23 August 2017

Cotton Mather and the Six Degrees of Separation

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)
“Conspicuous” on horseback, Cotton Mather (1663-1728) attended the hanging of fellow minister and Harvard graduate George Burroughs (1650-1692), found guilty at the Salem witch trials. Called the ringleader of witches, Burroughs’ parting speech followed by a perfect recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer” caused doubt to stir among the onlookers. Yet Mather, who firmly believed in the devil himself, dismissed Burroughs’ words. 

And the executions continued.

Mather held a passionate dislike for Burroughs, despite their similar backgrounds. Perhaps he truly believed the former Salem Village minister conducted devil worship with scores of witches, murdered his two wives (as their ghosts told Ann Putnam Jr.), or turned Baptist. Whatever the cause, a Harvard historian concluded the Boston minister’s biography by claiming Mather was linked to Burroughs through their descendants, no doubt causing Mather to roll over in his grave.

“The name Mather among Cotton Mather’s descendants has long been extinct. His son Samuel Mather, (Harvard University 1723), had a daughter, who married the Reverend Josiah Crocker of Taunton, H.U. 1738, among whose descendants was Samuel Leonard Crocker of Taunton, a graduate of Brown University in 1822, who married a granddaughter of Isaiah Thomas, LL.D., the founder of the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester, whose maternal grandfather was George Burroughs, at whose execution Cotton Mather acted a Conspicuous part on horseback. Thus by the marriage of Crocker to a granddaughter of Thomas, the Cotton Mather family became united with the George Burroughs family.” 
Colonial Collegians 1642-1774, Harvard, pp. 797-798. (Online database at AmericanAncestors.org.)

So, let’s fill in the missing data to prove six degrees of separation between the two Puritan ministers. 

Cotton Mather (H.U. 1678, 1681)
George Burroughs (H.U. 1670)
Samuel Mather (H.U. 1723)
[daughter Burroughs]
[dau.] Mather m. Rev. Josiah Crocker (H.U. 1738)
Isaiah Thomas, LL.D., founder of AAS
[among whose descendants was . . .]
[child of Isaiah Thomas]
Samuel Leonard Crocker (Brown U. 1822) m. [granddaughter of Isaiah Thomas]

The first child of Rev. Increase Mather (1639-1723) and Maria Cotton (1642-1714), Cotton Mather was married three times and had 15 children. Unfortunately, childhood diseases and early deaths wiped out most of his children, leaving only three who married. With his second wife Elizabeth Clark (1675-1713), Cotton had a son, Samuel Mather (1706-1785). Rev. Samuel married Hannah Hutchinson (1714-1752) in 1733.

Eligible Harvard Grads

Since we don’t know which Mather daughter married a Crocker, let’s return to the Colonial Collegians biographies.

Josiah Crocker (H.U. 1738) was a minister at Taunton but he married Rebecca Allen (p. 4451). The Taunton vital records show Josiah died in 1774, age 55, and he’s buried next to his wife Rebecca Allyn Crocker (1721-1759). He married his second wife, Hannah Cobb, in 1761 (Taunton VR). Born in Yarmouth in 1719, he was the only son of Capt. Josiah (d. 1721) and Desire (Thacher) Crocker (Yarmouth VR).

Josiah Crocker (H.U. 1760) was born 1740/1741 in Eastham, son of Rev. Joseph Crocker (H.U. 1734) and Reliance Allen. He died in 1764, unmarried (p. 6681).

Josiah Crocker (H.U. 1765) was born 1744 in Barnstable to Cornelius Crocker, tavernkeeper, and Lydia Jenkins. He married Deborah, daughter of Daniel Davis, and died in 1780. He lived in Barnstable and was a schoolmaster and clerk (p. 7319).

We’ve run through all the possible Josiah Crockers in Colonial Collegians, and even though Josiah and Joseph are not interchangeable names, there could be some confusion between generations. So, let’s continue.

Joseph Crocker (H.U. 1734) was a minister in Orleans. Born in 1715, he was the son of Thomas (d. 1728) and Hannah (Green) Crocker of Barnstable. He and his wife Reliance (Allen) Crocker were the parents of Josiah (H.U. 1760), above. He married, second, Mary (Pemberton) Hatch, widow of James Hatch, in 1766. He died in 1772 (p. 4053).

Joseph Crocker (H.U. 1774) was the son of Rev. Josiah Crocker (H.U. 1738) and Rebecca Allen mentioned above. He was born in Taunton in 1749 and died in Boston in 1797. He was a military man, not a minister like his father. And he was the husband of Hannah Mather (1752-1829), daughter of Rev. Samuel (p. 8627).

Finding Parents for a Match

Now that we’ve solved the Mather-Crocker marriage, we have to skip a generation or two to find out who were the parents of Samuel Leonard Crocker, Brown University 1822. For that, we go to the Massachusetts vital records.

In Worcester in 1825, Samuel L. Crocker married Hannah W. Thomas, the granddaughter of Isaiah Thomas. Born in Taunton in 1804, Samuel was the son of William Augustus Crocker and Sally Ingell. William was the son of Capt. Josiah Crocker and Abigail Leonard. Capt. Josiah was the son of Rev. Josiah Crocker and Rebecca Allen of Taunton, above. The family tree looks like this:

1. Capt. Josiah Crocker (d. 1721) m. Desire Thacher
2. Rev. Josiah Crocker (1719-1774) (H.U. 1738) m. Rebecca Allen
3. Capt. Josiah Crocker (1743-1808) m. Abigail Leonard
4. William Augustus Crocker (1774-1805) m. Sally Ingell
5. Samuel Leonard Crocker (1804-1883) m. Hannah Weld Thomas
                    3. Capt. Joseph Crocker (1749-1797) m. Hannah Mather

The Colonial Collegians biography had Cotton Mather’s granddaughter marrying Rev. Josiah Crocker (H.U. 1738), who was a generation older than her, instead of his son. Then it was the wrong son (Joseph, not Josiah). To clarify, Hannah (Mather) Crocker was the grand-aunt of Samuel Leonard Crocker who married Hannah Weld Thomas. That means Cotton Mather and George Burroughs were not related by blood through this line.

Fortunately, the Harvard Crocker biographies do not mention the false Mather/Burroughs connection. Nor does the Horace E. Mather’s Lineage of Rev. Richard Mather (1890). But you will see mention of it in other sources.

Postscript: Hannah (Mather) Crocker

Hannah became well-known for her writing and good works. She believed in the equality of women, as shown in Observations on the Real Rights of Women (1818), and supported a womens educational lodge based on Masonic principles. You can learn more about her by visiting the Hannah Mather Crocker Society online, which promotes “scholarship and public understanding concerning the life, writing, and legacies of Hannah Mather Crocker (1752-1829).” 

In 1814more than a decade before the Crocker-Thomas marriage—Hannah (Mather) Crocker donated 1,500 books from the Mather family to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, founded in 1812 by Isaiah Thomas LL.D. (1749-1831). Her descendants also donated manuscripts, portraits, and other ephemera to the society. 

To find out if the Burroughs line in Cotton Mather's Colonial Collegians profile is correct, read George Burroughs Genealogy: Burroughs-Thomas-Crocker Line.

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