Guide to the Microfilm Edition
This collection is Part I of the Mather Family Microfilm, a joint publication of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the American Antiquarian Society. The collection consists of the papers of Congregational clergyman Cotton Mather (1663-1728), including miscellaneous religious writings, correspondence, diaries, and his unpublished 6-volume manuscript "Biblia Americana."
Cotton Mather (1663-1728), son of Increase Mather (1639-1723) and grandson of Richard Mather (1596-1669) and John Cotton (1584-1652), was born in Boston in 1663. He received his early education at home and graduated from Harvard in 1678. After earning an M.A. from Harvard in 1681, he was ordained in 1685 at the Second Church of Boston, where he preached for the remainder of his life.
Mather, like his father, supported Governor William Phips (1651-1695) and defended the Massachusetts charter that had granted the colony the right of self-government. He participated in the revolt against Sir Edmund Andros (1637-1714), the governor of New England installed by James II. He was involved in the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692, although he advocated moderation, and witnessed the execution of convicted ex-minister George Burroughs. In 1702, Mather unsuccessfully attempted to oust Joseph Dudley (1647-1720) as governor and was passed over as president of Harvard. Despite these setbacks, he remained a leader of Massachusetts Congregationalism.
A prolific writer, Mather had great influence on religious thought during his life. In his later years, he devoted himself to humanitarian causes, such as aiding the poor, building churches, and opening a school for enslaved people. Mather was also an early advocate of smallpox inoculation, an unpopular position at the time. Long interested in science, he was the first native-born American to become a fellow of the Royal Society of London. He completed more than 450 books on topics from religion to medicine and history. His Magnalia Christi Americana (London: Thomas Parkhurst, 1702) was the most complete work on the New World to date. Mather died in 1728.
This collection consists of the papers of Congregational clergyman Cotton Mather, including miscellaneous religious writings, correspondence, diaries, and his unpublished 6-volume manuscript "Biblia Americana." The collection is available on 19 microfilm reels and arranged into 6 series: bibliography; diaries; sermon notes; miscellaneous numbered documents; correspondence; and sermons, essays, and other works. Also included in the collection are a few papers of Puritan minister Thomas Shepard (1605-1649) and hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748).
This microfilm is Part I of the Mather Family Microfilm, a joint publication of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the American Antiquarian Society. It contains manuscripts held by both institutions. The holder of the original manuscript has been noted in this guide with "(AAS)" for the American Antiquarian Society and "(MHS)" for the Massachusetts Historical Society. Positive copies of the microfilm edition are available at both institutions. The microfilm set is available for purchase by University Microfilm. For a complete description of the American Antiquarian Society's original manuscript holdings, see the guide to the Mather family papers, 1613-1819, at the American Antiquarian Society.
The Cotton Mather papers were acquired through a combination of gifts and purchases.
Restrictions on Use
Requests for permission to publish should be directed to the institution in possession of the original manuscript.
Detailed Description of the Collection
This series consists of a bibliography of Cotton Mather's works, compiled by William S. Piper from Cotton Mather: A Bibliography of His Works, by Thomas James Holmes (Newton, Mass.: Crofton Publishing Co., 1974). This published volume is located in the MHS reference area (call number: REF .Z8554 .H63).
II. Diaries, 1681-1724
This series contains the diaries of Cotton Mather, with some gaps. Most of the diaries start on December 12 of the previous year, so the years listed indicate the bulk of the diary. Entries are mainly an account of Mather's personal spiritual life and his ministerial duties, including the preparation of his manuscript "Biblia Americana," attendance at church meetings, counseling of parishioners, and sermons preached at various churches including Old South Church and Old North Church in Boston. Some entries describe current events such as the 1693 witchcraft outbreak in Salem, the 1721 smallpox outbreak in Boston, and the smallpox inoculation controversy. Occasional entries also contain family news such as marriages, births, deaths, and the health of family members.
III. Sermon notes, 1676-1720
This series contains notes of the sermons of Increase Mather and others taken by Cotton Mather between 1676 and 1720.
IV. Miscellaneous numbered documents, 1636-1717
The following documents have been arranged in page number order. To assist researchers in finding breaks between documents, the page numbers of each have been noted in parentheses. The page numbers appear in pencil on each page of the document, usually in the upper right-hand or left-hand corner. Documents in this series were written by Cotton Mather unless noted otherwise.
V. Correspondence, 1690-1724
Please consult the AAS and the MHS for information on ownership of individual letters in this series.
VI. Sermons, essays, and other works, 1680-1724
This series contains the historical and religious works of Cotton Mather, written between 1680 and 1724, including sermons on Biblical figures and studies of apocalypticism, millennialism, conversion, angels, prophecy, and witchcraft. The series also contains collections of quotations and proverbs, a profile of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), and Mather's encyclopedic commentary on the Bible, "Biblia Americana."
Sermons, ca. 1688-1689 (AAS)
Note: While once identified as in the hand of Cotton Mather, more recent scholarship attributes this item to Rev. Samuel Parris (1653-1720).
Microfilm edition of the Cotton Mather papers, a joint publication of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the American Antiquarian Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.