We incurred many debts to fellow scholars and friends in creating this collection. If, in the lines that follow, we have failed to acknowledge any of these we must, like Cotton, confess our guilt and beg pardon. Many of the letters in this collection bear the marks of historian and Congregationalist minister Thomas Prince (1687–1758, H.C. 1707).26 Throughout our notes to these letters, the phrases “Prince notes” or “In Prince’s hand” reveal our great debt to him for preserving and annotating Cotton’s correspondence. Cotton’s letters probably owe their very survival to Prince’s deep love of New England’s history. Prince was from Sandwich on Cape Cod, once part of Plymouth colony, and his family corresponded with Cotton—letters from and to Prince’s maternal grandfather, Gov. Thomas Hinckley, and his maternal grandmother, Mary Hinckley, appear in this collection, and his parents, Samuel and Mercy, and brother, Nathan, appear repeatedly as subjects, informants, and bearers, as does young Thomas himself. Three modern archival collections that bear Prince’s name account for dozens of the letters in this volume: the Cotton-Prince Papers and the Prince Library at the Boston Public Library and the Thomas Prince Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Prince’s distinctive scrawled annotations also appear on dozens more letters scattered throughout other collections, such as in Miscellaneous Bound at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Although Prince read history avidly beginning as a child, in 1728 he began work in earnest on a comprehensive chronology of New England’s history. Drawing on his own extensive correspondence network, he asked ministers throughout New England to send him information, which augmented his own extensive reading.27 Critics of A Chronological History of New England have noted that he did not use much of the local content that he requested but instead focused on crafting a medieval chronicle, beginning with Genesis and ending with the earliest days of New England in 1630.28 He had hoped to reach the centennial year of 1730 in his coverage, but he never did. A second attempt in 1755, published serially, yielded no better result despite a second round of letter inquiries and was discontinued after the third installment. But Prince’s devotion to preservation makes his lackluster literary reputation seem insignificant; in the process of collecting materials for the Chronological History, he saved countless scribal and print manuscripts from destruction, including several documents crucial in American history, such as William Bradford’s Letter-Book and History of Plimoth Plantation. A few of Cotton’s letters survive only because Prince made manuscript copies of them, for the originals have since disappeared.29 It is Prince’s obsession with accurate dating—the hallmark of a chronicle—that appears most frequently in the Cotton letters; he patiently worked to date news within letters by referring to other letters or events with a known date. He carefully showed the trail he followed in his annotations, justifying a particular date based on its significance to other people and events. While we have often corrected Prince’s work, his diligence is inspiring to anyone trying to tell the many stories that any personal letter contains.

    Although Prince willed his vast documentary collection to his church, Old South in Boston, the contents were scattered quickly after his death in 1758, thanks in part to well-intentioned but forbidden borrowing, a sale by his son-in-law Lt. Gov. Moses Gill and, perhaps, marauding bands of Loyalists and Redcoats, if the oftentold stories prove true. The Boston Public Library holds much of what remains of the printed material, and the manuscripts are scattered in many collections, primarily at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Many libraries and archives have allowed us to publish from their manuscript collections. Their curators and reference librarians were unfailingly generous while we collected, copied and transcribed the letters and led us in many useful directions as we tried to annotate them as fully as possible. We thank Libby Bouvier of the Massachusetts State Archives; Peter Drummey and his redoubtable staff at the Massachusetts Historical Society; Thomas Knowles of the American Antiquarian Society; Eugene Zepp of the Rare Books Room at the Boston Public Library; the Guildhall Library, London; and the reading room staffs of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and Harvard’s Houghton Library for their assistance. The Mayflower Room in the Plymouth Public Library was home for many months of annotation research, and we are grateful that Plymouth continues to support such an excellent collection for historians and genealogists alike to use freely. Kenneth Minkema generously and meticulously read the manuscript and offered great advice. His critique came at a crucial time; he praised the manuscript that we thought was complete but suggested some reasons why it was not quite finished, and the book is much the better for his wisdom. Kate Viens saved us from sloppy formatting, misplaced commas, incomplete citations and clumsy turns-of-phrase more often than we would like to recall. Her keen editing has made us better writers and more careful storytellers, and we are deeply grateful for her devotion to this project. John Tyler of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts enthusiastically supported our project from its inception and has shown infinite patience with us, knowing full well that this was going to take longer than we thought. We hope the result will have proven worth the wait.

    Sheila McIntyre & Len Travers