Presenting the Text

    In the course of editing the letters passing to and from Cotton, we noticed patterns of correspondents and content analogous with distinct phases of Cotton’s life and career. Accordingly, we have prefaced groups of letters, and some individual letters, with explanatory remarks to provide context and continuity.

    Each letter or document begins with a heading that briefly indicates the origin, recipient, and date. In the transcriptions, dates are kept as written. We make no adjustments for “Old Style” or “New Style” dating. In the headings only, “split” dating for items generated between January and March is rendered in modern form, as “1694” for “1693/94,” and so on. If dates are missing from the original or the original is misdated, presumed or corrected dates appear in brackets.

    The great majority of letters in this collection followed a similar format; our standardization reflects that dominant configuration. All datelines appear at the right margin, salutations to the left. Writers rarely indented paragraphs in the seventeenth century; indents appear in this edition only if Cotton or his correspondents used them. Closings to the letters are placed on separate lines at the left margin, while signatures are also placed on separate lines, to the right. Postscripts begin following the signature line, at the left margin. A descriptive/provenance note follows each document preceding the footnotes and contains the names of the source institution and collection, the address on the manuscript (if a letter), the endorsement, notes by previous editors, and Cotton’s remarks on letters he received. The document’s condition is described if it is relevant.

    We have retained original spelling, punctuation, and errors such as inadvertent repetitions. Cotton and his correspondents frequently used colons and semicolons where today would appear periods and commas. We have inserted a space following each of these marks, whether or not the writer seems to have done so. The capitalization of letters appears as written. Determining capitalized letters is often a matter of judgment, and while we cannot claim our judgments are definitive, we have made every effort to render these correctly. If the abbreviations of words are unclear, we supply the missing letters in brackets the first time they appear in a letter. There were relatively few thorns used for an initial “th” in an article or pronoun; we have retained these thorns, rendering them as the letter “y,” which they resemble, and brought them to the line, thus using “ye” for “the,” “ys” for “this,” “ym” for “them,” and so forth. We have kept the seventeenth-century use of “i” for “j” as written. On the other hand, it is often difficult to tell when a writer intended to use “v” for “u” (“ovr” for “our”), as there is little difference in their appearance in the manuscripts. We have employed modern spellings for consistency. Some of Cotton’s correspondents abbreviated “our” to “or.” Tilde marks, indicating missing letters, appear only occasionally in this collection, and the missing letters are silently supplied. Brevigraphs raised above the line, often used in the names of months, are retained, as, “Decembr” or “octbr.”

    Superscriptions and interlineations have been retained. Crossed-out words are enclosed in angle brackets and italicized, for example, <had not>. If letters of a word are missing or illegible but are easily identified by the word’s context, we supply the remaining letters in brackets, as “bro[th]er.” If no conjecture can be made, we leave the brackets empty and insert a number of spaces indicating the number of letters that appear to be missing. If a word is missing and not conjecturable, the missing word is indicated by brackets enclosing an ellipsis of three periods: “[. . .].” Two missing words are indicated by brackets enclosing four periods: “[. . . .].” A missing passage of more than two words is indicated by “[. . . .]” followed by a footnote estimating the amount of missing matter. Illegible words are designated “[illeg.]” or “[several words illeg.].” Conjectured words are enclosed in brackets with a question mark: “[church?].”