navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Early Years
Biographies Unit Biographies

Cotton Mather 1663–1728
Preacher, Writer, Scholar, and Puritan Leader

Cotton Mather was born into a deeply religious Puritan family in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1663. Young Cotton was so smart that he went to Harvard College at the age of 12. After he graduated, he preached alongside his father at Boston's Old North Church. Together, father and son became powerful New England religious leaders.

Over time, Mather wrote hundreds of essays and books on many subjects, including history, nature, science, and religion. Medicine was another interest of Mather's. His ideas about fighting the disease called smallpox were far ahead of their time. It was the Puritan faith, however, that was at the center of his daily life. He once noted that his life was a constant “conversation with heaven.”

Mather saw himself as a defender of the Puritan way of life. When an unpopular New England governor tried to reduce the power of the Puritan church in 1689, Mather and others rebelled. A new governor was named and he kept power in Puritan hands. Today, Mather is remembered as a smart leader who loved New England nearly as much as he loved his Puritan faith.

Comprehension Check

What was most important to Cotton Mather?

Critical Thinking

What do you think Cotton Mather meant when he said that his life has been a long “conversation with heaven”?