That Moment When You Discover You’re Related To Cotton Mather

We all have skeletons in our closets (not counting those in the cemeteries…..sorry…..genealogy humor).  And we hope that when we research our ancestors, we are related to swashbucklers, Egyptian queens, famous inventors or the like.

I’m a little bit of an exception because, as you know, I have a burning desire to be part Neanderthal.

What I never thought of in my wildest dreams, was to find out that my 1st cousin, 10x removed, is infamous for having given fire to the Salem, Massachusetts Witch Trials.

me:  Did you find out anything interesting doing your DNA and family tree?

friend:  Yes, my 3rd great-grandparents opened a new school in their village.  How about you?

me:  Well my 1st cousin, 10x removed burned people alive.


Cotton Mather, picture from The Spurgeon Archive


I made this discovery late last night.  As soon as the name Mather came up, I said to my husband “You don’t think this will lead me to Cotton Mather, do you?”  He responded “That would be crazy.”

But there you have it.  Cotton Mather and I share a grandfather.  Richard Mather, a famous minister in his own right, was Cotton Mather’s grandfather, and my 10th great-grandfather.

Besides reading The Crucible and reading about the Salem Witch Trials in high school, I knew nothing else about Cotton Mather.  So here are few facts from that very excellent source, a Wikipedia article.  It’s just a quick overview, because teaching you about Cotton Mather is not the point of this blog post.

1.  He was a prolific writer, publishing over 400 books/tracts/pamphlets on many subjects.

2.  He was an avid scientist, pioneering the science of hybrid crops and something else important that I’ve forgotten but will look up later.  Oh I just remembered.  He fought for the development of, and use of, inoculation against smallpox.

3.  He was a Puritan minister, graduate of Harvard, and son of Increase Mather, who was the President of Harvard.

4.  He was obsessed with the idea of witchcraft as the work of the Devil and is credited for setting up the court for the Salem Witch Trials and fueling the flames, metaphorically speaking, by his writings on a previous case in Boston where witchcraft was prosecuted. But also wrote against the trials.

Ok, folks, don’t crucify me on any of the above material.  I have been reading about this for less than 24 hours.  I will find out more because I’m interested.  I will continue to avidly research my antecedents.  But I’m kind of hoping the next one up will be a carpenter or tavern keeper.

Here’s to finding no one else who sets people on fire.

Peace out.


About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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25 Responses to That Moment When You Discover You’re Related To Cotton Mather

  1. Ok, so a little creepy, but pretty cool in a way, too. It’s kind of neat to be able to say you are related to someone who figures big in the history books..

    Don’t too much about old Cotton, other than the witch thing. His name comes up a lot in H.P. Lovecraft stories. (I think Lovecraft admired him, to be honest.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I have a for-real-famous-not-creepy relative in General Stephen Rowe Bradley who was a Senator from Vermont. Because of him, every generation in my family has a Stephen and an Augusta. Except I blew it with my daughters and none are named Augusta. It’s one of my middle names. I’m going to have to break down and read H.P.Lovecraft.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Somehow, I’m not surprised. LOL. Your background is a cornucopia of surprises worthy of a historically rich autobiography. Myself, I’m avoiding going too far back down the family tree. I’m half Romanian, actually from the area renowned as . . . Transylvania. From the Latin it simply means “across the forest,” but you know what Hollywood has done with it. So eventually my bloodline (pun) would probably lead back to you-know-who.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      You can COUNT on it lol. What a funny comment. Thank you! And you should do it. My next obsession is going to be with Romania. It is the language of the Romans (I hate saying Romance languages because that’s a mistake made long ago) that I know the least about and has developed differently from the Mediterranean and Atlantic Roman languages. More reading to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love to get into this more.
    If you dare, contact me privately at
    Hai să vorbim. (Let’s talk.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That is really interesting. So far all I know is that my family was just a bunch of poor farmers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll pray for a carpenter

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you! Actually, I do have carpenters and saloon owners. But on my Irish side. Although it will take a lot more work to find those lines because immigration records are not easy. Thank you for reading this 🙂


  6. Paul says:

    I’ll pray for a firefighter.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ann Coleman says:

    Well look at it this way: if you hadn’t found out you were related to him, you would never have found out all of the good stuff that he also did with his life. Which just goes to show that even good people are capable of bad things, and vice versa, depending on what passions they choose to follow and what obsessions take hold. And don’t give up on that Neanderthal relation either…you may still find the connection!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi there, thanks for sharing this, three of my Aunt’s including Rebecca Nourse were found guilty in Salem, and two were hanged, my ancestor Joseph Towne was there brother, I hope to visit Rebecca’s house next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I immediately feel guilty. I have to read up a lot more about Salem and the trials/hanging. I know that although Cotton Mather was in many ways responsible, he also wrote against them. That’s a project for this summer. But I’m sorry 😦


      • OMG please don’t worry, I have so many interesting characters in my tree I call it chock full of nuts!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Barb Knowles says:

        Ha!! It’s funny but I actually felt guilty. Idk if you’ve read other posts of mine, but I had my DNA done by 2 different companies (Ancestry and National Geographic Genomegraphic – I don’t have the name quite right but it’s the Nat’l Geo one) and I have 1.5% Neanderthal DNA, as most of us with European ancestry do and one percentage or another. phew! Long sentence. At any rate, I wrote about how Cotton Mather would feel if he knew that we were part Neanderthal.
        Yes, we all have interesting people. Thank you for reading and commenting and I’m going to check out your blog right now. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Evy Pettit says:

    I know this article is like 4 years old, but I’m also related to Cotton Mather. Weird world we live in!


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