(b. Feb. 12, 1663, Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony [U.S.]—d. Feb. 13, 1728, Boston), “American Congregational minister and author, supporter of the old order of the ruling clergy, who became the most celebrated of all New England Puritans. He combined a [supposedly -WC] mystical strain (he believed in the existence of witchcraft) with a modern scientific interest (he supported smallpox inoculation).

The son of Increase Mather and the grandson of John Cotton and Richard Mather, Cotton Mather lived all his life in Boston. He entered Harvard at the age of 12, easily passing entrance requirements to read and write Latin and to “decline the Greek nouns and verbs.” He devoted himself unremittingly to study and prayer. At 18 he received his M.A. degree from the hands of his father, who was president of the college. He preached his first sermon in his father’s church in August 1680 and in October another from his grandfather John Cotton’s pulpit. He was formally ordained in 1685 and became his father’s colleague.

He devoted his life to praying, preaching, writing, and publishing and still followed his main purpose in life of doing good. His book, Bonifacius, or Essays to Do Good (1710), instructs others in humanitarian acts, some ideas being far ahead of his time: the schoolmaster to reward instead of punish his students, the physician to study the state of mind of his patient as a probable cause of illness. He established societies for community projects.

He joined his father in cautioning judges against the use of “spectre evidence” (testimony of a victim of witchcraft that he had been attacked by a spectre bearing the appearance of someone he knew) in the witchcraft trials and in working for the ouster of Sir Edmund Andros as governor of Massachusetts. He was also a leader in the fight for inoculation against smallpox, incurring popular disapproval. When Cotton inoculated his own son, who almost died from it, the whole community was wrathful, and a bomb was thrown through his chamber window. Satan seemed on the side of his enemies; various members of his family became ill, and some died. Worst of all, his son Increase was arrested for rioting.

Mather’s interest in science and particularly in various American phenomena—published in his Curiosa Americana (1712-24)—won him membership in the Royal Society of London. His account of the inoculation episode was published in the society’s transactions. He corresponded extensively with notable scientists, such as Robert Boyle. His Christian Philosopher (1721) recognizes God in the wonders of the earth and the universe beyond; it is both philosophical and scientific and, ironically, anticipates 18th-century Deism, despite his clinging to the old order.

Cotton Mather wrote and published more than 400 works. His magnum opus was Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) [BOT], an ecclesiastical history of America from the founding of New England to his own time. His Manuductio ad Ministerium (1726) was a handbook of advice for young graduates to the ministry: on doing good, on college love affairs, on poetry and music, and on style. His ambitious 20-year work on biblical learning was interrupted by his death.” (BCD) – from Fire and Ice.

“All this was granted them by the munificent hand of God, on account of the constancy of their faith, from which they could by no means be made to swerve, nor brought to waver in it; on account of their living hope, which begat in their souls a longing for the future riches, so that they were enabled to esteem the present ones as of little worth and forget them; and on account of their unquenchable love for God, His holy truth, and their beloved fellow-believers, whereby their souls were kindled into a flame far more intense then were their bodies through physical fire though these were reduced to ashes.” – Martyrs Mirror, page 7.

“Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and an important American religious leader, arrives in Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England. Williams, a Puritan, worked as a teacher before serving briefly as a colorful pastor at Plymouth and then at Salem. Within a few years of his arrival, he alarmed the Puritan oligarchy of Massachusetts by speaking out against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land. In October 1635, he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the General Court.

After leaving Massachusetts, Williams, with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in present-day Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters, and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”

Among those who found a haven in the religious and political refuge of the Rhode Island Colony were Anne Hutchinson,like Williams, exiled from Massachusetts for religious reasons; some of the first Jews to settle in North America; and the Quakers. In Providence, Roger Williams also founded the first Baptist church in America and edited the first dictionary of Native American languages.” – From “This Day in History”

Exploration is a risky and dangerous business. The space program is evidence of the danger and, specifically, this danger is evidenced in the space shuttle Columbia’s final descent on Feb 1, 2003. People across Texas, where much of the debris fell, are remembering the event today. See the Wikipedia article for more detail.

Those who contribute to abortion: “The mother who either carries out the act or desires or permits it, the more or less informed amateurs who assist her, perhaps the scientifically and technically trained physician, the father, relatives or other third parties who allow, promote, assist or favor the execution of the act and therefore share responsibility, and in a wider but no less strict sense the society whose conditions and mentality directly or indirectly call for such acts and whose laws even permit them.” – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3, Part 4

“Famed Tory outlaw Claudius Smith meets his end on the gallows on this day in 1779 in Goshen, New York. In the wake of his death, Patriot civilians hope for relief from guerilla warfare in upstate New York.

Born in Brookhaven, New York, in 1736, Smith moved with his family to Orange County, New York, in 1741. Thought to have fought with Mohawk leader Joseph Brandt as a Tory defender of the crown during the New York campaign of 1777, Smith earned the label “Cowboy of the Ramapos” for his use of guerrilla tactics against Patriot civilians. Smith and his cohorts stole livestock and ambushed travelers on the Orange Turnpike between Canada and New York from the cave now memorialized as “Claudius Smith’s Den” in Orange County’s Harriman State Park.

Smith managed to escape justice until his gang murdered Patriot Major Nathaniel Strong in the course of a robbery. Patriot Governor George Clinton then issued a warrant for his arrest, offering a $1,200 reward for the capture of Smith, who was described as “7 feet tall” in his wanted poster. Captured on British-controlled Long Island by vigilantes in October, he and other members of his gang, including one of his sons, were returned to Patriot territory and hung near their home turf in Goshen.

Despite his less than savory exploits, Smith earned a reputation as a “robin hood” because he targeted the wealthy but was said to be generous with the poor. Because his mother reputedly warned him that, unless he reformed, he would “die with his boots on,” Smith removed his footwear before he was hanged. Two of Smith’s three sons belonged to his gang—one was hanged with his father; another took over the gang upon his death.

Legend has it that Claudius Smith’s skull was filled with mortar and included in the edifice of the Goshen Court House.” – From This Day in History

An interesting graphic on the population of the world is found here.

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