Failure in Connecticut 1662–1664

    Fittingly, perhaps, the first documents in this volume illuminate what was arguably the defining period of Cotton’s life. His alleged misconduct and subsequent fall from grace in Connecticut deprived him of a promising career in that colony and indirectly led him to semi-exile on Martha’s Vineyard, to missionary work, and to Plymouth Colony—almost certainly not the career path he envisioned when he graduated from Harvard College. By leaving Connecticut when he did, however, Cotton may have been spared difficulties of another sort. By 1662, the commencement of Cotton’s personal troubles, Gov. John Winthrop Jr. had obtained a royal charter for his colony of Connecticut that engrossed the neighboring New Haven colony. Several years of protest ensued before New Haven grudgingly accepted the all but inevitable. John Davenport, a founder of New Haven and an old friend of Cotton’s father, was bitterly opposed to the union and to the decisions of the New England synod of that year, which adopted new strategies to promote full church membership (what nineteenth-century scholars dubbed the “Half Way Covenant”). Cotton’s Connecticut mentor, the Reverend Samuel Stone of Hartford, favored both union and the synod’s recommendations. There was no love lost between Stone and Davenport, and Cotton eventually would have had to choose his camp. Perhaps he had done so already; his own father-in-law, Bryan (Bray) Rosseter of Guilford, New Haven Colony, openly despised and defied the Davenport faction.

    A committee of two magistrates and two ministers including Stone met to determine the facts surrounding the complaints against Cotton. Although the committee’s report, printed here, found reason to fault most everyone involved in the complicated affair, its conclusions were most damaging to Cotton. The committee members seemed more annoyed with Cotton’s demeanor than with his alleged misdeeds. Cotton even complained that he was the victim in this case and that the imputed sexual impropriety was in fact of another party. It may be significant that the party in question, as well as another of Cotton’s accusers, were of the family of the recently deceased Gov. Thomas Wells, for whose estate Cotton was executor, and that some Wells family members had complained of Cotton’s stewardship. Whatever the case, the committee clearly felt that Cotton was not telling them the whole truth and was at least guilty of astonishingly poor judgment. The report’s harshest words were for the young minister, pointing to his “sinfull Rach unpeacabell” speech, “espeasially Considering his place and [charge].”

    Report of Committee to General Court of Connecticut Colony

    20 March 1662

    Whear as We whose names are subCribed wear appointed by the Cort & desiered by the partis Conserned to hear and determin the maters Controversall between them apone our patient hearing serious Consideration of all things aleged on both sides we doe give in our determination as follows

    first as to Steven Scott his Charge aganst mr Cotten as first yt he minds noe Lectuers nothing but his wife & drinking & secondly in reading goodwife rights acknowledgement yt left out or put in as he pleased in these to we find him uterly to falle as to Scotte 3d Carge viz that the Judgment or Curse of god Would not Remove frome Wetherfield whilst mr Cott aboad ther30 this we doe not se sufiCiently proved therfor desier him to <exspres for the time to Come a due Christian wach ouer him selfe Respecting any such Behauer Conserning ye Mor> acknowledg his great sene ther in Conserning mr Cottens going into mis Chittendins31 Chamber with good wife right pretending mearly to see the furnituer of the hous we aprehend A foolish Curiosity and a mater of noe good Report and desiering him to exsprese for the time to Come a due xts32 wach ouer himselfe Respecting any such behauour Conserning the more grose acte mentioned in goodwife wright testimony Respecting mr Cotten we se not sufficient euedenc to ConClude the sam Respecting the Carge laied to mr Cotten that hee so spack on Purpas to wex33 mis wells34 we judge his exspresions hear in to be sinfull Rach unpeacabell espeasially Considering his place and Carge to mr Cottens Carge of mr Samu wells35 Respecting his testimony that it was fals thoe he Retracts his words & diverts them to another senc we Judge his speach hearin as indiscret Rach & inConsiderat as to mr Cottens Carge of mis wells to bee guilty of lisiueous whorich practises this we do sentence as a Carge of a veary high defaming natuer Rashly spoken and in no way Proued by him against her, to the sinfull striving aleged by mis wells against mr Cottene with her we se not evedenc to Conclud it whereas ther was a seming or intimated Charge of mr Cotten in publick aganst mrs wells as if she strove with hime as Joseph mis did with Joseph36 mr Cotten doth befor us uterly Renounc the same namly all aperanc of any such Carge and therfor wee doe desiere the partis Conserned to Rest satefied her in wee do allso being deply sensabell of the Chastisinge hande of the Lord not only apon the partickuler Plac in the which the Parsons aboue Conserned lives but apon the holle Contery By Reasone of the Conteneued often Reneued: & greatly umbeling Deferances that haue aRose at wetherfield doe ernestly desier that all ther in & spesialy the Parsons now att warianc to Consider them self in quier why the allmighty Contendeth with them & Cloeth them with Peac & umbelnes of Mind & to exersis themselfs Daily to keep truth and love that the Weary God of Peac may be with them

    Sam. Wilis=37

    Sam. Stone=38

    Sam. Hocker=39

    John Allen:=40

    March 20th 61=


    Andrew-Eliot Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    From John Davenport41

    23 March 1663

    Ultimately, the committee’s recommendation for a peaceful resolution did not prevail, either with the Connecticut people or with Boston’s First Church, of which Cotton was still a member. The following letter from his father’s old friend probably did little to cheer him. Although a year had passed since the committee’s investigation, Cotton’s troubles had not abated, in part, it seems, due to his stubborn reluctance to publicly acknowledge and repent his transgressions.

    To Mr <John Cotton>

    Deare Sr,

    Yrs dated ye 17th. of ye 11th. m.42 I received ye 9th. day of ye 12. m. And having so good an opportunity, by so safe an hand as Mr. Sam: Streete,43 I returne such Answer as I can to yr Letter. wherein I observe wth thanckfullnes yr kinde acceptance of my loving freenes in expressing my deepe sense of yr sinfull miscarriages. I could not have approved my faithfulnes to God, to you, & to my owne Conscience, if I had neglected such a season of so speaking to you, as I did, yt being ye first opportunity wch was given me of treating wth you, ore tenus,44 about such matters as were not fit to be committed to wrighting, wch might fall into other hands, to ye blemishing of yr name, wch I desired to preserve unspotted, by me, while I sincerely endeavoured ye healing of yr soul. how often have I fervently desired yt as you beare boath yr fathers names. so you might hold forth ye virtues of Christ, in ye spirit & Conversacon, wch eminently shined in him! Thus you would be knowne to be his son, morally, by imitacon, as well as naturally, by generacon, wch would have given you a double interest, in ye hearts of Gods people, who knew, loved, & highly honoured yr blessed Father, who being dead would thus have lived in you, as worthy Mr. Hooker, doth in his good son, at Farmington.45 Nor am I out of hope yt yet it may be so, if ye Lord convince you powerfully of yr former sins, & humble you effectually for ym to Justifie wisdomes Counsels by yr holding forth publickly yr unfeined repentance, as I told you Origen46 did, wth many teares, yt scandal might be removed, wch while it remains, will be to katechon,47 to hinder ye acceptance of yr exercise of guifts in preaching, wth men, & ye blessing of it from God. You promised yt you would send me a Copie of yr publick acknowledgemt, wch is reported to be slight, & unsatisfying, & yt you would propound some things in reference to yr case, for further advise.

    But you have done neither. whereby I am dissadvantaged from giving you yt helpe, wch otherwise I might have done, wth Gods assistance. It is a temptacon from satan, to hinder you from propounding yr case, upon a secret expectacion, to see more of God in it, hoping yt God, who helped me before to speake as if I had knowne ye inward frame of yr heart, will againe direct me to speake some thing to ye troubles of yr heart, though I be not fully acquainted wth ym. For though if you had acquainted me wth yr troubles, & ye grounds of ym, & the effects, my bowells would have bene troubled wth you, & for you, & from a true sympathy I should have endeavoured to asswage yr greife, or to direct yr apprehencons, or otherwise to speake suitably to yr case; yet it is not God’s manner, nor may you expect it, to reveal to his servts, by immediate inspiracion, the cases of others, wch, by his ordinances, they aught to expresse, ymselves & seeke helpe in from others, yt ye communion of saints may be preserved & exercised among ym mutually. Thus you see how satan tempteth you to tempt God. As for me, be you assured yt, in any way of God, you shall finde me really ready, upon all occasions, to be helpfull to you as ye case may require. Farewel & account me, as I am,

    Yr true freind in ye Lord,

    John Davenporte

    N. H. ye 23: of ye 1st. m. 1662./3.


    I thanck you for my letters to yr Father, wch you sent me, according to my desire & yr promise. some I recd. by Edm: Toolie,48 & some by Jacob molines,49 wth yr letter. If any yet remaine wth you; you will further oblige me if you send ym to me. iterum Vale.50

    Mather Papers 1:29, Prince Library, Rare Book and Manuscripts, Boston Public Library.

    To John Winthrop Jr.,51

    8 March 1664

    Ultimately, it may not have mattered whether Cotton had confessed his sins or not; there was an influential and tenacious faction in Wethersfield that wanted Cotton gone, and by early 1664 he had lost his pulpit there. He was also in deep trouble with the First Church. In the four letters that follow, Cotton solicits John Winthrop Jr.’s aid in facing the Boston brethren’s disciplinary actions. With each letter, Cotton seems more intent on justifying himself, tenaciously rejecting certain levels of submission beyond what he felt strictly necessary. It seems a small wonder, then, that the church did not accept his first, apparently half-hearted repentance and excommunicated him. By the time of his last letter to Winthrop, in November of that tumultuous year, he was still jobless but may already have been preparing for his new position in Great Harbor (Edgartown), where he took his family in January 1665. There is no evidence that Cotton ever wrote to Winthrop again.

    John Cotton Jr. to John Winthrop Jr., March 8, 1663/64. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Guilford: March: 8: 1663/64

    Right Worshipfull and truly Honoured Sir.

    How to apologize for this bold interruption of you in the midst of those weighty affaires incumbent upon you, I know not, onely the remembrance of that Interest and freindship that was betwixt your selfe and him, whose sonne I have unworthily bin called (considering my great miscarriages) doth incourage me to present my Condition (soe deplorable) to you, craving your candid Interpretation of what I write, and (if it be the will of God soe farre to smile upon me) your favourable granting of my desires therein contained.

    Worthy Sir, you are not a stranger to my dreadfull fall, how greatly I have dishonoured the glorious name of God that hath bin called upon me, how much I have blemished the Gospel of Jesus christ, how sadly I have wounded mine owne soule and sadned the hearts of the righteous whom God would not have made sad; it behoves me therefore to endeavour seriously and conscientiously that God may have his due glory—both by my [. . . .]52 readynesse to take shame to my selfe for the vilenesse of my heart and Life, and also by my free submission to any ordinance of God that may tend to the healing of my sin-sick soule, In order whereunto I am expected by the Elders of Boston Church, with all convenient speede to hasten downe thither, they being desirous that my repentance (if there be any) may be manifested to that church; this also I am informed by one who spake with those Elders, that they should expresse that if the hearts of people at Connecticott (I suppose they meant of the principall) were charitably satisfied with what I manifested to them there, it would prevaile with them the more readily to accept of my acknowledgment amongst themselves; and were I now with the church, I understand one inquiry would be of me, what satisfaction I had given in the place where my offence was committed, Hence, Honoured Sir, I humbly intreate of you, that you would in this case show me what favour and kindnesse you can in Conscience and with faithfullnesse doe; It is true, that I have not made satisfaction to the Law, because I did not appeare at the Court according to that bond which the Magistrates Laid upon me, but I humbly conceive that may be noe obstruction of what I now desire, if what I did in Hartford Congregation by way of Confession, did in any measure give you and any other of the godly there soe much ground of Charity as to conceive, that God was indeede at worke with my soule and had in some measure affected my heart with the sense of my great transgressions; the signifying of something of this nature, <I hope> by letter to the Elders or church of Boston, I hope would be a service acceptable to God, and that which would exceedingly oblige a poore, distressed creature to you. If God move your heart hereunto, I should hope both Mr Allyns,53 Capt: Talcot54 and Mr Richards55 Deacon Migatt56 would concurre with you herein (or at least some of them.) Sir, Could I obtaine that favour of you as to conferre with these or some of them as you have any occasion, with what speede you can, or any others whome you shall Judge meete to acquaint with the matter, as from yourselfe, It will be a courtesy, I hope I shall never forget to be truly thankfull for; I know something of this kinde, if any thinge be attaineable, will be expected by the church, and of what use it may be by Gods blessing, I beleve you easily see. Sir, I have noe doubt of your concealing these lines. I leave the case with you humbly begging of God to guide you therein, and beseeching of your earnest prayers to God for me, that He would effectually remember his mercy to me, in the deepe humbling of my soule for sin, and soe fitting me for all the grace I neede.

    I rest, Sir, your obliged, and most deepely distressed friend

    John Cotton


    I purpose within this moneth (God willing) to goe for Boston by the Seaside, if you please soe farre to condescend as to informe me what may be done, it will greatly incourage me to hasten thither.

    My Mother presents her service to you and Mris Winthrop57 she earnestly desires you to tender her condition with the rest of the family, her husband and son being soe violently torne from her by soe threatning a Providence, that you would improove the power God hath betrusted you with, for their comfortable and safe restoring to the family againe which is truly distressed for the want of them.

    The Winthrop Papers 12:48, Massachusetts Historical Society. Addressed “These For the Right Worshipfull, his worthily Honoured freind, John Winthrop Esquire, Governour of the Colony of Connecticott, at his house, in Hartford.” Endorsed “Mr. J: Cotton.

    To John Winthrop Jr.,

    28 March 1664

    Guilford: March: 28: 1664:

    [Ri]ght Worshipfull and truly Honoured Sir.

    About three weekes since I made bold to trouble you with a few lines, the contents of which I neede not now to repeate. God by his Providence giving one opportunity more of sending up, before my going into the Bay,58 I could not omitt the reiterating of my request to you, that if you can doe any thinge in uprightnesse that may tend to Gods honour and to the alleviating at the least, the burthen, which otherwise may fall and lye more heavy upon me, [. . . .]59 that you will please now to doe it; I shall account your kindnesse herein a reall smile from heaven, and a reall obligation of your poore, distressed friend to you: Sir, I purpose the next weeke, at the furthest to begin my Journey to the Bay and to goe by the seaside, a word from you before that time, will be very acceptable, if you please soe farre to condescend to me; you may command my service to carry letters for you to the Bay, I purpose to call at your son Newmans60 as I goe to Hampton. Sir, By my father Rosseter,61 you may convey letters hither. I beg your prayers for me,

    In haste, I rest, Sir, your distressed, unworthy friend

    John Cotton62

    The Winthrop Papers 12:49, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    To John Winthrop Jr.,

    11 October 1664

    Guilford: October: 11: 1664:

    Honourable Sir

    I am bold once againe to trouble you in this kinde, with reference to that satisfaction etc formerly spoken of. God by his good hand of Providence soe disposed, that two of the persons principally concerned in this matter, were Lately at this towne, I noe sooner heard of their being here; but I immediately attended the tendring of satisfaction to them, God soe farre appeared therein, as that the woman declared her selfe to be fully satisfied; soe did the man also, onely he added this Condition, viz, if I had sent up such letters as were to be communicated to the Congregation, and to particular persons; I lookt at my selfe as principally ingaged to indeavour the satisfaction of these above mentioned, for some reasons not fitt to be written, and therefore acknowledge it to be the good hand of God, to give me soe farre an opportunity of soe speaking with them; But the mans Condition being such, it confirmes me the more strongly in the apprehension of the necessity of reading that letter publickly. Mr Ston is now here, who informes me of your Journey to wethersfield etc for which I desire to blesse God, and to acknowledge my reall thankfulnesse to your selfe for soe great a kindnesse; By what replyes, I understand, you had from one, I am still more and more inclinable to beleve, that everyone concerned will not manifest actuall satisfaction, If God soe dispose, I desire to submitt to his will therein; however, that is not soe fully expected at Boston, all they Looke to heare of, is, that I have regularly tendered my acknowldgements to them, this being done and testified will comfortably issue matters there, and without this, I feare I shall be greatly damnifyed, not onely upon spirituall accounts, but temporall also, for I am informed by letters lately received from the Bay, that there is a considerable summe amongst my friends there, privately collected and intended for me, but it will not be sent to me till they heare what I have done for the satisfaction of offended persons at Connecticott: Sir, I know the Generall Court is now soe neere,63 together with other weighty affaires that may lye upon you, that it is not for me to expect you can have the least opportunity of consummating this matter for me, but when those occasions are ended, I would humbly beg of you to be further mindfull of me, that soe I may obtaine Testimony to show at Boston, that I have answered their expectations.64 If the persons, at whose house you were, or any others should say, that what is done should satisfy them, if I would come up, and speake soe much my selfe face to face, I pray, Let it be dasht, and their expectations of any such thing, for I have some spetiall reasons within my selfe, that doe wholy take off my minde from any inclination to come up as yett, besides I have heard that some in wethersfield doe but waite for such an opportunity of my being there, for the venting of the old prejudices of spirit against me; (sub sigillo65 be it spoken) which makes me feare my coming up, would proove greatly to my dammage; But if any should persist in such a motion, I would intreat you, having tendred the letters, to desert the businesse, onely with your Test. that such and such acknowledgements have bin presented to them. If you should have any opportunity to speake with those, to whome I spake at this towne, I doubt not but they will owne the truth of what I have now written, and soe you will be capable of asserting that also; my purpose is, God willing, to goe to Boston, the next moneth by the seaside, but I may not, I must not goe thither till this spetiall matter be effected; worthy Sir, I beg pardon for my greate boldnesse with you, knowing your wonted bowels, towards persons in distresse, doth thus farre embolden me; I beg your earnest prayers for me, resting,

    Sir, yours much obliged

    John Cotton

    The Winthrop Papers 12:49, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    To John Winthrop Jr.,

    2 November 1664

    Guilford: November: 2: 1664

    Right Worshipfull

    I have bin bold to trouble you very much already, but am enforced once more to beg of you to tender my deplorable condition soe farre as to consider what further may be done, after soe many unsuccessfull indeavours, for the more full issuing of this soe uncomfortable a businesse; I was in good hopes you would have returned home this way, and then I should have had an opportunity of more full discourse with you; I have mett with Mr Allyn here, and have informed him how the case stands, as farre as I know of it; and he is fully of the minde, that there would be noe danger, but much advantage by reading of that letter to the Congregation publickly; what though Mr welles66 be not satisfied, and it may be some others more remotely concerned of the like minde? that cannot in the least prejudice me at Boston; for the Elders and others did expresse themselves that they did not expect to heare that all concerned were actually satisfied; it would be enough to them, that I did verbally or by writing make such acknowledgements as carried with them the nature of a Just satisfaction. Therefore, worthy Sir, I would humbly beg of you that you would forward the reading of that letter, if it be possible, the next sabbath; I cannot goe to Boston, till that be done, with out apparent hazard from the church there, there is an absolute necessity, for my comfort, that it should be soe; Now when the letters are read, I desire John Allyn to send them both to me, wi[th] your testimonies that Mr M: and [. . .] and their wives are fully satisfied, and that acknowledgments were read in publick [&] communicated in private, and then I leave it with Boston to Judge, whether I [have?] not fully attended the rule, I have gr[ounds?] enough to think, it will give full cont[ent] to them there: Honoured Sir, I must [beg the?] hastning of this, for I stay for nothi[ng but?] this: I am ready for my Journey [. . .] and dare not step one foote forward [. . .] till this be done at wethersfield, the c[old] weather is neere, and I am afraid to [wait?] above one weeke longer or ten dayes a[t] furthest, least winter should stop m[y] Journey, or make it very uncomfort[able.] Good Sir, I crave pardon for my bo[ldness?] and beg your granting my desire wi[th all?] possible expedition, and let me t[hough?] unworthy have the benefit of your da[ily] prayers;

    I rest, Sir, yours affectionately ob[edient]

    John Cotton

    The Winthrop Papers 12:49, Massachusetts Historical Society. The left margin was trimmed sometime after the letter was written, cutting off some right-margin words and letters on the reverse.