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Boston College collection of Cotton Mather letters

Collection MS-1990-023: Boston College collection of Cotton Mather letters


  • Creation: 1692

Scope and Contents

The Boston College collection of Cotton Mather letters are addressed to Chief Justice William Stoughton and concern the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. The letters shed light on the relationship of Mather and Stoughton, document trial proceedings from Mather's perspective, and contain advice from Mather on how to proceed in witchcraft interrogations.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research; digital version also available.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note

Cotton Mather was born on February 12, 1663, in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was the son of Puritan minister and Harvard College President (1685-1701) Increase Mather and his wife Maria Cotton. He entered Harvard College at age twelve and graduated with his master’s degree at eighteen. He was ordained in 1685 and devoted himself to preaching, prayer, and publishing academic work. He served as minister at the Second Church in Boston from 1685 until his death.

Mather is well known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials of 1692, and his research into the devil, witches, and possession. He published Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions in 1689, where he chronicled the account of a thirteen-year-old he believed to be possessed by the Devil. While not directly involved in the trials, Mather’s education and writing on the topic made him an expert, and his counsel was sought during the trial by William Stoughton and John Richards. It was Mather who claimed that no witch could recite the Lord’s Prayer, which was a tactic used during the trials.

Following the Salem witch trials, Mather continued to write and publish. Despite his belief in spirits, demons, and possession, he had a great interest in medicine and controversially had his son inoculated against smallpox. He published over four hundred works on Christianity and science during his lifetime. He had fifteen children by three wives, but all but two predeceased him. Cotton Mather died on February 13, 1728.


"Cotton Mather." In Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Febraury 8, 2020. Encyclopædia Britannica (Accessed April 3, 2020).

Walker, Rachel. "Cotton Mather." (accessed 27 November 2017)


.25 Linear Feet (1 container )

Language of Materials



Comprised of three letters written by Cotton Mather and addressed to Chief Justice William Stoughton.


Purchased from Sam Morrill (1990).

Existence of digital copies

This collection is available digitally. Links are included in the inventory.

Processing Information

Transcriptions for each of the letters were found with the originals during processing in 2017. The transcriptions have been retained, but their origins are unknown.

Boston College Collection of Cotton Mather Letters
Tyler Press
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States