My Father,” remembered Josiah Cotton, “was a man of Universal Acquaintance & Correspondence, so that he had & wrote (phaps) twice as many letters as any Man in the Countrey.”1 Fortunately for scholars, hundreds of those letters survive, and they are compiled in this volume, many appearing in print for the first time. Rev. John Cotton Jr. (1640–1699), pastor of the church at Plymouth from 1667 to 1697, does indeed appear in the letters as a person of “universal acquaintance,” with both famous and lesser-known correspondents in all the New England colonies and several in England. His surviving correspondence far outweighs that of his more illustrious father, who on occasion asked that his letters be burned—something that it is difficult to imagine John Jr. requesting.

    The letters printed here begin in 1664, when Cotton was a young divine trying to survive scandal, and cover the years of his ministry in Plymouth almost without interruption. Those years included his energetic revival of the Plymouth church, the continuance of his missionary work among the region’s Natives, first begun on Martha’s Vineyard, the vicious conflict known as Philip’s (later King Philip’s) War, intrigues among the colonies and the royal government, the demise of Plymouth Colony, and the controversial end of his ministry. Most of his letters were written to and from colleagues in the ministry and in government and, as he grew older, to and from his children settled in distant towns. Cotton’s correspondence reveals both his powerful family connections—Mathers, Saltonstalls, Rosseters—and his extraordinary dedication to remaining informed. Filled with often-intimate detail, the letters in this collection will be of particular interest to students of early American family history as well as of political, military, and church history.

    Born 15 March 1639/40, John Jr. was the second son and namesake of John Cotton (1585–1652), the minister of Boston’s First Church, renowned for his part in the founding of Boston and the Antinomian controversy and for his pamphlet warfare with New England’s enfant terrible, Roger Williams. John Jr. attended Harvard College, graduating in 1657 and embarking then on a kind of “apprenticeship” calculated to prepare him to follow in his father’s (and older brother Seaborne’s) ministerial footsteps. He traveled to Hartford, in the Connecticut colony, to live with the Reverend Samuel Stone, his father’s former colleague. When an opening appeared in the pulpit of nearby Wethersfield in early 1660, Cotton, no doubt with Stone’s recommendation, received an invitation to the pastorate there, which he promptly accepted. Apparently confident of passing the customary probationary period, in November of that same year he married Joanna Rosseter of Guilford. He was twenty years old, rather young for such a step (most New England men waited, or had to wait, until their mid- to late twenties), but Cotton’s future looked bright. He was already a member of the most esteemed profession in the land, a freeman of the colony, and so respected as to be given the sober responsibility of executor for the estate of Connecticut’s lately deceased governor, Thomas Welles.

    Cotton’s bright prospects vanished in the wake of sexual scandal, when he reportedly became overly familiar with several women in Wethersfield. He soon faced serious charges. In early 1662 a court-appointed committee that included his former mentor Samuel Stone was ordered to sort things out. Although cleared of a charge of “sinfull striving” with a woman not his wife, Cotton displayed a propensity for impulsive, reckless speech during his defense that would resurface periodically over the course of his career. His judges may not have believed him guilty of fornication, or even of sinfully striving toward that end, but they were convinced that he had not conducted himself with complete propriety, especially given his position. Specifically, they censured him sharply for “sinfull Rash unpeacabell” words “of a very high defaming nature” (the latter reference concerned remarks he made to Gov. Welles’s daughter!).2 Cotton’s hopes of occupying a pulpit in Wethersfield or anywhere else in Connecticut were dashed. With Joanna and his year-old son, John, Cotton retreated to Guilford, perhaps staying with Joanna’s physician father, Bryan Rosseter.

    Cotton’s humiliation was not yet complete. By March 1664 Boston’s First Church, where his father had been minister and of which he was still a member, was demanding his appearance for disciplinary action in connection with his Connecticut misadventures. On 1 May he was excommunicated for “lascivious uncleane practices with three women and his horrid lying to hide his sinne.” Cotton made a “penitential acknowledgement openly confessing his sinnes” and his membership was reinstated five weeks later, but the damage to his reputation had been done.3 The only occupation for which he had been trained must have seemed closed to him for the foreseeable future.

    Closed, that is, unless he were willing to start again, and at the bottom. Before the 1640s, the English in the northern colonies undertook little missionary work in comparison to the religious of the French and Spanish colonies. John Eliot, pastor of the church at Roxbury, was by the mid 1660s the most famous of the few Puritan pastors who had taken up the challenge. According to a contemporary chronicler, it was he who suggested Cotton’s next move.4 The island of Martha’s Vineyard, south of Cape Cod, had a small English settlement at Great Harbor (now Edgartown) whose pastor, Thomas Mayhew Jr., had been lost at sea seven years before. Mayhew had also been an energetic and highly competent missionary to the island’s Native people. If Cotton were willing to take up both duties and to remove himself and his family to what was arguably the most remote English community in New England, the job would be his.

    Under the circumstances, Cotton was more than willing. Late in 1664 he moved his family to the island and set to work ministering to the small congregation. He also prepared for his new role as a missionary. Employing English-speaking Native interpreters to teach him, he studied the local Native dialect so that in little more than a year, as Cotton wrote in March 1666, “I preached my first sermon to the Indians in theire owne language.”5 For the following twenty months, Cotton seems to have satisfied the island’s Christian Indians, preaching all over the Vineyard except at Aquinnah/Gay Head, where the Natives showed little interest in, and even some hostility toward, missionary efforts. Cotton’s relations with his congregants at Great Harbor were likewise positive. Following the usual trial period, the church members invited him to stay and he accepted. The town secured him a modest parsonage, voted £40 for his annual salary, and began to raise funds for a new meetinghouse. Forty pounds was about half of what he might have received on the mainland, but with an additional £30 a year from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England for his missionary work and £10 allowed his wife by the same body for attending to the Natives’ medical care, the Cottons were back on their feet.

    Despite his outwardly successful ministry, however, Cotton was restless and unsatisfied. When he could, he made excursions to the mainland, especially to Boston, where he sounded out friends and relations to learn of job prospects. He obviously felt the Vineyard’s isolation keenly, having been brought up amid the bustle and intellectual challenges of Boston and Cambridge. He particularly missed the comparatively simple mainland network of exchanges via correspondence—significantly, we found no letters to or from Cotton from the Martha’s Vineyard years. His frustration also may have exacerbated his deteriorating relations with the island’s proprietor. Thomas Mayhew Sr., father of the dead missionary, increasingly regarded Cotton’s growing influence with the island Natives as a threat to his own authority—at least, that is how Cotton saw it. In his missionary journal the young minister recorded several instances of Mayhew’s professional jealousy as related to him by tattletale Natives. Cotton’s impulsiveness may have been getting the better of him again, or perhaps he was becoming confident of a new appointment, for matters between him and Mayhew developed into such an impasse that the Commissioners of the United Colonies had to step in. In September 1667 both he and Mayhew were rebuked by the Commissioners for their “mutuall Contensions and Invictives one against another,” which “undid what they taught the Natives.”6 Although there was no repairing the breach and Mayhew, as proprietor of the island, was not going anywhere, by this time Cotton had other options. His networking efforts on the mainland had paid off, and he had received several offers from communities there in need of ministers. The Commissioners strongly suggested that he accept one of them. Two months later Cotton and family were back on the mainland in the Old Colony town of Plymouth.

    Cotton’s new home was a quiet agricultural town, a far cry from the boisterous commercial center of his childhood years. Plymouth, the oldest English town in New England and the genesis of Plymouth Colony, had never had great success in attracting and keeping suitable ministers. The colony made do without one for its first nine years, and those who came afterward were lackluster at best. During the late 1650s Plymouth, again without a minister, found itself handicapped in combating the “Quaker invasion” spiritually, but vigorous civil authorities kept the aggressive dissidents a safe distance from the town. By the time Cotton arrived, the church was in a moribund state, with baptisms and membership in marked decline. Plymouth was not Boston, but for Cotton it was at least on the right side of Vineyard Sound, and he launched himself into his new responsibilities with an energy that the Plymouth church had not seen since its early years. Formally ordained the last day of June 1669, he and ruling elder Thomas Cushman “made it their first special Work together to pass through the whole Town from Family to Family to enquire into the State of their Soules, and according as they found the Frames either of the Children of the Church or others, so they applied Counsels, Admonitions, Exhortations and Encouragements.”7 This “Service was attended with a Blessing,” for within the year the church’s membership rose almost threefold, from twenty-seven to seventy-four. In the next three years thirty-seven more persons joined, and nearly a hundred more would become members by the end of Cotton’s ministry.8

    Cotton may have benefited from a demographic shift in the town—a relatively large number of young people reached sufficient age for church membership about this time—but by all accounts the young minister, not yet thirty at the time of his ordination, was popular and attractive, physically and temperamentally. His son Josiah remembered him as a man of “a handsome ruddy yet grave countenance, of a sanguine complexion, a middling stature and [probably referring to his later years] inclined to fatness.” He was also “of a strong healthy constitution, so that (if I mistake not) he was not hindered by sickness for above one day from his public labours for 20 or thirty years together.”9 Cotton’s robust nature seems to have extended to his ministerial work. Although he wrote out his sermons (none of which have come to light), he did not read from the manuscripts, which allowed him to keep eye contact with his listeners. He was relaxed in his delivery, with a strong, clear voice and a “noted faculty in sermonizing and making speeches in public.” Additionally, he had a “good gift in prayer and inlarged much therein as there was occasion,” whether in the public meeting or with individual parishioners. As the first Harvard-trained minister in the colony, Cotton must have impressed the people of Plymouth with “his 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 was, his son insisted, “a living Index to the Bible.” Although “a competent scholar . . . divinity was his favorite study.”10 His talents seemed to suit the struggling Plymouth church perfectly.

    Cotton began holding catechisms for children every two weeks, initiated monthly meetings of the church for “religious Conference,” and tidied up the loose ends of church business, issuing formal dismissals to members who had long since moved to other towns. In short, the new pastor was hard working, charismatic, knowledgeable, sincere—and young, with his best years still before him. The Plymouth church seemed at last to have found in Cotton a minister who was a comfortable fit. For his part, Cotton had found a place where he was clearly needed and appreciated, and where his blemished past appeared not to matter. By 1670, Cotton seemed justified in calling for a day of thanksgiving specifically for “the settlement of God’s ordinances after soe long a vacancy, & the good success of the Gospel amongst them.”11

    The satisfaction that Cotton demonstrated in his ministry, however, belied a growing feeling of isolation. Much of his correspondence during his thirty years in Plymouth focused on needing, requesting, receiving, and sharing information. Living in Plymouth meant that Cotton, like other ministers far removed from Boston, not only looked to the Bay Colony capital but to a regional network of clergy for current news, copies of recently-published tracts and broadsides, intellectual stimulation, and doctrinal information. Many of these clergymen had begun their careers together as part of a vital intellectual community at Harvard. Being scattered in remote pulpits challenged their efforts to remain part of the intellectual life they once shared. Letters helped bridge the distance between them.

    Historians of King Philip’s War (1675–1676, or to 1677 if the conflict in northern New England is included) have long recognized the value of Cotton’s correspondence. Since his arrival in Plymouth, Cotton had cultivated relationships with neighboring ministers, just as he had maintained regular correspondence with leading clergy in Boston and Cambridge. Cotton’s ties in both directions—into the backcountry and out to the coast—enabled him to gather and distribute information as few others could. Cotton’s information spread throughout a ministerial letter-exchange network that recognized the importance of rapid information diffusion, especially during crises. As the fighting raged in Plymouth Colony, Cotton appealed to his colleagues for news of intensifying attacks and counterthrusts by both Native and English forces. One of Cotton’s frequent correspondents at this time was Rev. Noah Newman of Rehoboth. Newman’s location in the western part of Plymouth Colony gave him access to latebreaking news from the officers and soldiers who filled his town and church on their way to or from the fighting in Rhode Island. Newman interviewed participants, read personal letters that others shared with him, questioned military postal riders, and ministered to the soldiers. He and other informants passed on much of this information to Cotton, who in turn related the news to others in his network, even copying letters verbatim so that readers might “hear” news unedited as it changed hands. Cotton’s letter exchange during King Philip’s War traveled far beyond the small agricultural and frontier towns of Plymouth Colony. Some of Boston’s leading ministers wrote to Cotton to obtain reliable information about the conflict and came to rely on his newsletters. Joshua Moodey, a minister settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, wrote to Cotton on 1 April 1676, thanking him for “ye Intelligence” about the Medfield attack.12

    This devastating war tested the faith of many English settlers who feared that their own sinfulness had provoked God’s wrath and brought about “so dreadfull a judgement” upon them. Like other New Englanders, lay and clerical, Cotton saw in the English settlers’ worldliness and religious complacency an explanation for the war. Hoping that fervent prayers to God might check Philip’s successes, Cotton turned to the traditional ordinances. He called for formal days of humiliation and prayer on four occasions during the war to help the members of his congregation confront their sins and joined them with the churches of other Plymouth and Massachusetts towns in a region-wide day of humiliation on 29 June 1676. The list of sins that Cotton read to his congregation included missing church meetings, losing their love of the Bible, abandoning the godly life, “polluting” the Sabbaths, and “frequenting such places & companyes not becoming christians.” By these errors, Cotton told his listeners, “wee have provoked the Lord God . . . by our sins [we] have had a deep hand in procuring these calamities.”13 The correspondence also reveals the efforts of some ministers, including Cotton, to use the spiritual crisis to inspire recommitment to church discipline and fellowship. Under his guidance and leadership, the Plymouth church renewed its founding covenant, it members pledging anew “to walke in all our wayes according to the Rule of the Gospel . . . in mutuall love to & watchfulness over one another, depending wholly & only upon the Lord our God to enable us by his grace hereunto.”14

    At the conclusion of the fighting in southern New England, Cotton was happy to return to his regular ministry and to his missionary work, which had been interrupted by the war. Local (and sometimes even distant) clergy sought Cotton’s help with a variety of questions, and Cotton and his colleagues debated theological and social concerns in their letters to one another. The aftermath of war brought new anxieties concerning, in particular, New England’s frosty relationship with post-Restoration England. Since the 1660s the Crown government under Charles II had been trying to reassert its authority in England’s American colonies. The disruption brought about by King Philip’s War (an obvious embarrassment to the New England governments) gave the Crown new opportunities to affirm its primacy. After the tumultuous years of the Dominion of New England, the subsequent Glorious Revolution, and the establishment of additional colonial settlements, Plymouth Colony finally lost its autonomy in 1692. Cotton’s correspondence from these years constitutes a vital resource for the study of this period in New England, especially the parts played by Plymouth civic leaders.

    Together with politics, family matters dominate the letters of the 1680s and 1690s. The activities of Cotton’s wife, Joanna, and of his maturing children at once bound the family to its community and connected it to the towns and churches beyond Plymouth’s boundaries. In addition to raising her children and sometimes accompanying Cotton in his pastoral work, Joanna served her neighbors as a midwife and healer. Her father, Bryan Rosseter, was a physician in Connecticut, and he may have sparked her interest in medicine, which she enhanced throughout her life by studying medical books that she received from relatives and friends in England. During Cotton’s ministry on Martha’s Vineyard, Joanna had practiced “Phisicke and Surgery” among the Natives and perhaps among the English there as well. Cotton’s letters frequently refer to his wife’s concerns and responsibilities: providing advice to her children, medicines sent and received, treatments for postnatal care. Like most fathers, Cotton worried about the health, safety, and education of his children. “My father,” remembered son Josiah, “never aimed at laying up for, or leaving a great Estate to his Children, but yet he took special Care of, and was at great Charge about their Education, which is better than an Estate.” This he somehow did “without ye Advantage of a school in the Town” except for a shortlived one in 1672.15 When sons John and Rowland seemed ready for higher education, Cotton sought the advice and help of his step-brother, Increase Mather. While Cotton felt confident that he could begin their education, he knew that Mather could better instruct his sons as they matured. Increase sent his own son, Cotton Mather, to Plymouth to tutor the Cotton boys in preparation for Harvard College. Ultimately, all of Cotton’s sons who survived to adulthood—John, Rowland, Josiah, and Theophilus—graduated from Harvard and became ministers, and daughter Elizabeth married Salisbury minister James Allin and, after he died, his successor Caleb Cushing.

    By the end of 1696, Cotton’s spirits were soaring. Another clergyman son was ordained in November, his missionary work brought him continued satisfaction, his salary arrived regularly, and he enjoyed frequent travel to Boston. Late in the year, he was even invited by the Boston clergy to deliver the Wednesday sermon in Boston’s Old South meeting house. His listeners apparently liked what they heard; as Cotton related in a letter to his son Rowland, six hearers swore their saving testimony and became church members “while I was in the pulpit.”16 It must have been a moment of great satisfaction when Cotton was sought out, welcomed and honored in the town where he had been shamed thirty years before. But if it was the high point in his career, he would not enjoy it for long.

    For three decades Cotton had been an effective and generally popular minister to the Plymouth church, “and yet,” son Josiah wrote, “what man is there without his failings?” As a younger man in Connecticut and on Martha’s Vineyard, Cotton had displayed an unfortunate propensity for injudicious speech, and he did not suffer those whom he considered fools lightly. As Josiah admitted, “He was Some what hasty & perhaps Severe in his Censures upon some Persons & Things, which he thought deserved it; And that possibly Occasioned some Hardships he met with, & ye violence of some People against him.”17 In 1695 Cotton had opposed the invitation of a Plymouth church member to become a teaching elder at a church in the northwestern part of the town. To some in his congregation his opposition looked like unwarranted ministerial interference in the laity’s business. Whether Cotton spoke or acted undiplomatically is not known, but the controversy continued over several years and Cotton was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to prevent several members from withdrawing from communion over the incident. There were probably other factors not recorded in church records that contributed to the congregation’s discontent, but the result was an anti-Cotton faction of unknown size but significant influence eager to see Cotton gone.

    Cotton was also convinced that the actions eventually taken against him were politically motivated: retaliation for his indirect support of the 1692 Massachusetts Bay charter. The new charter, which grafted Plymouth Colony onto its larger neighbor, was extremely unpopular among Plymouth residents. Cotton wrote to Joanna of his fears on 6–7 July 1698. According to him, when his step-brother Increase Mather, the agent for Massachusetts, returned with the charter “taking in Plimouth, our people were all in a rage at him.” Many influential men “from their godly zeale & reall Conscience) did raile at him & revile him for falsenesse, treacherous dealing yea & wickednesse to take them in to be slaves.” They felt particularly betrayed because it appeared to be their “seeming” friend, Mather, who had orchestrated Plymouth’s demise. Cotton defended Mather: “my spirit & my respect to my deare Brother ingaged me to give many a severe rebuke to such things & upon that account these persons that have bin most against me were provoked at me ever since.” While his fellow residents were claiming that, “old Mather would goe to hell shortly for all his wickednesse,” Cotton tried to support his step-brother and claimed that his own enemies sought to get rid of him because of it: “I know & soe doe many more that for this I . . . suffered much prejudice with many.” Hiding behind claims of political conspiracy would have been convenient, but given the powerful reaction that Plymouth residents had to the charter, Cotton’s suspicions cannot be dismissed.

    On 18 June 1697, thirty-five Plymouth church brethren met to “consider the sad & scandalous reports that hath bin raised & spread abroad.” The allegations concerned “some miscarriages in the Pastor towards Rebekah Morton,” a married woman. The details of the case are murky; “miscarriages” implied improprieties of a sexual nature, but just what form these might have taken, or how accurate the allegations may have been, we cannot now know. The church meeting heard “her charges & the Pastors particular vindications of himselfe from all those scandals,” but also of “his confession of one.” Again, whether the latter remark refers to an earlier allegation, or even to the decades-old Connecticut incident (as Josiah seemed to think), and what Cotton was actually “confessing” are unclear. The church’s response in this matter appears to have been a vote of confidence, at least a tentative one; the brethren unanimously voted to ask Cotton to “carry on the Lords worke among them as formerly.”

    But Cotton’s enemies were now in full cry. While the Plymouth church saw no reason to take disciplinary action, the same Boston clergy who had praised Cotton six months earlier now called for his dismissal. A council of ministers from four towns tasked with settling the matter was unable to effect a reconciliation, or perhaps they found the evidence against Cotton too damning; on 30 September 1697 they recommended that Cotton “ask a Dismission, and the Church to grant it,” with expressions of “Love and Charity.” There was little “Love and Charity” evident in the conclusion, however; his forced resignation came as a “great Grief of a Number in Church and Town, who earnestly desired his Continuance.” Others, in language that Cotton himself might have approved, called Cotton’s ejection “a Base piece of villainy” and noted that “Mr. Cotton had 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” of 1692.18

    Had the fifty-seven year-old Cotton transgressed—again? Samuel Sewall certainly accepted his guilt and in his famous journal described Cotton’s stubbornness in confessing his errors—certainly a consistent pattern in Cotton’s personality. Even Increase Mather (again in hearsay recorded by Sewall) “declared among the Ministers that they had dealt too favourably with Mr. Cotton.”19 Nevertheless, before he left Plymouth a year later, Cotton made his peace with the church, “making a full and penitential acknowledgement of those evils” of which the council had convicted him, “and desired forgiveness of God and the Church.” Cotton seemed finally to be confessing his guilt, but again, of what? Familiarity with another man’s wife? “Undue Carriage in chusing Elders” (Sewall’s judgment)? Stubbornness and pride?

    If Cotton’s step-brother Increase thought the church council insufficiently harsh, nephew Cotton Mather seemed more sympathetic. He confided to his diary his “extreme Anguish of mind, from the terrible and amazing Circumstances, of my poor Uncle at Plymouth (condemned the last week, to Silence, by the just sentence of the Council.).” The younger Mather may have agreed that the council’s action was “just,” but he obviously felt compassion for “the deplorable Condition of my fallen Uncle.”20

    After losing the pulpit he had filled for so long, Cotton journeyed to Yarmouth and Sandwich, spending time with his sons who lived nearby. Naturally, Cotton could no longer count on his modest salary from Plymouth for serving as the church’s minister. Joanna moved in with their son Rowland’s family in Sandwich. Josiah Cotton remembered his mother as a woman of a delicate emotional constitution; she may have left Plymouth in part due to feelings of shame, whether or not she believed her husband to be guilty (once more?) of indiscretion. In any case, Joanna and John’s frequent separations in the wake of the second adultery scandal encouraged painful rumors about their marriage. John referred to the gossip in his letter to Joanna of 8 July 1698; she had recently returned to Plymouth after a long stay at Rowland’s, and he was then staying in Yarmouth: “I spake with mercy Dunham at Mr Whippo’s, & since I came hither Mr M: telles me, she hath vindicated you & me from some considerable aspersions, grounded upon your living soe long at Sandwich.”21 For his part, Cotton returned to Plymouth to settle his affairs and prepare for his future—all the time awaiting an invitation from another congregation.

    When it came, the invitation was from an unexpected, almost outlandish, quarter: Charlestown, South Carolina. Cotton had never journeyed out of New England, and Carolina was nearly as far from his home as it was possible to be while still on the British colonial mainland. Yet there were advantages to the offer worth considering. Charlestown was founded in 1680 to serve as the commercial and political hub of the new proprietary colony. Although the religious makeup of the inhabitants there was not as homogenous as New England’s (the dominant persuasion was Anglican), there was a considerable Congregationalist population in the town, and a pastor with Cotton’s proven ministerial gifts might do well there. Certainly, Cotton might have felt that he was more wanted and needed in Charlestown than in his current situation. In addition, if Cotton retained any fondness for the vitality of an important seaport town, Charlestown might have proffered satisfaction in that regard; located at the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, Charlestown was an ideal location for trade.

    It was also an ideal habitat for disease-carrying mosquitoes. As late as 1708, the population of the entire Carolina colony was only 8,000, and more than half of these were slaves. Dysentery, malaria and yellow fever gave Carolina the highest mortality rate in the mainland colonies. Cotton must have understood the risks but realized that another opportunity like this one might not come. Just as God had seemed to provide a place for him at the time of his earlier disgrace, so now He might be holding out one last opportunity for redemption. Some Boston ministers wrote letters of support for his candidacy, which may have settled the matter in Cotton’s mind; he did not take long to accept the position. Approaching old age, Cotton now contemplated a change as sudden, as radical, and as hazardous as any he had experienced. “I sit down astonished,” he reflected to his wife, “& am musing whether it be a beginning of mercy & deliverence, or a lightning before death.”22 He left Plymouth in mid November 1698 and reached Charlestown three weeks later.

    He arrived without his wife. Joanna chose not to accompany him for reasons that we must guess. Her health had declined and she may have felt unable to make the trip. Perhaps she simply was unwilling to leave home and children behind for an unfamiliar place with such an unhealthy reputation. She may have contemplated joining her husband later; certainly Cotton desired this. But also, there is the possibility that she believed the more serious allegations against her husband and the two had not yet found a way to heal the emotional wounds. Son Rowland wrote to his father, “mother seems not to know what to do abt coming to you . . . I suppose sheel write you her mind.”23 Joanna did write, keeping up as regular a correspondence as conditions permitted, and some of the last letters in this collection indicate that husband and wife had switched roles, with Joanna quietly assuming the job of news correspondent to her now remotely-settled husband.

    “My Father,” Josiah recalled, “had all ways a strong Impulse upon his spirit, that he should not dy in Plymo[uth] (as no Ministr had before him) which accordingly happened.”24 Cotton applied his customary energy to his new situation. By March 1699 he had helped to gather a church in Charlestown and become its pastor. He set about his work after the fashion of his early years in Plymouth, catechizing, preaching, and organizing fasts and private meetings. He “opposed gainsayers, satisfied the doubtful,” and won new members. But there could be no repeat of his Plymouth successes in the southern colony. When yellow fever struck the town in August, the virulence and lethality of the outbreak matched those of any smallpox epidemic experience Cotton remembered from New England; at least 179 of the town’s inhabitants succumbed to the disease. When Cotton himself became sick he lasted only three days, dying on 17 or 18 September 1699. The last letters in the collection tell how his family in New England received the news.

    Cotton Mather’s reaction was to believe that his uncle had atoned for past sins: “I have Reason to give great thanks unto Heaven, in that the Lord accepted that poor Man, to dy in the Service of the Church, After the Death which there had been upon all hopes of any such matter, by his Abdication from his work at Plymouth.”25 Even as he died in body Cotton, too, may have hoped that he had redeemed himself before God. Perishing along with his faithful in Charlestown, far from his home and without the comforts of family, Cotton nevertheless could feel that he had fulfilled the ministerial calling that had directed his life, despite the obstacles that his own weaknesses had thrown in the way. God’s blessing surely flowed to him through the souls of the converted.