Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Quick Word on Cotton Mather (Salem Witch Trials)

Hey all,

I'm sure those of you that read this blog regularly know that I have been doing research on the witch trials of America (particularly since October when I portrayed a real life accused witch for a Halloween event at the museum I do some work at). One place my research has led me to was the life of Cotton Mather. And the more I look into the very villified clergyman of the Salem Witch Trials during the late 17th century, the more bothered I become.
I will share a brief excerpt a book on Mather that I'm currently reading, Rick Kennedy's The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather. And for the record, Kennedy is an academic who specializes in teach history at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as secretary of the Conference on Faith and History. So based on that, I think it's safe to assume that he is pretty well learned in such subjects. Anyway, here are a couple excerpts and I will get into more in a later post.

On Mather's approach to the Salem Witch Trials (a detail also recorded in other sources):

"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." - in the preface of Kennedy's book

On Mather as a person and how he approached his work as a clergyman:

"Cotton Mather saw his job as, in part, to motivate citizens to be better, while encouraging those of the evangelical interest to lead in public education, Indian outreach, prison ministry, widow and orphan support, African American uplift, care for transient sailors, and the love that held households together." - preface of Kennedy's book

So how did Mather come to be regarded as such a historical villain? That will be coming soon and may even be touched on in part 2 of my blogpost on our oh so moral society.

Dr. Rick Kennedy at Point Loma Nazarene University 

Dr. Rick Kennedy's Blog on Cotton Mather


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