Thanksgiving With Cotton Mather

I’ve just finished two biographies on Cotton Mather and purchased a third.

Cotton Mather is likely one of the greatest men you’ve never heard of, or if you have heard of him he is probably one of the worst men you never heard of.

If you have heard of Cotton Mather (1663-1728) you have probably heard him portrayed as the instigator behind the Salem witch trials, which means you have really never heard of him. But such false and defamatory portrayals draw clicks on the internet around Halloween, so the characterization remains.

Mather was a Puritan. He was a pastor, a prolific writer, as well as a scientist who first promoted inoculation in America to prevent smallpox. Mather’s writings and influence helped lay the groundwork for the Great Awakening, America’s first great revival.

But to the point of this post, Mather was also a husband and father, and his first two wives died young. The first, Abigail, died following giving birth, and the second, Elizabeth, died of the measles, along with two of their new born twins. Another son was born without an anus, and all Cotton and his wife could do was watch him die. Mather had fifteen children, but only two would outlive him. In other words, Cotton Mather would bury thirteen of his fifteen children.

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On Thanksgiving

Today millions of Americans will gather with family, eat turkey and watch the Dallas Cowboys . . . and they will completely miss the point of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has its roots, not in Irving, Texas, and not even in the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts, but in the English Reformation.

English Reformers sought to reduce the numerous traditional Catholic church holidays that had accumulated over the centuries, while Puritans called for their elimination completely, to be replaced by days of fasting and thanksgiving. Days of fasting would be called in response to evidence of God’s judgment, a drought for example, and special days of thanksgiving in response to God’s providential blessing, such as a particularly good harvest. Continue reading “On Thanksgiving”