In Salem, Massachusetts, a cluster of accusations of witchcraft led to prosecution. Cotton Mather presided over the trials of those accused of being witches, and eventually eighteen men and women were found guilty and hanged.
Increase Mather (1639–1723) was an influential Puritan minister and leader of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mather was a traditionalist who clashed with more liberal members of the church. With his son, Cotton, Mather is also remembered for his part in the Salem witch trials. The Mathers served as advisors to the trial judges, pressuring them not to rely on “spectral evidence,” and in 1693 Increase published his Case of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men, justifying the Mathers’ role in the trials.
Cotton Mather (1663–1728) was the Boston-born son of Increase Mather, a prominent Puritan minister. Cotton was an influential church leader in his own right, but he is most widely remembered for his role in the Salem witch trials. Although he cautioned the judges against relying on “spectral” evidence he did view New England as a battleground in the war against Satan and defended the trials and his participation in them in his 1693 book Wonders of the Invisible World.
Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University, reinterprets the Salem witchcraft crisis from a seventeenth-century perspective, drawing not only on court records, but also on correspondence and journals from the late 1680s to the early 1690s.
The myths surrounding what happened in Salem make the true story that much more difficult to uncover. Cotton Mather wrote this account in 1693, a year after the trials ended. Mather’s account of the witch trials reinforced colonial New Englanders’ view of themselves as a chosen generation of men.