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Mather, Cotton. Magnalia Christi Americana.


This is an edited and abridged version of the original work. See "Works Cited".


A General Introduction

- Protestants are forced to flee to New England

- they attempt the Reformation of the Church, i.e. the return to the first stage

- New England Protestants become Puritans

- the author presents his own church history as an example of church-discipline

- an alternative history e.g. to Tacitus's histories of wars and glorious violence

- the author offers a prayer and thanks to God for enabling him to write the history

Book I: "Antiquities"

Early discoveries in North America

- 15th - 16th century: resurrection of literature, opening of America, religious reformation

- 1492: Christopher Columbus discovers America (= "Columbia")

- 1497: Americus Vesputius arrives at America, the Cabots are the first Englishmen to arrive

- attempts in the American hemisphere to anticipate New-Jerusalem

History of Plymouth

- 1602: a covenant to remove to America

- 1620: the settlers set off from Southampton and arrive at Cape Cod (a parallel to the way of the Israelites into wilderness)

- the original intention was to settle at the Hudson's River, there was an encounter with bloody savages, but the settlers were saved by God's Providence

- formation of the body politic, election of the governor (Mr Bradford)

The First Encounter with the Indians

- an English speaking Indian, a run-away slave of a wicked master of a ship, mediates goods trade with the Indians

- harsh winter

- good harvest is celebrated by Thanksgiving

- first problems appear: "Religion brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother."

History of Massachusetts Bay

- the settlers are granted a patent from the King for the soil, dependent upon England

- the establishment of Salem: named for the peace hoped to be found there, the plantation begins with several days of prayers

- governor John Winthrop

- the settlers suffer under diseases, unpredictable weather, and scarcity of provisions

- Indians: wars, epidemic of smallpox; the history of Princess Pocahontas

- in twenty years four thousand newcomers arrive

- the howling wilderness is gradually turned into pleasant land

History of the Later New England Colonies

- the Connecticut River, of the same church-order

- New-Haven, annexed to Connecticut-colony


Book II: "The Shields of the Churches: New England's Governors"

Life of William Bradford

- born in an obscure and non-pious village, but became a Puritan

- moved to Holland, then moved to New England where he was elected governor

- learned Hebrew to read the Holy Writ in original, also learned Dutch, English, French, Greek, and Latin

- his exemplary life was a watchful and fruitful walk with God

- he dreamt of God giving him a pledge of Paradise, next day he died

Life of John Winthrop

- the boast of New England (compared to ancient personalities of Rome and Greece)

- a devout governor and capable lawyer, his example was greatly imitable

- charitable (compared to Moses): "cured" a needy man of stealing wood by giving it to him

- his enemies publicly accused and acquitted him: degraded to a deputy-governor, his impressive speech on this matter however won him full trust back

Life of John Winthrop, Jr.

- travelled a lot to gain experience

- became a magistrate of the colony whose governor was his father

- excelled in philosophy and medicine (compared to the healing angel of Bethesda)

- an exemplary Puritan: humble, mortified, generous

- commissioner of the jurisdiction (a body meeting to discuss matters of general concern)

Life of William Phips

- born in the east-furthest village, apprenticed as a ship carpenter

- of obscure origin, but knew he was "born to great matters"

- his temper was convenient for doing great things

- became a discoverer and a captain of a King's ship

- awarded knighthood

- put a stop to all future prosecutions in the Salem witch trials

Book III: "Polybius: New England Divines"

Life of John Cotton

- Boston: the chief seat in the colonies

- Cotton: called the father of Boston

- a dean and catechist

- persecuted for non-conformity in Europe

- "lived but 7 years", i.e. the years left him after becoming a Puritan and moving to Boston

Life of John Davenport

- a priest

- persecuted for non-conformity in England, fled to Holland

- a letter from J. Cotton describing the New England church made him move to America

- planted New-Haven, led its government until the colony joined to Connecticut

- his ministry rendered the renewed church of New-Haven like the New-Jerusalem

- his last years were shadowed by unhappy temptations of the wilderness

Life of Thomas Hooker

- a priest

- persecuted for non-conformity in England, so established his own school in his house

- fled to Holland and then to New England

- travelled westward to plant a new colony on the Long River (= Connecticut River)

- against church censures: the ordinances of God should not be spoilt by our management

Life of John Eliot

- a priest

- moved by a charitable pity for Indians, started converting them to Christianity

- called "the Apostle of the American Indians"

- translated the Bible into Indian languages

- introduced services held in Indian languages

- established churches for "praying Indians" (to distinguish them from "barbarous" Indians)

Book IV: "The Salt of the Nations: A History of Harvard College"

- a boarding college

- established under a General Court charter: a president elect, two fellows, and a treasurer

- founded thanks to Mr John Harvard donation

- admitted students on the basis of their knowledge of Latin and Greek

- the succession of its presidents included Increase Matter, the father of Cotton Matter

Book V: "Acts and Monuments: The New England Way"

The Platform of Church-discipline

- established under the General Court

- the believers freely chose and agreed to be orthodox

- a confession of faith was agreed on, voted for, and printed

- women and children were forbidden to be constituent members

- the Half-Way Covenant: children of the faithful should be kept under a church-watch because they own the covenant with God through their parents

- "The Keys" by John Cotton define the lines and bounds of the church power

Reform Efforts

- problems: weather ruining the crop, Indians, disease epidemics

- some faced the divine displeasure by renewing their covenant with God, but some fell into disorder and corruption

- this results in a degeneration of New England

Book VI: "A Book of Memorable Events"

A Wonderful Sea Deliverance

- people on the board of a ship lack provisions

- suggest to slaughter a man for meal

- God's providence sends a fish, then a bird, and then a ship to save them

Remarkable Conversions

- a dying child wishes his father to pray not only on Lord's Day, the father is converted

- a drunkard learns he is condemned by the Last Judgement, but has fourteen days to repent, he becomes pious and when the time is over he dies peacefully

Wonders of the Invisible World

- a pastor's daughter in Salem suffers from distemper and is cured by the Indian women Tituba who is then accused of witchcraft: amazement at the number and quality of the accused

A Child's Example

- children are not to rely on their parent's prayers but are to be pious themselves

- pastor's daughter, Priscilla, extremely pious, haunted by the knowledge of her sinful nature: dies aged eleven, knowing she is leaving for better world

Book VII: "A Book of the Wars of the Lord"

Roger Williams

- a preacher with "less light than fire" in him introduced his own separated church

- left from Salem for Providence and established the sect of Seekers

- the Seekers worshipped God according to "the light of their own conscience"

Anne Hutchinson

- called herself another Priscilla

- encouraged elderly women to instruct the younger, held meetings in her house

- against the strictness of doctrines and religious principles

- excommunicated, fled the colony

The Quakers

- against the doctrine of total depravity

- against the Popish ordinances (= baptism, bread and wine)

- for silent prayer

- persecuted

Indian Troubles

- some tribes are peaceful, but some others initiate wars

- e.g. Narraganset-country war

- the General Court's attempt to reform the evil of war

- English victory: epidemics and wars among the Indians

- the leader of the rebellious tribes, Philip, is killed and his head is carried in triumph to Plymouth

Things to Come

- New England: the quarrel of the covenant must be avenged

- abroad: reformation of the church, the young are to be converted to the God of their fathers


  • Author

    Mather, Cotton. (1663 - 1728).
  • Full Title

    Magnalia Christi Americana.
  • First Published

  • Form


Works Cited

Mather, Cotton, Raymond J. Cunningham ed. Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New England. (1702). NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1970.


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