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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Primary Analysis: Cotton Mather Letter

Please review this letter by Cotton Mather regarding Salem and the Witch trials and the Great Awakening.  Students should comment with analysis of the letter and its relevance to course content.

22 comments:

gorJessxolol said...

Cotton Mather really believes that there really are witches and that they are justly persecuted. He mentions God's hand in one recent trial. Mather believes that those convicted pleaded guilty because of God. He was even outraged when the "witches" swore by God that they were inoccent. I wonder exactly how much pain or toture was inflicted on the convicted in order for them to admitt that they were witches.
Also, I wonder if the quake in Jamaica had any affect on Cotton Mathers. Did he think it was a sort of sign from God? Would he believe that God was angry at them for persecuting inoccents, or would Mathers think God's anger was directed to the "witches".
Mathers seems to be a sympathetic guy when it comes to those impacted by the quake. On the other hand, he doesn't seem to have even the smallest sympathy to those who were being harmed because they were believed to be witches. It seems to me that he isn't a very kind man at all or he deeply believes in his religion and that he is doing the right thing.

SilentStrike254 said...

Cotton Mather was a man who believed in witches. The way he worded it within the letter was that he thought these "witches" were being executed and that they had a right to be executed. He says that God was the one who had sent these witches to be executed and was commanding more and more each day to confess themselves and their so called wrong-doings. As well for the whole earthquake dilemma, I'm not sure this affected Cotton Mather personally, however it might have affected his spirit. The earthquake devastatingly wiped out Jamaica, along with bringing in huge waves to sweep the 1700 people or so off into the ocean. Cotton Mather truly just wants gods wishes so that he can accept the facts that have happened, and bless the souls that have been lost from the earthquakes and witch accusations. In all, this letter is mostly a request for prayers and a plead for help for what these people at the time of the event were most likely thinking just like Cotton Mather. -Mike Espinell

mrowl12345 said...

In my opinion this is one of the most rediculous and ignorant things ive read in my live. Although taking into account the lack of education and surplus of religion at this time in history this letter is just a perfect example of the need for better education of the people. The idea that people could actually believe in such things as witches, and then kill inocent people while holding a false sense of triumph and heroism makes me just disipointed in the people at this time. It actually seems that he truelly believes that the witches were real and they diserved the punishment they got. I also find it interesting that Cotton Mather says that says that theese actions were taken in the name of God. It seems like most violent and hateful acts back in the colonial times were done in the name of God and Christianity.

jlchacho said...

The Salem Witch Trials are a really interesting, appealing, and contreversial subject. So many aspects of it make me curious. Like, was God really the sole reason these people persecuted? Has anyone ever thought that maybe the accused were accused out of anothers jealousy or spite? I'm sure there are simillar letters like Cotton Mathers that conspire against one single person for any specific reason. The idea that the witch trials could have actually been a persons way of revenge, that torturing someone to plead guilty whether it was the truth or not,is sickening. I'm curious whether Cotton Mather truly believed the persecutions took place in the name of God, or if in the back of his mind he had some flicker of guilt towards the wrongly or correctly accused.

Krista said...

I find it very interesting how Cotton Mather and many of the other people at that time found the witch trials to be a good thing when that is the complete opposite of what everyone thinks today. I do not think the colonists persecuting the witches should be thought badly of because of their ignorance and belief in real witches, but because of their lack of compassion. You would think that because they're so religious they would see everybody as equal subjects of God.
When it comes to the earth quake in Jamaica the colonists showed much compassion compared to the which trials. Mather wrote,"I live in pains, and want your prays." Was he in pain because of the devastation of the earth quake? Also I couldn't help but notice that the news of the quake was not being passed on to John Cotton until almost a month later! It's hard to imagine what life was like back then and what really caused them to persecute all of the innocent "witches".

tboroski44 said...

This letter greatly surprised me. In fact, I had to read it over a few times to even begin to think of it as a real letter. The fact that Mather and many others from that time actually believed in witches goes beyond my amazement. And, the fact that they executed innocent people for being "witches," leaves me looking for an explanation for it.
On the other hand, this is a good example of the contrast between 1600's society and today. People in the 17th century took religion very seriously, and they didn't want any interference, so they executed anyone that was suspected of antagonizing their beliefs. However, if there was an article in today's newspaper about an upcoming witch trial, I don't believe that many people would take it seriously. In fact, most of the comments posted before mine on this blog indicate in some way, shape, or form the belief that witches are fictional.

cvalenti2 said...

By reading this letter it appears that information did not travel fast in that time period as the date that Cotton Mather wrote this letter was the 5th of August whereas the earthquake in Jamaica occured around the 7th of June. This would mean that the information took nearly two months to travel from Jamaica back to the colonies, but this lengthy amount of time might have been a given back then because in our book (The American Pageant), pg. 92, there is a section that discusses the delays of travel. Such setbacks included disconnected roads that were commonly deficient and bumpy and how they could even be dangerous to travelers- this was primarily the reason for the late times of recieving critical or latest news throughout the colonies and the New world which may explain why Cotton Mather learned about the earthquake at such a late time and was not phased by the two month delay of recieving the news.
Regarding the witch trials and how people often confessed/turned in others who were assumed or witnessed as witches Cotton Mather states "Since those, there have come in other confessors; yea, they come in daily." This portrays the society in colonial times and how it differs from today because Cotton Mather says that many confessors come in and almost daily about witches and this shows how witch trials were the center of his and other's lives and how new witches were frequently identified. Ministers and curches were always recieving reports of witches or confessions which lead to executions of the corrupt- back then in the late 17th, early 18th centuries Cotton Mather and others were thankful and praised God for these occurrences that rid society of evil and heretics, whereas now we look upon the witch trials as a terrible event in which so many innocent were killed. Notably, back then the witches weren't looked upon as innocent so the witch trials seemed like the right answer at the time and was not often looked upon as wrong.

jennaaxrae18 said...

The entire subject of witches in colonial times grabs my attention right away. Not only is it interesting within itself, but it's also interesting to see how people reacted and handled different events in which witches were accused. Cotton Mather seemed to be particularly set on his beliefs about God and witches. He believed that God did the "miracle work" of more witches admitting their wrongdoing and being punished with execution. I feel like Mather was sheltered a bit in which way that he automatically assumed that the witches were guilty rather than considering outside reasons or their pleas of innocence.
Regarding the earthquake on June 7th in Jamaica, it appeared to be a terrible event that destroyed many things and killed a number of people. Cotton Mather seemed very upset. He explains to John Cotton how devastating the natural disaster was. It seemed more important to him than the witch trials and he seemed to have sympathy for everyone in the area. I'm surprised he didn't blame the "witches" for that very event.

-Jenna Ryan

amanda said...

It's amazing how the killing of innocents (known as witches) was regarded as a miracle, more so a vindication of innocence, where in reality the person itself was the innocence. This man, Mather, truly believed acts of nature were caused by people who were just as powerless over nature as himself. To express a natural disaster as wickedness is just mind blowing. To think this man's thoughts were commonly known, and perhaps even shared is astounding. It's amazing how much the accepted beliefs have changed since then. If one were to speak of witches now we'd say their insane, yet back then talk of witches was... commonly accepted and even believed. You'd think that a powerful destruction after the execution of "witches" would say that the execution was a negative thing. Either way the great amount of difference within the years really makes you think, what will the common beliefs of the future be?

Diana said...

After reading this letter by Cotton Mather, it seemed as though no one was logical and knowledgeable enough to say that witches aren't real and that they are killing innocent people for no reason. Yet they may have believed this outrageous idea due to the fact that they were very religious people at that time. "Five witches were lately executed, impudently demanding of God, a miraculous vindication of their innocency." When Mather wrote this letter, people during this time period were actually fond of witch trials and didn't really care that people were being executed for no reason. While today many think of it as a horrible event in history.
When Mather talks about the earthquake in Jamaica, I found it interesting that it took closely a month before the letter got to John Cotton back in the colonies. It seemed that the earthquake destroyed many things such as cities and people and was a horrible event. After the whole situation of the witches, why didn't the people in Jamaica and in the colonies such as Mather concluded that the earthquake may be from the so called "witches"?

michellepleban said...

This article shows how religion affected peoples' lifestyle. Cotton Mather believed that the identifying and killing of witches was brought on by God. He thinks that all the good things, or what he considers good, that happen in life are gifts from God. In this article and in our book, it shows how with a strong religon people can be influenced to follow the beliefs of a religion. In our book, it names many different kinds of religions, for example Calvinism, that became popularized by the spread of people and how they portrayed it as. With a more powerful preaching, shown through the Great Awakening, the religion is more likely to be accepted by the society.

C.Slotter said...

This letter by Cotton Mather reveals the power of popular belief in the late 17th century, particularly through witch trials. After a group of girls accused women of being "witches", it wasn't long before all of the colonies began to believe them. Eventually, it got to the point where any women could be in danger of being accused/prosecuted for being a "witch". I find it interesting that no evidence was needed to prove one was a witch. For example, in the letter Mather writes about how five witches were about to be executed, when Andover witches arrived and claimed that those witches had also been a part of their group. I was surprised that the townspeople didn't feel the need to find evidence to prove/disprove this- instead they just carried on with the execution. It seems as if the executions were more for entertainment than protection.
Prior to reading this letter, I thought that witch trials only occured in Salem. However, the letter shows that they occured in the other colonies as well, such as Jamaica. This further shows how a popular belief can spread far, quickly.

mike51095 said...

I think that this letter is another perfect example of devoted to God these colonists were. They are exectuing these people who they believe to be "witches" becuse they think that this is what God wants. I also think these Salem witch trials are just a way for some people to have someone executed that they don't like. Any person can say that someone is a witch and most people will belive them. It is very sad that about seventeen-hundred people lost their lives in the earthquake at Jamaica. Once again though the first person that Cotton Mather says escaped was the minister. This is just another example of how much these people were attached to their religeon. -Mike Signore

sukhmeetkohli said...

This letter talks about how colonists were so religious that they believed executing witches was God's way. They showed no mercy, and put a lot of pressure on women because if any of the colonists felt that someone was a witch, they would probably be killed without and show of proof. Which was something that was very wrong because before someone is executed there should be some proof shown to prove someone is witch. Even though that was how society was, that doesn't mean you go around killing innocent and random people. Mather also feels bad for all those people that died in the earthquake, which shows he cared about the other colonists.

matthew said...

In this letter by Cotton Mather, you realize just how faithful people back in colonial times were. As in the Salem witch trials, people accused of witchcraft were executed because of their faith in God. And, unfortunatly people like Cotton believed that God sent them to be executed, and God was making the "witches" turn themselves in. Thankfully, America has became tolerant of diversity unlike the colonists.
Then, in the meeting-house, Cotton and the others learned about an earthquake in Jamaica, which killed about seventeen-hundred unfortunate people. But, miraculously a minister escaped the danger. They believed this to be an act of God, and he was punishing the perished souls. This relates to our readings because we learned about their devotion to God, and the horrible Salem witchcraft trials.

Yazan said...

im surprised about the primitive mail service in the colonies. it took almost a month for news to get from jamaica to massachusets. i was also surprised about the stupidity of the colonists in that era. who in thier right mind would take this seriously. they would scoff at the natives' religions and call them savages because they believed that nature had spirits and refused to alter the landscape the way the english saw as signs of civilization. but then the english turned around and executed their neighbors because they "possesed spirits"

Ross said...

Letter after letter, quote after quote, there is one thing made absolutely clear to me, every hour of a typical colonial settler's day was spent either thinking about, acting on behalf of, praying to, or praising their God. There are a plethora of examples of Cotton Mather living his life focused solely on his religion. For one, he states, "God miraculously sent in five Andover witches." and he goes on to describe this as surprising and amazing. And well, it is amazing, amazing how Cotton Mather strongly, without a doubt in his mind, believes that his God would actually send witches to towns to be disposed of. This probably astonishes me so much because i am a victim of the 21st century, too caught up on technology and friends to pay attention to piety as much as those who lived through the early days of America did, and this letter helped me to see this religious devotion close and personal.

- Ross Barreiro

BigBri said...

Cotton Mather believed in witchcraft up to a certain point. He believed those that pleaded guilty were chosen by God to reveal their confessions of all their villianies. But in the text, it reveals that "Cotton Mather defended the death-sentence verdicts of several trials for witchcraft." Therefore believed that witchcraft was somewhat real and that not all people convicted of witchcraft were actual witches. Who ever came up with the idea of witchcraft? And why would anyone think up the idea of witchcraft? And how was it spread?
At the time of the earthquake in Jamiaca, have the english ever been in contact with a earthquake previously? Did they know how to stay safe? I am surprised that "No less than seventeen-hundred souls of that one town are missing". That many people died and possibly more, but were they even aware of what was going on?

smurftastic44 said...

Cotton Mather was very dedicated to his church and believed that the execution of ‘witches’ in Salem was somewhat acceptable. He thought that it was God who made the women confess, but he seemed uneasy at the thought of execution. His morals were obviously influenced by the church, and so he still supported their decision to execute the women.
The earthquake saddened him, but he still did not loose faith. Instead, he saw the disaster as a sign from God because the non-conformist minister and most of the people from New England survived, along with all of their ships. In this letter he is reaching out to the Reverend for guidance, and this further proves that he is devoted to his beliefs.

Caitlin said...

This letter demonstrates how Cotton Mather was a very religious man. Although this is an honorable trait to possess, it is also a dangerous one. Mather should use his common sense when it comes to the Salem witch trials. Anyone could claim that a person is a witch and just because some people are so religious, a society will believe that person if they say it is going against their god. Mather had no problem when it came to persecuting the witches, but wouldn't persecuting anyone be against the bible? That is where the people who believe in the witches and want them dead, such as someone like Mather, are a bit hypocritical.
Mather did seem like he cared about the people who were killed from the natural disaster though. This helps us to see he does have a sympathetic side. He never lost faith in God though. If anything, this disaster helped to strengthen his faith because he believed that God saved most of the people from New England as well as the non conformist minister. I think that Mather really is a good man, just a little too gullible when it comes to some aspects of his faith, meaning the witch trials.

Jeanette said...

Cotton Mather seems to be very emotional on the whole subject of witchery. He even goes as far as stating "my soul has been refreshed" that more and more people were confessing to it. After reading that he defended the death-sentence verdicts of several trials for witchery, I realized that it is somewhat ironic that such a religious man was not totally against the evils of witchcraft. After all, wasn't he concerned that the "Puritan heritage was being eclipsed by Yankee commercialism"? (The American Pageant, page 77.)One thing is for sure, however; Mather believes strongly in God, as the majority of the people did in that time period. No matter what happens in life, good or bad, they still keep a strong hold on their religion, like Mather did when the earthquake in Jamaica wrecked havoc on a place that had much wickedness to it.

C said...

JA-I wouldn't doubt that Mather believed the earthquake was a heavenly sign. He was a product of Puritan New England, one area still very parochial with its beliefs. He was one to "live by the book."
JC-There are lots of supposed reasons why the Salem accusations took place. For instance,"Various medical and psychological explanations for the observed symptoms have been explored by researchers, including psychological hysteria in response to Indian attacks, convulsive ergotism caused by eating rye bread made from grain infected by the fungus Claviceps purpurea (which is the natural substance from which some hallucinogens are derived), an epidemic of bird-borne encephalitis..[or] sleep paralysis to explain the nighttime attacks alleged by some of the accusers."
SV, JZ-Nice connections made between the content of the text and the letter. That's exactly the purpose of these exercises.