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The Last American Puritan

The Life of Increase Mather, 1639-1723

Michael G. Hall

Publication Year: 1988

Powerful preacher, political negotiator for New England in the halls of Parliament, president of Harvard, father of Cotton Mather, Increase Mather was the epitome of the American Puritan. He was the most important spokesman of his generation for Congregationalism and became the last American Puritan of consequence as the seventeenth century ended. The story begins in 1639 when Mather was born in the Massachusetts village of Dorchester. He left home for Harvard College when he was twelve and at twenty-two began to stir the city of Boston from the pulpit of North Church. He had written four books by the time he was thirty-two.
Certain he was God's chosen instrument and New England God's chosen people, he disciplined mind and spirit in service to them both. Tempted to "Atheisme" and unbelief, afflicted early by nightmares and melancholy, then by hope and joy, he was a pioneer in recognizing the excitement of the new sciences and sought to reconcile them to theology.

This well-wrought biography, the first of Increase Mather in forty years, draws on the extensive Mather diaries, which were transcribed by Michael Hall.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xv

On July 13, 1986, a story in the New York Times quoted Pope John Paul II on the subject of angels. "The angels are those creatures which are unseen," the pope told a large audience. "They are invisible, for they are purely spiritual beings." I was struck by the similarity to Increase Mather's book on angels, which he published in 1696, not long after the Salem witchcraft trials. Both religious leaders felt the need to reaffirm the traditional teachings of the church about an invisible spirit world to a ...

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CHAPTER 1. The Legacy, Birth, and Education of a Puritan [1639-1661]

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pp. 3-47

On the longest day of the year, June 21, 1639, Richard and Katherine Mather's last son was born. Two days later, Richard baptized his son in his own church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, naming him Increase because of the "never-to-be-forgotten Increase, of every sort, wherewith GOD favoured the Country, about the time of his Nativity." 1 It was four ...

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CHAPTER 2. The Struggle for Identity [1661-1672]

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pp. 48-91

The return voyage was mercifully quick and safe. Increase Mather's ship reached the fishing camps on Newfoundland's southeast coast in August 1661 and after a wait of only ten days—he thought himself lucky—he took passage on a New England vessel headed back to Boston. He landed on September i during the last days of New England's summer and went ...

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CHAPTER 3. God's Agent on Earth [1672–1676]

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pp. 92-126

The world was a new place to Increase Mather after 1672. He had been, he believed, on the threshold of death, but was brought back to life in a physical renewal and a symbolic, or spiritual, rebirth. "These truths," he wrote to his church in 1672, "were spoken to you by one whom God brought out of his grave on purpose that so he might declare these things ...

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CHAPTER 4. Spiritual Leadership [1676–1680]

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pp. 127-154

It was November 1676. The war was only just over. Increase Mather tossed fitfully in bed. It would not be daylight for several hours. The dark city huddled under a cold rain, and outside his bedroom a wind swept off the bay. Suddenly Mather started up awake. Did he smell smoke? Before he reached the window he heard the first shouting in the ...

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CHAPTER 5. New Worlds of Science and Hope [1680–1686]

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pp. 155-183

Mather, restored to health after this long and frightening illness experienced a new sense of well-being. Leading the synod of 1679 and the renewal in his church had sapped his vitality, but in their success he seemed at last to have escaped from his father's shadow and gathered new spirit. The vestiges of anger at his church and at provincial Boston ...

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CHAPTER 6. Dominion of New England [1684 — 1688]

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pp. 184-211

The English government was slow to take up the challenge of overseas colonies. Parliament acted first by passing legislation to keep trade with the colonies in the hands of English merchants and ship owners. Disposition of American lands was considered to be in the king's prerogative— part of the king's domain—and royal government, as distinct from ...

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CHAPTER 7. Representing Massachusetts in London [1688–1691]

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pp. 212-254

The first days on the President were stormy, and Mather was seasick, but he soon recovered and enjoyed the rest of his six-week voyage, except for a toothache that sometimes made it impossible for him either to study or to pray. On most days he managed to pray with the crew, and on the Sabbath he conducted services morning and afternoon. They sailed ...

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CHAPTER 8. Massachusetts Under the New Charter [1692–1702]

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pp. 155-301

The long sea voyage gave Mather ample time to ponder the future. Thirty years ago he had fled England as an exile for his religion. Now circumstances were very different, and he was a different person. In the last four years in and around London he had experienced a world of wealth and power beyond anything remotely possible in Boston, and in ...

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CHAPTER 9. The Last Puritan [1703–1723]

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pp. 302-364

Lilacs were blooming in Boston in the spring of 1699, when the city learned that England had rejected another batch of Massachusetts laws, including the 1697 version of the Harvard charter. Once again the now tiresome business of seeking a new charter for the college had to be addressed. The problem was that the crown insisted the king have oversight ...


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pp. 365-402


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pp. 403-416


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pp. 417-438

E-ISBN-13: 9780819572547
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819551283

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 1988

OCLC Number: 731690637
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Last American Puritan

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Subject Headings

  • Mather, Increase, 1639-1723.
  • Puritans -- Massachusetts -- Biography.
  • Massachusetts -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
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