Forgotten in the hubbub over the 200th anniversary of the births of Lincoln and Darwin is the fact that today is also the birthday of Cotton Mather. He was born on February 12 in 1663. Amazingly, today is also the anniversary of his death--he lapsed into a coma and died exactly 65 years later in 1728.
Mather was the scion of a rich heritage that helped to shape American civilization in remarkable ways. His grandfather, Richard Mather, brought the family to the American colonies in 1635 after a distinguished career as a Puritan minister in England. There he became a vital member of the leadership of Boston—both through his articulate pulpit manner and through production of the Bay Psalm Book—the first book produced in America.
Richard’s son, Increase Mather, was likewise an influential pastor, educator, and author. He earned America's first Doctor of Divinity degree. He also served as president of Harvard and as a diplomat for the Massachusetts Bay Colony helping to renegotiate the colonial charter at the court of King Charles II following the restoration of the monarchy.
But the greatest of all the Mathers was Increase’s son, Cotton. Like his father and grandfather, he was an influential pastor, statesman, and author. Indeed, he ultimately proved to be the most prolific author in American history—nearly 450 of his works were printed in his lifetime, including books on an astonishing variety of subjects from theology and philosophy to natural science and history. (Actually, if you count the books published in multiple volumes, his total bibliography rises above 600 books).
He left his mark in virtually every arena of human endeavor. So profound was his influence, in fact, that George Washington later called him the “Father of the Founding Fathers.”