Birth: 5 May 1682 Plymouth Township, Massachusetts8,8
Death: 16 Aug 1726 Unknown
Spouse: Elizabeth (Elliott) Dimond
Marriage: 19 Feb 1708 Marblehead, Massachusetts
Spouse: Mary (Gedney) Gookin
Marriage: 16 Aug 1711
1657 graduated from Harvard College
1660 married Joanna Rossiter8
1664 to 1667 preached to a congregation of Indians and white people on Martha's Vineyard
1669 ordained at Plymouth where he remained until 1698
1680 son, Josiah born in Plymouth
1698 moved to Charleston, South Carolina where he founded a Congregational Church
1699 died Yellow Fever 1
WHAT FOLLOWS DEMONSTRATES MODERN DAY RESEARCHERS CAN "SENSATIONALIZE" INCIDENTS THAT ARE NOT CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD DUE TO THEIR DISTANCE IN TIME. IN WHAT FOLLOWS, A NOTED SCHOLAR, EUGENE AUBREY STRATTON, AFFIRMS AN ACCUSATION OF ADULTERY AGAINST REV. JOHN COTTON JR. FOLLOWING STRATTON'S ARTICLE IS A REBUTAL BY MR. ARTHUR LORD.
Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-169116
Part Two: Topical Narratives
Chapter 12: Morality and Sex
An example of the conflicting views in the mind of one person can be seen in Rev. John Cotton, the son of the distinguished Rev. John Cotton who has been called "the patriarch of New England," and the uncle of the also justly famed Rev. Cotton Mather. The younger John Cotton graduated from Harvard in 1657, and in 1666 he was invited to become minister of the Plymouth Church, a position he held from 1669 to 1697. For his ordination "Elder Thomas Cushman gave the charge, and the aged Mr. John Howland was appointed by the church to join in imposition of hands." Cotton himself writes that when he arrived at Plymouth in 1667, there were forty-seven church members in full communion (not to be confused with the greater number of attendees) and that during the next thirty years 178 new members were admitted to the church. He was a highly respected minister, known for his sermons, and described by Nathaniel Morton as "a man of strong prtes and Good Abillities to preach the word of God... from whom wee have Received many very proffitable truthes." Yet it must have been known by the Plymouth fathers that in 1664 Cotton had been excommunicated from the Boston Church for "immoral conduct," being restored a month later after making penitential acknowledgment. As his son later wrote in a praiseful biography, "And yet what man is there [p.192] without his failings?" After twenty-eight years of service in Plymouth, Cotton resigned his ministry in 1697, ostensibly over a difference within the church about Isaac Cushman preaching in the area later called Plympton before being designated a ruling elder. However, Judge Sewall in his Diary gives as one of the reasons for Cotton's resignation "his notorious Breaches of the Seventh Comandmt." Thou shalt not commit adultery! Sewall also played a role in the resolution of the matter, for when he came to Plymouth on 10 March 1697/98, he had a long discourse with Cotton, and told him "a free confession was the best way." After tarrying more than a year at Plymouth, Cotton became minister at Charleston, South Carolina, where he died in 1699 of yellow fever.
Footnote: PCR 1:12, 15, 65. Concerning the lack of court charges against Mr. Cotton, Judge Sewall, 461, noted that one minister had told others "that they had dealt too favourably with Mr. Cotton." Concerning the charges brought against couples having children born less than nine months after marriage, many apologists for the colonists say that the Plymouth authorities had no concept of premature birth, but the records clearly show that people in the colony well knew the difference between a nine-month baby and a seven-month one, or a six-month one, or a five-month one, etc. Such apologists would prefer to think of their ancestors as stupid rather than immoral.
There was probably some hypocrisy in the handling of this affair, in that the Reverend Mr. Cotton was not tried by the court for his notorious breaches, but such hypocrisy would have been necessary, for it would not do to expose publicly the inconsistencies of the teacher of morals. Lesser people under suspicion, from the beginning of the colony to the end, faced a trial, and if found guilty, a financial penalty or physical punishment, or both. One of the earliest records we have of punishment involving a sexual offense was from a court of 1 April 1633 when John Hewes and his wife Joan were sentenced to sit in the stocks because Joan conceived a child by him before they were married. At the same court John Thorp and his wife Alice were sentenced to sit in the stocks and fined forty shillings because Alice conceived a child before marriage; however, because of their poverty, they were given twelve months to pay the fine. On 23 July 1633 the governor and council sentenced William Mendlove, the servant of William Palmer, to be whipped for "attempting uncleanes wth the maid servt of the said Palmer, & for running away from his master." A similar case was tried by the Court of Assistants on 21 August 1637, when John Bundy, an apprentice bound to William Brewster, was found guilty of "lude behavior & uncivill carriage" towards Elizabeth Haybell, in the house of her master, Mr. Brewster, and was sentenced to be severely whipped.16
Mr. Eugene Aubrey Stratton's statement, "Concerning the lack of court charges against Mr. Cotton, Judge Sewall, 461, noted that one minister had told others that they had dealt too favourably with Mr. Cotton." helps to support the point Mr. Stratton wants to make. HOWEVER, AS WILL BE SEEN IN WHAT FOLLOWS, ANOTHER ACCOUNT OF WHAT HAPPENED IN PLYMOUTH CLAIMS JUDGE SEWALL CONSPIRED AGAINST THE REV. JOHN COTTON AND INTENTIONALLY DEFAMED HIM.
"There was probably some hypocrisy in the handling of this affair, in that the Reverend Mr. Cotton was not tried by the court for his notorious breaches, but such hypocrisy would have been necessary, for it would not do to expose publicly the inconsistencies of the teacher of morals.", seems to be a rather mean observation by Mr. Eugene Aubrey Stratton in light of the evidence.
MR. EUGENE A. STRATTON EITHER INTENTIONALLY FAILED TO MENTION MR. ARTHUR LORD'S REBUTTAL OF JUDGE SEWALL'S ACCUSATIONS OR MR. STRATTON'S RESEARCH FAILED TO FIND MR. ARTHUR LORD'S REBUTTAL OF JUDGE SEWALL'S ACCUSATIONS.
From "The Colonial Society of Massachusetts" Volume XXVI - Transactions 1924-1926
At a 1924 meeting Mr. Arthur Lord spoke as follows:
"In my introduction to the Plymouth Church Records, some reference is made to the resignataion of the Rev. John Cotton as minister of the First Church and his dismissal by the church at his request on October 5, 1697. Some more serious reason for this action by Mr. Cotton and the church than any differences in dogma or church polity are given by Judge Sewall in his Diary. It is difficult to reconcile the grave charges made by Judge Sewall with the fact that Mr. Cotton remained in Plymouth for a year after his resignation and made up his differences with the Plymouth Church, as his grandson, John Cotton, states, and then accepted a call to the Church at Charleston, South Carolina, receiving a recommendation from several ministers. Mr. Cotton died at Charleston September 18, 1699, and the Plymouth Church erected a monument to his memory on Burial Hill in Plymouth.'
"I was interested to find in a recently printed letter from Thomas Coram written from Liverpool, September 23, 1735, to Rev. Dr. Benjamin Colman of Boston, an indignant and explicit denial of these charges against Mr. Cotton. Thomas Coram was born in 1667 or 1668 at Lyme Regis, Dorsetshire, and died in 1751. He was a shipbuilder in Taunton (Massachusetts) in 1694 and becoame a merchant in London in 1720. He is remembered now as the founder of the Foundling Hospital in London for "the reception, maintenance and eduction of exposed and deserted young children." His statue stands on the gates leading into the wide-open space in front of the hospital and his portrait, painted by Hogarth in 1740, is preserved in the interesting collection of pictures for the most part presented to the hospital by the artists. Thackeray wrote his Paris Sketch Book at No. 13 Great Coram Street.'
"That part of Mr. Coram's letter material to this inquiry reads as follows:'
"I have also a letter from Mr. Josiah Cotton of Providence in New England thanking me for one of the Erasmus Ecclisiasticks (if I spel it right). I had no acquaintance with any of that name in New England I pray to know from you if he be a Desendant from that mr. Cotton a minister in Plymouth Colony and was, I think, an unkle to mr. Cotton Mather son of mr. Increase Mather of North Boston, who was in or about the year 1697 or within a year or two after Charged with attempting to be too Familiar with one of his Church Members Wife for which mr. Stoughton then Lt. Governor Displaced him from his Church w'ch Drove him to Carolina where he Dyed. I happened then to be building ships at Taunton in Plymouth Colony and well understood from those who had no friendship for that mr. Cotton, That all that affair was a Base piece of villainy that the man was no more Guilty of that Crime Charged on him than you or I was; I happened to speak of it severall Times in Plymouth Colony and in Boston, but at that Time it was looked on a Sort of Blasphemy to Suspect mr. Stoughton could do any thing Wrong beside I did not think fit to give my self much Trouble about it having no manner of Knowledge or acquaintance w'th that Cotton nor his Nephew Cotton Mather with whome I never to my Knowledge Exchanged a Word with him in my life yet he (after the Example of a Snorting vile Fellow of Bristol County) spoke many fals and Injuring things of me to Cloath me in a Bares Skin which Hallow'd all the Hellhouds in Town and Country on to Wurry me. as I never wanted Resentment so I gave my self no paines about Mr. Cotton Mathers Unkle, and if I had, it would have had no Effect for the Generality of the People were taught to beleive I was a vile fellow an Enemy to Gods People and aboundance of such Kind of Cant and Diabolical practices however I believe that man Mr. Cotton has as much Injustice done him in that abominable Proceeding against him as those other Innocent men who were Murdered on account of the Pretended Witchcraft and that there is equal Justice due to the Children and Posterity if any, of the one as the other. If you or any want further explaination I shall not faile of sending it."
Mr. Arthur Lord concluded:
"More than two centuries have passed since this incident in the history of the First Church of Plymouth. It has little importance or interest to-day, but it seems to me desirable in order to complete the record that some reference to this letter from Mr. Coram, which is persuasive if not conclusive as to the injustice of the charges by Sewall against Mr. Cotton, should be noted in the Transactions fo this Society (The Colonial Society of Massachusetts) which has published the records of the church of which Mr. Cotton was a minister and which contains some reference to this incident in Mr. Cotton's life."
About 300 years ago Thomas Coram left his home in Dorset and set off to make his fortune. He spent many years in America working as a shipbuilder and sea captain. He was a clever man with lots of energy and worked hard to build his business. He married, but he and his wife were not lucky enough to have any children. When they returned to England Captain Coram continued to run his business for a while at Rotherhithe on the River Thames. But his attention was now occupied by another matter, which is the reason that he is remembered today.
Captain Coram was horrified to see that many babies were left to die on the streets of London because their parents could not afford to feed them. And even in the workhouses, where they were supposed to be looked after, most of the children died of cruelty and starvation. The miserable lives of the abandoned children of London touched him so deeply that he spent the next 17 years trying to find a way to help them.
He decided to open a home where these children would be properly cared for, as there was in other cities of Europe. Captain Coram knew many rich and famous people and persuaded them to help him do this. Finally, in 1739, the King gave Captain Coram and his friends a Royal Charter, which meant that they could start to look after children in a house in Hatton Garden.
After a while there were so many children that the Governors, the people in charge, decided to build a new and bigger home. They bought the land called Lamb's Conduit Fields, which was then in the countryside, and in only a few years the magnificent building called the Foundling Hospital was completed. (Children who were abandoned were called foundlings and a hospital was a place where people were looked after, not just when they were ill.)
Captain Thomas Coram lived in an age that cared little for the plight of unwanted children, who were often left to die on the streets of London. When Coram retired after a life spent as a successful ship-builder and sailor, primarily based in the New World of America, he was horrified by the spectacle of poverty on London's streets. He spent the remainder of his life striving to fulfil his grand design, which was to establish a refuge for abandoned children. In this endeavour he was assisted by his friend, the artist William Hogarth, who like Coram himself was childless. Their efforts were rewarded in 1739, when George II granted a Royal Charter for the establishment of a Foundling Hospital.
Hogarth personally contributed paintings to decorate the walls of the new building. His example inspired many other contemporary British artists to donate works to this pioneering and philanthropic institution, creating the first British art gallery, The Foundling Hospital, which is now seen as the catalyst for the Royal Academy. At that time there was little exhibition space available for artists in London and the walls of the Hospital served this purpose.
The rich and powerful were encouraged to come and view the pictures as well as the children, with the hope that they might commission works from one of the exhibiting artists and contribute to the work of the Hospital.
George Frederick Handel also supported the Hospital's charitable work by giving benefit performances of his work in the Chapel.
In the 1920's the Foundling Hospital was pulled down, but the treasures were saved and moved to 40 Brunswick Square. The work with very vulnerable children continued with the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, today known as Coram Family. The Foundling Museum was established in 1998 as a separate but closely linked charity that will develop and manage the collection.
THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL AND ITS ART COLLECTION
The Governors of the Foundling Hospital enjoyed the arts and music and wanted the Hospital to be a place of culture. They felt that in this way not only would the children be civilised by having fine things around them, but also well-off people like themselves would take an interest in the Hospital. However, they felt it would be wrong to use money that had been raised to save children to buy paintings to decorate the rooms.
Thomas Coram's friend and one of the first Governors was the famous artist William Hogarth. He gave three of his own paintings, some of the best he ever painted, to the Hospital and urged many other well-known artists and sculptors to do likewise. Before long the Hospital had a fine collection of paintings and other works of art. Musicians too made a contribution. George Frederick Handel directed the first performance of his work The Messiah in a concert in the Hospital's Chapel, which raised the great sum of £728.
The Foundling Hospital became a fashionable place for wealthy people to visit. They would drive out of London in their coaches to attend services in the Chapel, where they looked down from the gallery on the foundling children in their smart uniforms, viewed the paintings and had a party with their friends. They enjoyed themselves and felt they were doing good at the same time. At that time there were very few other places in London where artists' work was on show to the public. The art exhibitions were so popular and successful that a group of artists decided to find a space to display their own work. This became the Royal Academy.
In 1926 the Governors decided to demolish the splendid building and move the children's home out of London. Only the colonnades remain in what is now the children's playground called Coram's Fields. The two grandest rooms, the Court Room where the Governors held their meetings and the Picture Gallery, were taken apart and then moved to this building, which is now called Coram Family.
All the paintings and other works of art have been given, in many cases by the artists themselves, in order to help the work of caring for the children of London. Many of the paintings are portraits of Governors and other people involved with the Hospital. Other paintings are about children, particularly children who were abandoned, like Moses.
A particularly touching part of the display is the collection of tokens, the little objects that mothers were asked to leave with their babies in case they needed to identify them later. These little tokens of love made by ordinary people are as precious to the Foundation today as the fine works by famous artists.
Rev. John Cotton’s Brief but Fateful Sojourn in Charles Town, South Carolina
After leaving Plymouth, the Rev. John Cotton Jr. went to Charleston, South Carolina to become pastor of what is now referred to as the Circular Congregational Church.. What follows are two different accounts of Rev. Cotton in Charleston.
The next pastor was John Cotton, the son of the distinguished John Cotton of Boston. He was born March 15, 1639/40, and was a graduate of Harvard College in the class of 165 7. In 1698, after a thirty-year pastorate in the original Pilgrim Church at Plymouth, he had been dismissed by council. One Saturday morning in July of that year, while still resident in Plymouth, he writes to his son as follows:
"Dear Son: God's ways are past finding out. When I came home I found Mr. Robert Fenwick at my house where he had waited divers hours for me with his call subscribed by Gov. Blake, some of his council and sundry inhabitants of Charlestown, and their promises amount to £67 annually. Mr. Allyne, Mr. Willard send me a letter under their hands encouraging me.’
"Mr. Lord much encourages me to goe. Mrs. Lord grasps your mother by the hand, is ready to leap out of her skin for joy."
Mr. Lord was the pastor of the Dorchester group who had migrated to South Carolina in 1695. He had returned with his wife April 16, 1698.
Having accepted the call, Mr. John Cotton leaves his wife and sons in New England. On November third and again on the ninth he writes to his son that he is only waiting for a fair wind to take his departure. He writes with much concern about his papers and MSS., which he wants to have preserved, and closes his letter to his son Rowland with the words: "I pray you (which I know you will do) assist your dear mother in all her affairs and comfort her to the utmost."
This John Cotton, in his earlier life, before beginning his pastoral work in Plymouth, had been a missionary to the Indians. He had prepared a " Vocabulary of the Indian Language," the MS. of which, bound in vellum, is now in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, as are the originals of the letters quoted above. He preached his first sermon to the Indians in 1666, and was such a valuable assistant to John Eliot, the Apostle to the Indians, that the latter made Cotton his literary executor. He had helped in the revision of the Indian Bible, and to him was left the revision of other MSS. for publication, a work which, wrote John Eliot, "none other but mr. Cotton is able to help me perform." -from Harvard Biographies, Vol. IV.
When John Cotton was ordained in Plymouth Church in 1669, John Howland, an aged survivor of the original Pilgrims, was one of those who joined in the laying on of hands. Thus the early Independent or Congregational church of Charlestown was linked to the first Pilgrim church in America. The visit of Robert Fenwick to secure Mr. Cotton for their pastor may be attributed to their desire to secure a man of maturity and ability, so that there would be no danger of importing a flighty youngster like his predecessor. In his ministry Mr. Cotton is said to have made much of the Psalms and of a three-year course in catechising, using the General Assembly's Shorter Catechism.
His son writes: " My father was a living index to the Bible,- he had a vast and strong memory. He could give chapter and verse from a word or two of the verse and recite the verse if given its number, etc." He was gifted in prayer, scholarly, a hearty friend, but hasty in temper and judgment. He had a very wide correspondence, was of a "handsome, ruddy, yet grave countenance, a sanguine complexion, of medium stature, inclined to fatness, very seldom ill"
He arrived in Charlestown December 7, 1698. "Here," writes his son, "he set himself to do all the good he could and was very abundant and successful in his labors….. He gathered a church and was settled pastor of it Mar. 15, 1699. Twenty-five new members were received to full communion. He was abundantly respected by the good, and even by the Governour himself." He died, however, of yellow fever, September 17 or 18, 1699, only a little over six months after his settlement. The church bore the, expenses of his funeral and erected a monument over his grave. One of his sons set up a memorial stone for him in Plymouth in 1725, which can still be seen on Burial Hill.
Fortunately we have a fragment of a letter by John Cotton written in Charlestown in 1699. It begins on page 5 of the letter, where he speaks of " Lantgrave Morton who of all the Council is my most ingenuous friend and comes to heare me each Sabbath." He speaks of Nicholas Trot, the King's Attorney General, and says that new members are coming in weekly, so that the church fellowship amounts to one hundred and fifteen; he refers to Mr. Pierpont, the former pastor, and speaks of the possibility of baptizing a Jew who has come to him " lively in his good motions "; he requests that a " stately gown of sad stuffe such as Bro. M. or his son we are [be] made and brought with your mother (which] will cover my meaner clothes on the Sabbath." Near the close he writes: " Two ships have come in this morning; Mr. Bennett in a great fly (?) boat waits but a high tide to bring him over the barre to us." One cannot but feel a note of tragedy in the anticipation if this was the ship from the Barbados which brought death "over the barre" both to him and to nearly two hundred fellow citizens. note: This letter is preserved by the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.17
Of John Cotton, his successor, a more ample history might be given. He was son of the celebrated John Cotton of Boston; was graduated at Harvard, in 1657, at the age of seventeen years and four months. From 1664 to 1667 he preached as a missionary to the Indians on Martha's Vineyard, in whose language lie became a proficient. In November, 1667, he removed to Plymouth, where for thirty years he preached to the descendants of the Pilgrim fathers. Some difference of opinion arising between him and his church, he was dismissed October 5th, 1697.
He was invited to South Carolina, and set sail for Charleston, November 15th, 1698, where, say the authorities we have consulted, he gathered a church, and labored with great diligence and success till his death, which occurred September 18th 1699. During his brief ministry of nine months, twenty-five were added to the church, and many were baptized. In his labors he was very abundant and successful, as appears from a daily journal kept by him, which yet exists among his descendants.
The following is taken from: The American Biographical Dictionary, by William Allen, D.D
John Cotton was born on the 13th. of March, 1640. For some reason he was excommunicated by his father's church, May, 1664, but was soon restored. He preached first at Guilford, Mass. He was eminent for his acquaintance with the Indian language. He hired an Indian for his instructor at twelve pence a day for fifty days; but his teacher, before twenty days elapsed, having received his whole pay, deserted him. He found means, however, of perfecting himself in it, and frequently preached to the Indians, who lived in several congregations in his neighborhood. The whole care of revising Elliot's Indian Bible fell on him. He died, according to Cotton Mather, who was his nephew, of yellow fever - " the horrible plague of Barbados was brought into Charlestown by an infected vessel." " It had been there little above a fortnight before many above an hundred were dead." He had eleven children, five of whom died young. Four of his sons were graduates of Harvard, three of whom were ministers of the gospel (John at Yarmouth; Rowland at Sandwich; and Theophilus, at Hampton Falls).
American Quarterly Register, vol. x., p. 246; Allen's Amer. Biog. Dict., p. 268; ; 'Mass. Hist. Coll., vol. iv.; Magnalia, iii.; Holmes; Savage, Genealogical Dictionary of New England.18
Rev. John Cotton*, M. A., of Plymouth in Massachusetts and Charleston in South Carolina, born 15 and baptized 22 March, 1639-40, was son of the famous divine, John Cotton, of Boston, by his second wife, Sarah, daughter of Richard Hankredge, of Boston, England, widow of William Story, and, after Cotton's death, wife of the Reverend Richard Mather, of Dorchester.
The son's first college bill is dated 10-4-53, a few months after his father's death; but it appears from his being charged with detriments and half-tuition between 8-10-54 and 6-4-56, and from there being no charges after the latter date, that he was absent during part of the college course. He is also credited "by the returne of his study" 18-5-55; and 6-1-56 there is "Alowed vnto John Cotton for the abuse he suffered 6s. 8d."
Subsequently to graduating, he "lived with the Reverend Mr. [Samuel] Stone at Hartford [Connecticut], where he prosecuted his studies."
After the removal of the Reverend John Russell, H. U. 1645, to Hadley, he preached at Weathersfield, where his brother, Seaborn Cotton, H. U. 1651, had officiated several years before.***
In 1660, at the age of about twenty, he was married, and was executor of the will of Governor Thomas Welles. March 14, 1660-1, he was made freeman of Connecticut.
After being at Wethersfield from 1659 to 1663, receiving in the mean time calls to preach at Haddam, Killingworth, and perhaps other places, he returned to Boston, without being settled.
May 3, 1664, he was excommunicated, for immoral conduct, from the church of which his father had been minister, but upon penitential acknowledgment was restored the next month, and, Savage says, though I know not upon what authority, "went soon and preached at Guilford."
About this time, 1664, he went to Martha's "Vineyard, and preached to the English at [Edgartown on] the East End of the Island." His nephew, Cotton Mather, writes: "He hired an Indian, after the rate of Twelvepence per Day for Fifty Days, to teach him the Indian Tongue; but his Knavish Tutor having received his whole Pay too soon, ran away before Twenty Days were out; however, in this time he had profited so far, that he could quickly Preach unto the Natives"; which he did for about two years, assisting Mayhew. But in September, 1667, according to the Records, he "appeered before the Commissioners [of the United Colonies] and was seriously spoken too To Compose those allianations between him and Mr Mahew; otherwise it was signifyed to him that the Commissioners could not expect good by theire labours wheras by theire mutual Contensions and Invictiues one against another they vndid what they taught the Natiues and sundry calles (as hee said) being made him by the English to other places; which in conjunction with the prsent fayleing of a certaine Revenew; hee was left to his libertie to dispose of himselfe as the Lord should Guid him."
An invitation having been given him by the church of Plymouth in September, 1666, and renewed the following year, he removed thither "with his Family November 30. 1667," the town defraying all the expenses of transportation, and allowing him "£50 for the present year."
"October 29th, 1668," writes Thacher, "it was agreed to allow to Mr. Cotton the sum of £80 for the following year, one third part in wheat, or butter, one third part in rye, barley or peas, and the other third in Indian corn at stipulated prices. In 1677, the same sum was allowed him, and to continue till God in his providence shall so impoverish the town that they shall be necessitated to abridge that sum. In November, 1680, it was voted to convey to Mr. Cotton the minister's house and homestead, and to his heirs forever, except the lot given to the church by Bridget Fuller and Samuel Fuller, which reserve is the parsonage at the present time. The homestead given to Mr. Cotton was adjoining the present parsonage on the east side. August 4th, 1687, it was proposed in town-meeting to allow Mr. Cotton £90 for that year, but it was opposed by a large majority, as exceeding their ability, and it was then agreed that the minister's salary should be paid by voluntary subscription." In 1696, "the town agreed to pay . . . £75 in silver money for his salary the present year, with which he was well satisfied."
Cotton was ordained 30 June, 1669, "having transferred his church membership from Boston." "Elder Thomas Cushman gave the charge, and the aged Mr. John Howland was appointed by the church to join in imposition of hands. The Rev. Mr. Walley made a solemn prayer, and the Rev. Mr. Torrey gave the right hand of fellowship."
From John Cotton's Appendix to Robbins's Ordination Sermon, it appears that "The Pastor with the Ruling Elder made it their first special Work together to pass through the whole Town from Family to Family to enquire into the State of Souls, and according as they found the Frames either of the Children of the Church or others, so they applied Counsels, Admonitions, Exhortations and Encouragements; which Service was attended with a Blessing."
"In November began Catechising of the Children by the Pastor (constantly attended by the Ruling Elder) once a Fortnight, the Males at one time and the Females at the other," Perkins's Catechism being used at first, and the Assembly's some years afterward.
"In January following, the Church agreed to begin monthly Church-meetings for religious Conference, which were constantly attended for many Years, and much Good attended that Exercise."
In the first year of Cotton's ministry, the number of church-members was increased from twenty-seven to seventy-four; fourteen were admitted in 1670, seventeen in 1671, six in 1672; one hundred and seventy-eight being admitted during the thirty years of his ministry. Candidates for admission were examined in private by the Elders, commonly stood propounded in public for two or three weeks, and made orally a "Confession of Faith, and a Declaration of their Experiences of a Work of Grace in the Presence of the Congregation. . . . The Relations of the Women being written in private from their Mouths, were read in publick by the Pastor, and the Elders gave Testimony of the Competency of their knowledge. . . . If any Members came from other Places, and had Letters of Dismission, they were accepted upon that Testimonial, and nothing further required of them." In 1688, however, a modification of the rule was made in favor of men "not able to speak in Publick to the Edification of the Congregation, nor to the hearing of the whole Church."
"In July 1676, the Church (and all the Churches in the Colony [of Plymouth] at the Motion of the General Court) solemnly renewed Covenant with God and one another on a Day of Humiliation appointed for the Purpose," and "enter'd into strict Engagements (thro' the Assistance of divine Grace) for personal and Family Reformation,"—a similar renewal being again made in April, 1692.
January 19, 1678-9, at the request of their Pastor, "the Church Seed who were Heads of Families" went to his house, and he gave each man "sundry Questions . . . to return Answers to out of the Scripture " two months afterward. This practice was continued "for divers Years, not without a Blessing and some good Success: For Men of 30, 40, 50 Years of Age did attend, and give their Answers . . . in Writing:—Then the Pastor having read all their Answers, gave his own to each Question and preach'd thereupon, the Elder always present, and making the concluding Prayer."
From a Report made in 1685 by Governor Thomas Hinckley to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, it appears that, besides officiating in Plymouth, Cotton was occasionally on week-days instructing the Indians at Saltwater-Pond and at Namasket and Titicut, now Middleborough, and at Namatakeeset, now Pembroke.
"December 11. 1691, the good Elder Mr. Thomas Cushman died, . . . who had officiated in that Office near 43 Years" and "been a rich Blessing to this Church," constantly co-operating with the Pastor.
"June 19. 1692, the Pastor propounded to the Church, that seeing many of the Psalms in Mr. Ainsworth's Translation, which had hitherto been sung in the Congregation, had such difficult Tunes that none in the Church could set, they would consider of some Expedient that they might sing all the Psalms.". . . August 7, "the Church voted, that when the Tunes were difficult in the translation then used, they would make use of the New-England Psalm Book. . . . Finding it inconvenient to use two Psalm Books, they at length in June 1696, agreed wholly to lay aside Ainsworth, and with general Consent introduced the other."
"It was their Practice from the beginning till October, 1681, to sing the Psalms without reading the Line; but then at the Motion of a Brother, who otherwise could not join in the Ordinance," probably because he could not read, "they altered the Custom, and reading was introduced; the Elder performing that Service, after the Pastor had first expounded the Psalm, which were usually sung in Course—So that the People had the Benefit of hearing the whole Book of Psalms explained.
"In the Spring of the Year 1694, the Pastor introduced a new Method of Catechising (in which he used the Assemblies shorter Catechism) attending it on Sabbath Day Noons at the Meeting House, the Males one Sabbath and the Females another successively; and then preach'd on each Head of Divinity, as they lie in order in that Catechism:—this Course was constantly attended for more than 3 Years from Sabbath to Sabbath, till the Pastor's Dismission, only on Sacrament Days, and in the short Winter Days and very unseasonable Weather, there was a necessary Omission thereof.—Many of the Congregation usually heard the Sermons preach'd at the Catechising, and God strengthen'd and encouraged in the work."
In 1695, Isaac Cushman, a church-member, received an "earnest call to teach the word of God" in that part of Plymouth which is now Plympton. This laid the foundation for a division between the church and Cotton, the latter strenuously contending that Cushman ought not to be settled before being designated to the office of ruling elder by the church. The controversy continued about three years, with considerable warmth, and occasioned the withdrawal of some from the communion. The dissatisfied were ready to listen to ill reports against the pastor, "supported," writes his son, "by two or three single evidences, one of them of 20 or near 30 years' standing, another from one of suspected veracity," till at length a mutual council was called. After great, but unsuccessful, efforts to effect a reconciliation, the council at last, 30 September, 1697, "advised the Pastor to ask a Dismission, and the Church to grant it 'with such Expressions of their Love and Charity as the Rule called for.' " Accordingly he "resigned his Office, and at his Request was dismiss'd October 5, 1697, to the great Grief of a Number in Church and Town, who earnestly desired his Continuance."
Judge Sewall, in noticing the result, writes: "This was for his Notorious Breaches of ye Seventh Comandmt, & Undue Carriage in chusing Elders. Thus Christs words are fullfilled, Unsavoury Salt is cast to the Dunghill. A most awfull Instance!"
"Oct. 7. Mr. Torrey tells me that Mr. Mather declard among the Ministers that they had dealt too favourably with mr. Cotton."l
After his dismission, Cotton's son, Josiah Cotton, says he "tarried something above a year at Plymouth, in which time he preached some Sabbaths at Yarmouth, on their invitation, and then, having a call to Charleston, the chief place in South Carolina, by their messenger, the worthy Robert Fenwick, Esquire, he accepted of the same, and having settled his affairs," and, adds Thacher, "made up all differences with Plymouth Church,2 and received a recommendation from several ministers, set sail for Carolina, November I5th, 1698," Fenwick and Joseph Lord, H. U. 1691, being fellow passengers, and arrived at Charleston 7 December.
"Here," continues his son, "he set himself to do all the good he could, and was very abundant and successful in his labors. He gathered a church and was settled pastor of it March 15. He set up catechising, preached a lecture once a fortnight, had private meetings, private fasts alone, and with others, made frequent visits to the sick, opposed gainsayers, satisfied the doubtful, and was the instrument of edifying and quickening many saints and converting many sinners. In the short time of his continuance among them there were many baptised, and about twenty-five new members received to full communion. He had abundant respect shown him by those that were good, and also by some that were great, even the Governor himself, &c. He was there counted worthy of and received double honor."
He died 17 or 18 September, 1699, of the yellow-fever, which, introduced by a vessel from Barbadoes, broke out 17 August, and carried off not less than one hundred and seventy-nine persons.3 The church bore the expenses of his funeral, and erected a monument over his grave. A memorial of him was set up in the Plymouth burying-ground by one of his sons in 1725.
"My father," to quote the son again, "was a living Index to the Bible. He had a vast and strong memory, in so much that if some of the words of almost any passage of Scripture were named to him he could tell the chapter and verse, or if chapter and verse were named, he could tell the words. He learned the Indian language in a short time, which hath words of a prodigious length, so that he quickly preached in that language and afterwards corrected the second and last edition of the Indian Bible. He prayed in Indian at his Indian lectures." He wrote his sermons, but delivered them in a loud and clear voice, without using his manuscript. "He had a noted faculty in sermonizing and making speeches in public, . . . had a good gift in prayer and inlarged much therein as there was occasion. . . . He was a competent scholar but divinity was his favorite study. . . . He ruled his house as a tender parent, was a hearty friend, helpful to the needy, kind to strangers, and doubly a good man. And yet what man is there without his failings? He was somewhat hasty and perhaps severe in his censures upon some persons and things, which he thought deserved it; and that possibly might occasion some hardships he met with and the violence of some people against him. But the brightness of the celestial world will effectually dispel the blackness of this."
He "never aimed at laying up for or leaving a great estate to his children; but yet took special care of and was at great charge about their education, which is better than an estate without it. He did as his father and brother before him had done, bring up all his four sons (that grew up) to the College, and that without the advantage of a school in the town except a short time that Mr. Corlet kept it about the year 1672."
He "was a man of universal acquaintance and correspondence, so that he had and wrote (perhaps) twice as many letters as any man in the country."
Like many clergymen of his time, he strenuously opposed the calling of the Lord's Day Sunday, "as it originated with some heathen nations who were worshippers of the Sun, that planet being the object of their idolatry."
His son further observes: "He was of a handsome ruddy yet grave countenance, of a sanguine complexion, a middling stature and inclined to fatness. He was of a strong healthy constitution, so that (if I mistake not) he was not hindered by sickness for above one day from his public labors for 20 or 30 years together."
Cotton married at Wethersfield, Connecticut, 7 November, 1660, Joanna,4 born July, 1642, daughter of Dr. Bray, or Bryan, and Elizabeth Rossiter, by whom he had eleven children: 1. John, born at Guilford,**** Connecticut, 3 August, 1661, H. U. 1681, was minister of Yarmouth, Massachusetts; 2. Elizabeth, 5-6 August, 1663, married the Reverend James Ailing, minister of Salisbury, and afterward his successor, Caleb Cushing, H. U. 1692, and died in September, 1743; 3. Sarah, 17 June, 1665, died at Guilford, 8 September, 1669; 4. Rowland, born at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 27 December, 1667, H. U. 1685, minister of Sandwich, Massachusetts; 5. Sarah, 5 April, 1670, married William Bradbury; 6. Maria, 14 January, 1671-2, married Wymond Bradbury, of Salisbury; 7. A son, 28 September, 1674, died the next day; 8. Josiah, 10 September, 1675, died 9 January, 1676-7; 9. Samuel, 10 February, 1677-8, died 23 December, 1682; 10. Josiah, 8 January, 1679-80, H. U. 1698, compiler of the manuscript history of the Cotton Family, died at Plymouth, 19 August, 1756; 11. Theophilus, 5 May, 1682, H. U. 1701, minister of Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.
1. Letters in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, i, xxi, xxxv, and xxxviii.
2. T. Prince, in the manuscript catalogue of his New England Library, which belongs to the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society, writes: " Ye Rev Mr John Cotton of Plimouth being well acqd wth ye Indn Langg was desd by ye Indn Comisnrs to correct mr Eliot's versn of 1663; took this method—while a good Reader in his study read ye Eng Bible aloud, Mr Cotton silently look'd along in ye same Place in ye Indn Bible: & whr He thot of Indn words wc He judg'd cd express ye sense better, There He substituted ym & this 2d Editn is accordg to mr Cotton's correction."
The Apostle Eliot wrote in the Roxbury Church Records: "When the Indians were hurried away to an Iland at half an hours warning. pore [?] soules in terror y left theire goods. books, bibles. only some few caryed yr bibles. the rest were spoyled [?] & lost. So yt wn the wares wr finishd, & y returned to yr places, y wr greatly impovisht, but y especially bewailed ye want of Bibles. ys made me meditate upon a 2d imprssion of o Bible. & accordingly tooke pains to revise the first edition. I also intreated mr John Cotton to help in y work, he having obtained some ability so to doe. he read over the whole bible, & what ever doubts he had, he writ ym downe in order, & gave ym to me, to try ym & file ym over among or Indians. I obteined the favor to reprint the New testamt, & psalmes. but I met wth much obstruction for reprinting the old testamt. yet by Prayer to God. Patience & intreatys. I, at last obteined yt also praised be the Lord."
3. In 1688, Mr. Eliot wrote to the Honorable Robert Boyle, asking £10 for Mr. Cotton, and adding: "I must commit to him the care and labour of the revisal of two other small treatises, viz: Mr. Shepheard's Sincere Convert and Sound Believer, which I translated into the Indian language many years since."
4. Cotton "kept a Journal or Diary of Remarkables from the time of his going from New England to September 14, 1699 . . . four days before his death."
Authorities.— F. Baylies, Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth, ii. 252. W. G. Brooks, Manuscript Letters, 1862, February 24; 1872, August 14. Connecticut Public Records, ed. J. H. Trumbull, i. 346, 359. A. B. Chapin, Glastenbury, 37. John Cotton, Account of the Churches in Plymouth, An Appendix to P. Robbins's Sermon at C. Robbins's Ordination, 16-22; and in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, iv. 122-129. Josiah Cotton, Manuscript History of the Cotton Family, and Diary, copied by W. G. Brooks from the original in possession of Roland Edwin Cotton. H. W. Cushman, Cushman Genealogy, 88, 103. J. Davis, in N. Morton's New England's Memorial, 344, 409, 411. J. Eliot, in Roxbury Church Records. J. Farmer, in American Quarterly Register, x. 245; and Farmer and Moore's Collections, iii. 41. N. Goodwin, Foote Family, xxxix. D. Gookin, in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, i. 203-205. Harvard College Steward's Account-Books, i. 167, 168. E. Hazard, State Papers, ii. 507, 508, 530. A. Holmes, Annals of America, i. 469. Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, i. 203-205; xiii. 187, 188; xxii. 147, 300, 301, 310; xxxv. 133; xxxviii. 226-259, 403, 482. C. Mather, Magnalia, iii. 31, 200. New England Historical and Genealogical Register, i. 164; ii. 78; v. 240, 241; viii. 31; ix. 132. T. Noyes, in American Quarterly Register, viii. 147, 155. Plymouth Records, x. 329, 330, 331, 356. T. Prince, in E. Mayhew's Indian Converts, 299. J. Savage, Genealogical Dictionary, i. 462; iii. 577. S. Sewall, Manuscript Diary. N. B. Shurtleff, Letter, 1872, August 26. J. Thacher, History of Plymouth, 2d ed. 123, 136, 154, 168, 273-278. J. A. Vinton, Giles Memorial, 78.
1. Sewall writes in his Diary, March 8, 1697-8. "Get to Plimo-abt Noon, Are Entertaind at Cole's. Send two mile for mr. [Ephraim] Little [H. U. 1695], who prays at ye opening of ye Court invite him to Diner: Speak not to Mr. Cotton." March 10. "Had large discourse in ye even wth mrs. Cotton, mr. Cotton, mr. Rowland. I told mr. Cotton, a free Confession was ye best way, spake of Davids roaring all ye day long & bones waxing old, whilest he kept Silence. I spake with Deacon Fance to day, sent for him to mr. Cotton's: It seems upon ye 5.th of October, The Church by speaking one by one, declared their Mind was to Release mr. Cotton from his Office-bond as Pastor; sent to mr. Cotton to meet them (they were at Shirtly's 25. in no Some yet could not come sent yr minds to ye same effect: and New Society ready to do it) Mr. Cotton to come to ye Meeting-house, thither yy goe, and there Deacon Fance declares what ye Church had done. Mr. Cotton was at Cole's when redy to come away March 11 I said his Danger was, lest catching at shadows, he should neglect the cords thrown out to him by Chr, & so be drownd. Some of my last words to him, was Kisse the Son, lest he be angry! This was in ye house between him & me alone. Just as was mounting, He desired me to pray for him, till I heard he was dead."
2. At a meeting of the church of Plymouth, 18 October, 1698, "for hearing what Mr. Cotton desired to offer to them in pursuance to advice given them by the Council there convened Sept. 29, 1697, as satisfaction for those offences which he was there convicted of," he "made a full and penitential acknowledgment of those evils, and desired forgiveness of God and the Church; accordingly having made confession to them, they did express and vote their ready and hearty acquiescence of his satisfaction offered unto them and their full reconciliation unto him."
3. The following extract from a letter by the Reverend Hugh Adams, H. U. 1697, to his "Dearly beloved Brother," "John Adams Shop-keeper in Boston," dated at Charleston, 23 February, 1699-1700, is taken from Sewall's Diary:—
"It is hard to describe the dreadfull and astonishing aspect of our late terrible Tempest of Mortality in our Charlestow; which began towards ye latter end of August, and Continued till ye middle of November. In wch space of time there died in Charlestown, 125. English of all sorts; high & low, old & young. 37. French. 16. Indians, and 1 Negro. Three Ministers; viz. Mr. Jno Cotton dissenr, Mr. Samuel Marshal Conformist, Mr. Preolo French Minister. Mr. Gilbert Ashly an Anabaptist preacher, Mr. Curtice a Presbyterian preacher dyed all in ye begining of ye Mortality for ye peoples Contempt of yr Gospel Labours. After whose decease, the Distemper raged, and the destroying Angel slaughtered so furiously with his revenging Sword of Pestilence, that there died (as I have read in ye Catalogue of ye dead) 14. in one day Septr 28th, and raged as bad all October: So that the dead were carried in Carts, being heaped up one upon another. Worse by far than ye great Plague of London, considering ye smallness of ye Town. Shops shut up for 6 weeks; nothing but carrying Medicines, digging Graves, carting ye dead; to ye great astonishment of all beholders. Out of mr. Cotton's Church there died himself Septr. 17th, Mr. Jno Alexander Mercht Mr. Curtice preacher, Mr. Matthew Bee Schoolmaster, mr. Henry Spry (besides his Servtman, his youngest child, and an Indian Woman) But lastly wch may grieve you most of all, our precious godly Mother, Avis Adams departed ys Life Ocbr 6th last, being infected by means of tending mr. Cotton all ye time of his Sickness, wch was but three days."
4. Their son Josiah writes: " My mother was a comely, fat woman, but her internal endowments made her excel.
"She was a woman not of ceremony but substance, of great knowledge, uncommon wisdom and discretion, spotless virtue, and one that feared God above many. Her education was more than ordinary. She understood something of Latin and poetry, had a great insight in the medicinal art, in the practice whereof she was much improved and became very useful and helpful in the town, &c.
"She could argue about common and religious things, was careful to promote good discourse where she was, a strict observer of the Sabbath, constant in her devotions, and had the care of religion in her family, town and country much at heart, and by private advice and discourse was a helper to my father in the work of the Gospel. She . . . ruled her children and servants well, by whom she was very careful to set good examples, keeping up family duties in my father's absence, &c. Instructed suitably, corrected seasonably. Had a notable faculty in speaking and writing; both of which she done with freedom and courage without flattery and at the same time with a good command of her spirit.
"She . . . managed secular affairs, most of which passed through her hands, with singular prudence and industry. And finally, she was a good wife, a good mistress, a good neighbor, and a good Christian, and one of the best of mothers. But lest I should say what may be thought too much I shall finish with saying that she was not perfect. Affliction and reproach had too much influence and impression upon her, and finally broke her heart."
After her husband's death, the son wrote that she, "who had been under great concern of mind about her removing out of her native country, was now released from her trouble on that head, but saw herself reduced to the desolate estate of a sorrowful widow, which she never expected; And being a woman naturally too susceptible of the impressions of grief, she gave such way thereto as to abate her natural force and vigor and shorten her days. And after breaking up housekeeping at Plymouth and sojourning a while at Salisbury and then settling at Sandwich in the County of Barnstable with her son Mr. Rowland Cotton, she finished her course October 12, 1702."
Sibley's Harvard Graduates, 1:496-508.
*An interesting letter from the Apostle John Eliot, dated Roxburg, July 7, 1688," to the "Right honourable, deep learned, abundantly charitable, and constant nursing father," Robert Boyle, from which an extract respecting Cotton is made on page 508, may be found in Boyle's Works, ed., 1744, i. 136. The following is the entire passage relating to Cotton:
"I am drawing home, and am glad of the opportunity to take my leave of your honour with all thankfulness. Sir, many years since you pleased to commit 30 l. into my hand, upon a design for the promoting Christ his kingdom among the Indians; which gift of yours I have religiously kept, waiting for an opportunity to improve it; but God hath not pleased yet to open such a door. I am old, and desire to finish that matter, and take the boldness to request your honour, that it may be thus disposed of. It being in the hand of major Gookin's relict widow, and he died poor, though full of good works, and greatly beneficent to the Indians, and bewailed by them to this day; therefore let his widow have 10l. his eldest son, who holds up a lecture among the Indians and English 10l. and the third 10l. give it to Mr. John Cotton, who helped me much in the second edition of the bible. And also I must commit to him the care and labour of two other small treatises, viz., Mr. Shegheard's Sincere Convert and Sound Believer, which I translated into the Indian language many years since; and now I hope, that the honourable corporation will be at the charge to print them, by your honours favour and countenance. But I cannot commit them to the press without a careful revisal, which none but Mr. Cotton is able to help me perform." Sibley's Harvard Graduates, 1:598.
**For "1639" read "1639-1640," and for "1698" read "1699." Sibley's Harvard Graduates, 2:532.
***Insert "Hartford 1659 April 11th, 'the town by their vote did grant a rate of thirty pounds to be paid to Mr. Cotton for his labours amongst us, and his charges in coming up to us, the half to be paid at the end of the year. Capt. Lord and Mr. John Allen to make Mr. Collins rate.'"—G. L. Walker, Letter, 1883, March 17. Sibley's Harvard Graduates, 3:444.
****For "born at Guilford" read "born at Guilford(?)." Sibley's Harvard Graduates, 3:444.
See also: Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins (Boston, 1995), 1:486.
Dedicated to the descendants of Rev. John Cotton of Boston (1584 - 1652) along with his ancestors & congregations.