Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather, b. Feb. 12, 1663, Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony [U.S.]—d. Feb. 13, 1728, Boston. The son of Increase Mather and the grandson of John Cotton and Richard Mather, Cotton Mather lived all his life in Boston. He entered Harvard at the age of 12, easily passing entrance requirements to read and write Latin and to "decline the Greek nouns and verbs." He devoted himself unremittingly to study and prayer. At 18 he received his M.A. degree from the hands of his father, who was president of the college. He preached his first sermon in his father's church in August 1680 and in October another from his grandfather John Cotton's pulpit. He was formally ordained in 1685 and became his father's colleague.

Cotton Mather is remembered more for his involvement of the Salem Witch Trails than his involvement in the Pequot War or the 450 books and pamphlets he authored. Cotton was the minister of Boston's Old North church, was a true believer in witchcraft. In 1688, he had investigated the strange behavior of four children of a Boston mason named John Goodwin. The children had been complaining of sudden pains and crying out together in chorus. He concluded that witchcraft, specifically that practiced by an Irish washerwoman named Mary Glover, was responsible for the children's problems. He presented his findings and conclusions in one of the best known of his 382 works, "Memorable Providences." Mather's experience caused him to vow that to "never use but one grain of patience with any man that shall go to impose upon me a Denial of Devils, or of Witches."

1688: Following an argument with laundress Goody Glover, Martha Goodwin, 13, begins exhibiting bizarre behavior. Days later her younger brother and two sisters exhibit similar behavior. Glover is arrested and tried for bewitching the Goodwin children. Reverend Cotton Mather meets twice with Glover following her arrest in an attempt to persuade her to repent her witchcraft. Glover is hanged. Mather takes Martha Goodwin into his house. Her bizarre behavior continues and worsens.

Sometime during February of the exceptionally cold winter of 1692, young Betty Parris became strangely ill. She dashed about, dove under furniture, contorted in pain, and complained of fever. The cause of her symptoms may have been some combination of stress, asthma, guilt, child abuse, epilepsy, and delusional psychosis, but there were other theories. Cotton Mather had recently published a popular book, "Memorable Providences," describing the suspected witchcraft of an Irish washerwoman in Boston, and Betty's behavior in some ways mirrored that of the afflicted person described in Mather's widely read and discussed book. It was easy to believe in 1692 in Salem, with an Indian war raging less than seventy miles away (and many refugees from the war in the area) that the devil was close at hand. Sudden and violent death occupied minds.

Talk of witchcraft increased when other playmates of Betty, including eleven-year-old Ann Putnam, seventeen-year-old Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began to exhibit similar unusual behavior. When his own nostrums failed to effect a cure, William Griggs, a doctor called to examine the girls, suggested that the girls' problems might have a supernatural origin. The widespread belief that witches targeted children made the doctor's diagnosis seem increasing likely.
Meanwhile, the number of girls afflicted continued to grow, rising to seven with the addition of Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren. According to historian Peter Hoffer, the girls "turned themselves from a circle of friends into a gang of juvenile delinquents." ( Many people of the period complained that young people lacked the piety and sense of purpose of the founders' generation.) The girls contorted into grotesque poses, fell down into frozen postures, and complained of biting and pinching sensations. In a village where everyone believed that the devil was real, close at hand, and acted in the real world, the suspected affliction of the girls became an obsession.
With the exception of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death September 19, 1692, the following were hanged:
Bridget Bishop-June 10, 1692, George Burroughs-August 19, 1692, Martha Carrier-August 19, 1692, Martha Corey-September 22, 1692, Mary Easty-September 22, 1692, Sarah Good-July 18, 1692, Elizabeth Howe-July 18, 1692, George Jacobs, Sr.-August 19, 1692, Susannah Martin-July 18, 1692, Rebecca Nurse-July 18, 1692, Alice Parker-September 22, 1692, Mary Parker-September 22, 1692, John Proctor-August 19, 1692, Ann Pudeator-September 22, 1692, Wilmott Redd-September 22, 1692, Margaret Scott-September 22, 1692, Samuel Wardwell-September 22, 1692, Sarah Wildes-July 18, 1692, John Willard.
Other accused witches died in prison:
Sarah Osborn, Roger Toothaker, Lyndia Dustin, Ann Foster
(As many as thirteen** others may have died in prison.)
**sources conflict as to the exact number of prison deaths

One of the young girls, Ann Putnam confessed her fraud 14 years later at the age of 26. She had her minister read the confession at Sunday service "It was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood."