Mather is a well-known name in the persons of Increase and Cotton Mather. Here for the first time is a biography of the father and grandfather, respectively, of those two great figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Richard Mather left few personal records of his life in the form of letters, diaries, or autobiographical writings. In his research, Mr. Burg sought out little used ecclesiastical records in England, pieced together events from inferences and deductions, and analyzed by sociological, psychological, and anthropological methods the life of this seventeenth-century divine. As a result, Mather here emerges from the historical evidence in brief but brilliant flashes, revealing a man with a desperate need to verify his own personal worth and to make valid the way he had chosen to direct his life and to worship his God. Through this study of Richard Mather, Mr. Burg illuminates the struggles of the first generation settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Mather was the author of a considerable corpus of unpublished and published writings. Ever seeking to enhance his reputation as a polemicist and biblical exegete, he spent much of his time penning theological treatises that set forth the true faith of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While he was sought out a number of times by his colleagues to defend the religious practices of the new colony to those who had remained in the mother country, the task of writing the major defenses of New England doctrine and polity was entrusted to clerics such as John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and Thomas Shepard -- a situation that continually irritated the Dorchester clergyman.
Mather's career, although marked by minor victories, was in his own estimation characterized by major defeats. It was on those defeats, affronts, and rejections that Richard Mather built his life. The reconstruction of his experiences -- both in England and in America -- reveals a man of the preindustrial world whose very ordinariness makes his life significant. His biography provides a broader understanding of the ordinary pastors and teachers in seventeenth- century Massachusetts Bay.