Engraving of Cotton Mather

Engraving of Cotton Mather. No date. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

Cotton Mather, an American on Patmos

And I heard a great voice in heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

Revelation 21:3-5

At right: Cotton Mather. Things to Be Look'd For. Discourses on the glorious characters, with conjectures on the speedy approaches of that state which is reserved for the church of God in the latter dayes, together with an inculcation of several duties which the undoubted characters and approaches of that state invite us unto, delivered unto the Artillery company of the Massachusetts colony, New England, at their election of officers for the year 1691. Cambridge, Massachusetts: printed by Samuel Green & Barth. Green, for Nicholas Buttolph, at Gutteridge's coffee-house in Boston, 1691. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

No American took God's command to the exiled apostle more seriously than the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather. When God told John to write, He may as well have addressed Mather himself. Few American writers have been so thoroughly saturated by the Book of Revelation, and even fewer have approached Mather's staggering literary output. Perhaps the most voracious Bible reader our shores have ever known, Mather's views on the end of the world were the culmination of a century of American speculation on its destiny. These beliefs were typically distilled in fire-ridden sermons like Theopolis Americanaand Things to Be Look'd For. His magisterial history of America, Magnalia Christi Americana, still believed that the great works of Christ were being enacted in the New World, even as it condemned backsliding New Englanders who were not living up to the saintly works of their first generation of American settlers.


At right: Cotton Mather. Theopolis Americana. An essay on the golden street of the Holy City. Publishing, a testimony against the corruptions of the market-place. With some good hopes of better things to be yet seen in the American world. In a sermon, to the general Assembly of the Massachusetts province in New-England, 3d. 9m. 1709. Boston: printed by B. Green. Sold by Samuel Gerrish at his shop, 1710. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

Nor was Mather's interest in the end of the world limited to his public preaching: his letter to Thomas Foxcroft exhibited here enlists Foxcroft in a Bible study group devoted solely to the interpretation of Revelation. Mather's restless mind even saw the workings of the devil in Asia, and the manuscript letter from "India Christiana" sniffs out the agents of the Antichrist in the missionary work of Catholics in, of all places, Malabar, East India. Finally, Mather's Diaries attest to many long struggles with the devil in his very study. These struggles and the biblical speculations to which they gave rise had an enormous impact on American Christianity--except for the various years Mather assigned to the end of the world, dates that passed quietly in 1697, 1716, and again in 1736.

At right: Cotton Mather. Magnalia Christi Americana. Or, The ecclesiastical history of New-England, from its first planting in the year 1620 unto the year of Our Lord 1698. In seven books, by the Reverend and learned Cotton Mather. London: Printed for Thomas Parkhurst, at the Bible and three crowns in Cheapside, 1702. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

At right: Autograph letter, signed, from Cotton Mather to Dr. Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg containing portion of manuscript of "India Christiana" (1712). 31 December 1717. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

At right and below: Autograph letter, signed, from Cotton Mather to Thomas Foxcroft. 28 August 1722. 2 pp. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

At right: Cotton Mather. The Diary of Cotton Mather, 1681-[1724]. Published at the charge of the Peabody Fund. Boston: The Society, 1911-1912. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.