Who Was Cotton Mather? Brilliant Scientist, Misguided Minister

Circa 1710, Cotton Mather (1663-1728). American Congregational clergyman. Source: (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images).

In Puritan New England in the 1690s, there were two things that struck fear into the hearts of the people—smallpox and witchcraft. For one colonial American minister, scientist, author, and leader, both of these fears would define his life. He is Cotton Mather, one of the most brilliant minds of his era with progressive views on disease control. Yet his strict religious views and fear of the devil led him to condone the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials.