Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mather, Richard

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MATHER, RICHARD (1596–1669), congregational divine, son of Thomas and Margaret Mather, was born in 1596 at a house still standing in Mather Lane, Lowton, in the parish of Winwick, Lancashire. His parents were of good family, reduced by ‘unhappy mortgages.’ At Winwick grammar school he was under William Horrocke, a good but severe master, who dissuaded his father from apprenticing the lad to a Roman catholic merchant. When but fifteen he was appointed master of Winwick school by Sir Peter Legh, the patron, but in 1612 he became the first master of a school newly established by the inhabitants of Toxteth Park, near Liverpool. Here he lodged in the family of Edward Aspinwall, a cultured puritan landowner. He heard puritan sermons and read puritan divinity, attaining definite religious convictions in 1614. His school flourished and attracted pupils from a distance. Jeremiah Horrocks [q. v.] is said to have been his scholar, but this seems impossible. To improve his qualifications he went to Oxford, and joined Brasenose College on 9 May 1618. It seems probable that his school was suspended while a chapel was being built at Toxteth. His stay at Oxford was cut short by a call from the Toxteth people ‘to instruct, not so much their children as themselves.’ He preached his first sermon there on 30 Nov. 1618, and was soon afterwards (certainly before March 1619) ordained by Thomas Morton [q. v.], bishop of Chester, who had formed a high estimate of his religious character. His age suggests that he was only ordained deacon; at a later date, when he had come to think episcopal ordination ‘superstition,’ he tore the parchment certificate. For nearly fifteen years he pursued his ministry at Toxteth with growing repute. He married a lady whose father long withheld his consent, through dislike to ‘non-conformable puritans.’ After this (1624), he lived in a house he had bought at Much Woolton, three miles off, but he preached at Toxteth twice each Sunday and often on holy days, held a fortnightly lecture at Prescot, and, at the request of the mayor, took part in 1629 in monthly sermons at Liverpool. William Gellibrand, the puritan minister of Warrington, on hearing him preach, said, ‘Call him Matter; for, believe it, this man hath substance in him.’ This pun shows that the first vowel in Mather was short. John Bridgeman [q. v.], Morton's successor, suspended him in August 1633 for disusing the ceremonies, but restored him in November at the instance of influential friends. The suspension led Mather to define his views of church government, which became essentially congregational. In 1634 he was again suspended, by the visitors of Richard Neale or Neile [q. v.], then archbishop of York; efforts for his restoration proved hopeless when it transpired that he had never worn a surplice. In the following year he resolved to emigrate to New England, after consulting several meetings of Lancashire puritans, and receiving encouraging letters from the Boston ministers, John Cotton and Thomas Hooker [q. v.]

Mather with his family left Warrington for Bristol on 16 April 1635. On 23 May they went on board the James, but the vessel did not sail till 4 June. They got away from Milford on 22 June, and reached Boston harbour on Sunday 16 Aug. landing next day. Mather's journal of the voyage is a graphic and interesting narrative.

After staying a few months in Boston, he had overtures from three New England settlements, and at length accepted a call from Dorchester, Massachusetts, where a congregational church was constituted, with Mather as ‘teacher,’ on 23 Aug. 1636. In this charge he remained till his death, though solicited to return to Lancashire during the Commonwealth period. He became an influential leader in the church councils of New England congregationalism. At the Cambridge synod of 1648, held for the purpose of checking the introduction of presbyterianism, three alternative schemes of congregational polity were proposed, and though one of these carried the authority of John Cotton, Mather's plan, generally known as the ‘Cambridge platform,’ was adopted. It provided for an associate congregationalism, with occasional but not constant synods. His health was remarkably good, and he never called in a physician, though in his latter years he became deaf, in 1662 one of his eyes failed him, and from 1667 he had several attacks of stone. After presiding at a council of churches in Boston, 13–16 April 1669, he was seized with a violent fit of this disorder, and returned to Dorchester, where he died on 22 April 1669. He married first, on 29 Sept. 1624, Katherine (d. 1655), daughter of Edmund Hoult of Bury, Lancashire; among his six sons by her were Samuel [q. v.], Nathanael [q. v.], Eleazar (b. 1637; minister at Northampton, Connecticut; d 24 July 1669, aged 32), and Increase [q. v.] He married secondly, on 26 Aug. 1656, Sarah, whose first husband was named Story, and whose second husband was John Cotton (d. 23 Dec. 1652). She died before Mather.

He published: 1. ‘An Answer of the … Churches in New England, unto nine Propositions,’ &c., 1643, 4to. 2. ‘Church-Government and Church-Covenant discvssed in an Answer to two-and-thirty Questions,’ &c., 1643, 4to (these two tracts on church government were written by Mather in 1639, and published in London in the name of the Elders of the New England churches). 3. ‘A modest … Ansvver to Mr. Charles Herle against the Independancy of Churches,’ London, 1644, 4to. 4. ‘A Reply to Mr. Rutherford, or a … Defence of … Answer to … Herle,’ &c., 1647, 4to. 5. ‘An Heart-melting Exhortation … to their dear countrey-men of Lancashire,’ &c., 1650, 12mo (written exclusively by Mather, though bearing also the name of William Thompson of Braintree, Massachusetts, d. 10 Dec. 1666). 6. ‘A Catechisme,’ &c., 1650, 8vo. 7. ‘A Treatise of Justification,’ &c., Cambridge, New England, 1652, 4to. 8. ‘A Farewell Exhortation to the Church … of Dorchester,’ &c., Cambridge [Massachusetts], 1657, 4to. 9. ‘A Plea for the Churches of New England,’ &c., 1660. 10. ‘A Defence of the Synod at Boston in … 1662,’ &c., Cambridge [Massachusetts], 1664, 4to (in conjunction with J. Mitchell). 11. ‘A Brief Relation … of the Lord's Work among the Indians,’ &c., 4to (no date or place; copy in Dr. Williams's Library). He had a hand with John Eliot [q. v.] and Thomas Weld in the preparation of the ‘Bay Psalm Book,’ 1640; and prepared for press a series of sermons on 2 Peter and a ‘Defence’ of New England churches against William Rathband [q. v.]; he wrote part of ‘An Answer to Twelve Questions,’ &c., 1712, 16mo, published by Increase Mather.

[The Life and Death of … Richard Mather, 1670, reprinted 1850, is by an anonymous friend, whose accuracy is vouched for by Increase Mather; Journal of Richard Mather (Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society), 1850; Clarke's Lives of Eminent Persons, 1683, i. 126 sq.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 832 sq.; Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, 1702, iii. 122 sq.; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, iii. 152, 426 sq. 440 sq.; Sprague's Annals of the American Pulpit, 1857, i. 75 sq.; Beamont's Winwick [1876], pp. 75 sq.; Dexter's Congregationalism [1879]; V. D. Davis's Ancient Chapel of Toxteth Park, 1884, pp. 6 sq. (cf. Davis's ‘Richard Mather's Voyage to America,’ in Unitarian Herald, 15, 22, 29 Aug. 1884).]

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