John Cotton - New England Puritan minister
John Cotton was an English clergyman and colonist. He was a principal figure among the New England Puritan ministers, who also included Thomas Hooker, Increase Mather (who became his son-in-law), John Davenport, and Thomas Shepard and John Norton, who wrote his first biography. Cotton was the grandfather of Cotton Mather, who was named after him.
Born in England, he was educated at Derby School, in buildings which are now the Derby Heritage Centre, and attended Trinity College, Cambridge and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1606. He became a long-serving minister in the English town of Boston, Lincolnshire before his Puritanism and criticism of hierarchy drew the hostile attention of Church of England authorities. In 1633, William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and like numerous other Puritan nonconformist figures, Cotton soon came under his close “eye of scrutiny”. In the same year Cotton, his family, and a few local followers sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Brownist congregational movement within the Church of England had by this stage, in effect at least, become a separate church. Because of his early views on the primacy of congregational government, his was an important role in Puritan aspirations to become an example to help reform the English church. He is best known among other things for his initial defense of Anne Hutchinson early in her trials during the Antinomian crisis, during which she mentioned him with respect, though he turned strongly against her with the further course of the trial. He is also remembered for his role in the banishment of Roger Williams regarding the role of democracy and the separation of church and state in the Puritan theonomic society, both of which Williams tended to advocate. Cotton grew still more conservative in his views with the years but always retained the estimation of his community. He was invited to attend the Westminster Assembly of Divines. He was keen to go, though Winthrop said that he couldn’t see the point of “travelling 3,000 miles to agree with three men?” Cotton’s desire to attend changed with the unfolding events of the First English Civil War, and he came to believe that he could be more effective in influencing the Assembly through his writings. He died in Boston, Massachusetts on December 23, 1652; his cause of death is unknown. His body was then moved to the King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts. Cotton is named on a stone in King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, which also names early First Church ministers John Davenport (d. 1670), John Oxenbridge (d. 1674) and Thomas Bridge (d. 1713). Exact burial sites and markers for many first-generation settlers in that ground were lost with the—probably deliberate—placement of Boston’s first Anglican church, King’s Chapel I (1686) over them; the present stone marker, placed by the church, is likely a cenotaph
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