather, an address of thanks to the
king. This it was
thought best to intrust to some "well qualified person" who
"might by the Help of such Protestant Dissenters as the King began,
Political Views, to cast a fair Aspect upon, Obtain some Relief to the
Distresses of the Country: and Mr. Mather was the Person that was
upon." Since 1685 this busy minister had been president of Harvard
as well as one of the first citizens of Boston. Randolph hated him
and was determined to prevent his embarkation, if possible.
So, when his
church had released him and the college had bidden him God Speed he had
off, in disguise, in order to avoid arrest! After being concealed at
afterwards the Pratt House in Chelsea he was carried by boat, on a
in April, 1688, to the ship, President, lying outside the bay. Safely
sailed away to England, charged with the enormous task of persuading a
king to restore, of his own free will, the vacated charter of
The Pratt House, Chelsea
The Mathers feared that it was James's purpose to set up the Roman Catholic religion in America, and Increase Mather was secretly determined, therefore, to bring back into power the theocratic democracy of the fathers. As a means to this end he hoped to obtain for the College, whose head he had the honour to be, a royal charter by which it should be permanently secured to the Calvinists who had founded and cherished it.
King James received him graciously enough, but answered his requests only in fair-sounding promises. He could, indeed, do little else for his own seat was far from secure; and, in less than a year from the time Increase Mather sailed from Boston William and Mary were proclaimed rulers of England and its territories. Sewall, who had gone to join Mather in London, gives us a vivid account of these rapid and far-reaching changes.
In Boston several very important steps were taken even before the accession of William and Mary was established as a fact. For on April 4, 1689, there came over a young man named John Winslow, bearing with him a copy of the Declaration issued by the Prince of Orange upon his landing in England. Sir Edmund Andros would not listen to Winslow and angrily committed him to prison "for bringing traitorous and treasonable libels and papers of news." But the people of Massachusetts were willing to take their chance on William's turning out the king he had proclaimed himself to be and, on April 18, Boston rose in arms and seized the chief magistrates.
This was perhaps the most astounding incident in the whole history of Boston. There does not appear to have been any, plan to seize the reins of government or to rise up in arms. Yet it was just this which was done. "I knew not anything of what was intended until it was begun," writes an eye-witness, "yet being at the north end of the town where I saw boys running along the streets with clubs in their hands, encouraging one another to fight, I began to mistrust what was intended; and, hasting towards the Town Dock I soon saw men running for their arms, but before I got to the Red Lion I was told that Captain George and the Master of the Frigate [upon which Andros had tried to escape] were seized and secured in Mr. Colman's house, at the North End; and when I came to the Town Dock I understood that Bullivant and some others of them were laid hold of, and then, immediately the drums began to beat and the people hastened and ran, some with and some for arms. Young Dudley and Colonel Lidget with some difficulty attained to the Fort."
The fort, in which Andros had promptly intrenched himself, was at the summit of Fort Hill, on the site of what is now Fort Hill Square. This hill was formerly one of the three great hills of "Treamount" (Copp's Hill and Beacon Hill being the two others) and ascended sharply from the foot of what is now Milk street. From this safe place Andros sent forth messengers, requesting the four ministers and one or two other persons of importance in the town to come to him for consultation. But they refused on the ground that they did not think such action safe.
For, "by this time," as our eye-witness continues, "all the persons who they [the revolutionists] concluded not to be for their side were seized and secured.... All the companies were soon rallied together at the Town House, where assembled Captain Winthrop, Shrimpton, Page and many other substantial men to consult matters: in which time the old Governor [Bradstreet] came among them at whose appearance there was a great shout by the soldiers."
The self-restraint exercised both by the people and by Andros on this occasion seem to me very remarkable. Both sides were full of desire to fight, but neither was quite sure just how things stood in England and so let wisdom be the better part of valour. In the Assembly the following paper was drawn Lip and sent to Andros:
"AT THE TOWN HOUSE IN
"April 18, 1689.
"To SIR EDMUND ANDROS.
"SIR: Ourselves and many others, the inhabitants of this town and the places adjacent, being surprised with the people's sudden taking up of arms; in the first motion, whereof we were wholly ignorant, being driven by the present accident, are necessitated to acquaint your Excellency that for the quieting and securing of the people inhabiting in this country from the imminent dangers they many ways lie open and disposed to, and tendering your own safety, we judge it necessary you forthwith surrender and deliver up the Government and Fortifications to be preserved and disposed according to order and direction from the Crown of England, which suddenly is expected may arrive; promising all security from violence to yourself or any of your gentlemen or souldiers in person and estate; otherwise we are assured they will endeavour the taking of the Fortification by storm, if any opposition be made: —
At first Andros refused to do what was here demanded, but, after a little reflection, he complied and Captain Fairweather, with his soldiers proceeded to take peaceable possession of the fort. The deposed governor with his friends was then marched with scant ceremony to the Town House, from the balcony of which William's Declaration had already been read to the assembled crowd. Upon the demand of the country people, who had come armed into the town, he was bound and straightway sent back as a prisoner to the fort he had just surrendered. The people, too, were all for resuming the vacated charter, but it was finally decided that the old officers of the government of 1686 should assume a sort of conservative control until more news should be received from England. The day following this arrangement a ship arrived proclaiming that William and Mary were indeed king and queen. The writers of the time pronounce this "the most joyful news ever before received in Boston." Certainly the Puritans were unwontedly gay in celebrating it," civil and military officers, merchants and principal gentlemen of the Town and Country, being on horseback, the regiment of the Town and many companies of horses and foot from the Country appearing in arms; a grand entertainment was prepared in the Town-house and wine was served out to the soldiers!"
All that summer and the following autumn Sir Edmund Andros, Joseph Dudley and "the rest of his crew," as Cotton Mather expressively put it, were kept prisoners. Some attempts at escape were made by the chief captive, and at one time he even got as far as Rhode Island before being retaken. On one previous occasion, he had passed two guards in the disguise of woman's clothing, and if he bad taken as much care about his boots, in preparing for flight, as with the rest of his make-up, he would undoubtedly have secured his liberty. The Provisional Government did not keep him confined because it wanted to however, only because it did not know what else to do with him. We can be sure the whole town gave a deep sigh of relief when an order from the king was received, the following February, that the prisoners should be to England.
Meanwhile Increase Mather in
England had been rapidly making friends with the new
sovereign. At first it
even looked as if he would be able to obtain the first charter again,
the matter was hanging fire, the enemies of the old system busied
against it. Yet if Mather failed to reinstate the old charter, he did
in separating New England from the other colonies and in securing for
charter much more liberal than was granted to any other colony. And
could not prevent the provision of a royal governor equipped
with a veto
power, he was adroit enough to have the territories of Nova Scotia,
Plymouth annexed to Massachusetts and to gain a confirmation
for all the
grants made by the General Court. Also he was able practically to
new governor. After four years of unremitting effort,
therefore, he sailed in
March, 1692, for New England pretty well satisfied with himself.
The new governor was Sir William Phips and his lieutenant-governor was William Stoughton, who had been bred for the church and who possessed just enough bigotry to make him very acceptable to the clergy. The news of the men whom the elder Mather had caused to be put into office was so glorious to the son, who had been watching and working at home, that he broke into a shout of triumph when he heard it: "The time has come. The set time has come. I am now to receive an answer of so many prayers. All the counsellor's of the province are of my father's nomination; and my father-in-law with several related unto me, and several brethren of my own church are among them. The governor of the province is not my enemy but one whom I baptized; namely Sir William Phips, one of my own flock and one of my dearest friends."
A most romantic figure was this new governor. Born in the woods of Maine, one of a family of twenty-six children, he had early been left to pick up, as best he could, his living and his scanty education. At the age of twenty-two he came to Boston in pursuit of the fortune he had determined should be his and, while working at his trade of carpenter, attracted the attention of a prosperous widow. This lady had the advantage of him both in years and in estate, but the marriage which soon followed proved a fairly happy one, and it certainly helped Phips to launch out into the profession of ship-builder, through which he afterwards came to renown. On one of his voyages he heard of a Spanish treasure ship which had been sunk in the waters of the Spanish main and, fired with ambition to raise from the deep the untold wealth the ship was supposed to contain, he went to London and, young and unknown though he was, managed so to plead his cause that (in 1684) James II gave him an eighteen-gun ship and ninety-five men with which to make his fortune — and the king's. For two years he cruised in the West Indies without any very striking success, but he did obtain, during this time, knowledge of the precise spot where the treasure-ship had foundered, nearly half a century before, and when he returned to England he gave such a good account of this to the Duke of Albermarle and other courtiers that he managed to obtain from them another vessel, on shares. This time he succeeded in his expedition.
One wonders if Stevenson had not freshly read the story of Phips's adventures when he wrote his incomparable Treasure Island. Certainly in this case history fairly rivals fiction. For Phips's men mutinied, one poor fellow went mad at the mere thought of the wealth which was to be his if only he would do his duty, there was a lot of fighting, much diplomacy of a sort and through it all the cleverness of a born sea dog. But Phips accomplished his purpose. From the sunken galleon he raised bullion to the value of £300,000 together with many precious stones. After the shares had been distributed according to contract there was about £20,000 for his own share. Armed with this, a gold cup that the Duke of Albermarle had caused to be fashioned for his wife, and reinforced by the rank of knight, the Maine carpenter was able to sail in triumph back to his native New England. The time when he thus arrived was that of Andros, and the office bestowed Upon the doughty sailor by James If had been "High Sheriff of New England." But since Phips knew nothing of law and could not write plainly, he was not a very great success as a sheriff. He did better as head of the expedition sent out in 1690 against Port Royal. But he failed in that against Quebec and so happened to be back in England and "out of a job" just at the time Increase Mather wanted a promising person to be first governor of the royal Province of Massachusetts.
Sir William Phips
particularly recommended himself to the Mathers because they
saw in him one
whom the people would respect as self-made, and who would respect them
ministers of the Gospel. Increase Mather had preached the sermon, away
1674, which caused Phips to feel himself a sinner and seek for
the righteous of the state; Increase Mather also had now named him for
office which crowned his worldly ambition. Why, then, might not
expect, through Sir William Phips and a new charter, which gave the
more power than he had ever had under the former one, to bring back the
old days of the theocracy? Unhappily for his hopes an
unexpected influence now
entered into the life of the people. And it was because Cotton Mather
intimate a part of this that the Mather dynasty finally fell.
The great tragedy of witchcraft! This and the part Cotton Mather played in it did for the theocracy, I repeat, what no mortal power could undo. Long before the time of the great outbreak at Salem, which constituted the most marked event of Phips's administration, there had occurred in Boston the somewhat notorious affair of the Goodwin children. To go deeply into the subject of witchcraft would not be fitting in this volume, especially as I have elsewhere2 advanced what seems to me as good a theory as any concerning the delusion. Moreover, certain phases of the whole matter are now beginning to be pretty well understood under the, name of hypnotism, suggestion and the like. But they were not at all understood in Cotton Mather's time, and to blame him for not possessing scientific knowledge to which we, two centuries later, have scarcely found the key seems as unfair as it is unnecessary, He had to pay the price, however, of the witchcraft trials which he incessantly urged on. And the process by which he paid it is certainly our concern.
Let us therefore look into the affair of the children who were his special care. We may perhaps get the facts most clearly in mind by quoting from Governor Hutchinson's account, reproduced by Mr. Poole in the Memorial History of Boston.
"In 1687 or 1688 began a more alarming instance than any that had preceded it. Four of the children of John Goodwin, a grave man and good liver at the north part of Boston, were generally believed to be bewitched. I have often heard persons who were in the neighbourhood speak of the great consternation it occasioned. The children were all remarkable for ingenuity of temper, had been religiously educated, were thought to be without guile. The eldest was a girl of thirteen or fourteen years. She had charged a laundress with taking away some of the family linen. The mother of the laundress was one of the wild Irish, of bad character, and gave the girl harsh language; soon after which she fell into fits which were said to have something diabolical in them. One of her sisters and two brothers followed her example, and, it is said, were tormented in the same part of their bodies at the same time, although kept in separate apartments and ignorant of one another's complaints.... Sometimes they would be deaf, then dumb, then blind; and sometimes all these disorders together would come upon them. Their tongues would be drawn down their throats, then pulled out upon their chins. Their jaws, necks, shoulders, elbows and all other joints would appear to be dislocated, and they would make the most piteous outcries of burnings, of being cut with knives, beat, etc., and the marks of wounds were afterwards to be seen.
"The ministers of Boston and Charlestown kept a day of fasting and prayer at the troubled house; after which the youngest child made no more complaints. The others persevered and the magistrates then interposed, and the old woman was apprehended; but upon examination would neither confess nor deny, and appeared to be disordered in her senses. Upon the report of physicians that she was compos mentis, she was executed, declaring at her death the children should not be relieved." This case derives its peculiar interest from the fact that Cotton Mather wrote a book about it and then engaged in numerous controversies in defence of statements which were made therein. He also preached upon the subject more than was either wise or good when one considers that all delusions grow by what they feed upon. Such words as these seem clearly reprehensible from a "man of God:" "Consider the misery of them whom witchcraft may be let loose upon.... O what a direful thing it is to be prickt with pins and stabbed with knives all over, and to be fill'd all over with broken bones." In a credulous community the mere circulation of suggestions like these served almost literally to pour oil upon the fire.
So by the time Sir William
Phips landed in the chief city of his province the prisons were filled
overflowing with those suspected of witchcraft and those who had given
on the subject. One of his first acts, therefore, —
and there is little reason
to doubt that it was suggested by the Mathers, — was to
appoint a special court
of Oyer and Terminer to try the witches. Of this court William
bigoted Deputy Governor, was made chief justice; and Samuel Sewall was
one of his associates. When their stomachs for the horrible work upon
they had enlisted failed them they applied to the Boston ministers for
Cotton Mather "earnestly recommended that the proceedings
vigorously carried on." It is for this recommendation that he is
to-day. But I do not see why we should doubt the honesty of his purpose
giving this harsh counsel. Witchcraft was to him a terrible reality and
active presence of the devil in the world a thing in which he
More than once in his various writings he adduces as evidence of the
activity the fact that steeples of churches are more often struck by
than are any other edifices!
Soon no one was safe from accusation, even Mr. Willard, the pastor of the Old South, being threatened and Lady Phips herself named. Possibly it was this bringing of the thing home which made the governor put an abrupt stop to proceedings that had already begun to menace the well-being of the entire community. Very likely, too, he had come to fear, that he might be called to account in England. At any rate the court so unceremoniously instituted by hill, was summarily dismissed and a general pardon issued to all those who had been convicted or accused. And though a few infatuated individuals continued to urge prosecutions juries refused to bring in the verdict of guilty, — and Judge Samuel Sewall stood up manfully (in 1696) at the old South Church while his confession of having done wrong in admitting "spectral evidence" at the witchcraft trials was read aloud by one of the clergymen. Stoughton, when he heard of this, declared that he had no such confession to make having acted according to the best light God had given him. Nor did Cotton Mather feel at this time any consciousness of wrong-doing. Seventeen years later, however, when his public influence was on the wane and the power of the Church, for which he had had such hopes, was also notably diminished he wrote in his Diary: "I entreated the Lord that I might understand the meaning of the Descent from the Invisible World which, nineteen years ago, produced a sermon from me, a good part of which is now published." The sermon in question was the one which had done so much to incite the witch trials. Evidently Cotton Mather had at last come to doubt its inspiration.
Witchcraft, however, was by no means the, worst of poor Sir William Phips's troubles. He had to carry on French and Indian wars not all of which turned out well, the new charter was not nearly so much liked as the Mathers had hoped it might be, and, — what was of more importance than anything else, — the governor had a hasty temper and was inclined to resort to the strength of his fists when matters proved especially trying to him. Early in his administration, he had an altercation with the collector of the port of Boston which culminated in a hand-to-hand fight. And, in January, 1693, a little difficulty between him and the captain of the Nonesuch frigate brought upon the officer a caning in the streets of Boston and upon Sir William Phips a summons to return to England to explain his undignified conduct. He obeyed the summons, passed through his trial without any very great difficulty and was permitted to turn his energy into lines for which be was better fitted than for government. Then he suddenly died at the early age of forty-five.
With him died all hope of
ever restoring the power of the theocracy. For though
Stoughton, one of the old Puritan stock, remained at the head
government until 1699 flood-tide in the affairs of the Mathers had
all time. That they did not recognize this fact makes their
only the more pitiable.
1 See "Romance of Old New England Churches."
2 See "Romance of Old New England Roof-Trees."