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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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John Cotton

COTTON, John, clergyman, born in Derby, England, 4 December, 1585; died in Boston, Massachusetts, 23 December, 1652. His father was Roland Cotton, a lawyer. John entered Trinity College, Cambridge, when only thirteen years old, and afterward removed to Emmanuel College, where he obtained a fellowship. He soon became head lecturer, dean, and then catechist, and gained a high reputation for learning and brilliancy. While connected with the College he imbibed Puritan opinions, and about 161~ became minister at Boston, in Lincolnshire. While here he was convinced that many of the ceremonies of the established church were unscriptural, and was suspended for some time by his bishop for refusing to conform to them ; but, as the majority of his people were with him, he was restored, and kept his place for more than twenty years, educating many young men for the ministry, and effecting a general reformation in the town by his labors. After Bishop Laud obtained control of the church, dissensions arose among Mr. Cotton's parishioners, and, hearing that he was to be summoned before the high commission court, he fled to London, where he remained some time in concealment, and then embarked for Boston, in New England, where he arrived on 3 September, 1633. Within a fortnight after his arrival he was chosen by the magistrates to be a teacher in the first church, in Boston, of which John Wilson was pastor. He retained his connection with this church till his death. When the noted Anne Hutchinson began to propagate her Antinomian doctrines, Mr. Cotton for a time gave her countenance, but soon opposed her, finding that he had been led away by false representations.

In 1642 he was invited, together with Hooker and Davenport, to assist at the celebrated assembly of divines in Westminster, but was dissuaded from accepting by Hooker, who wished to form for himself a system of church government for New England. His death was the result of exposure in crossing the ferry to Cambridge, when on his way to preach. Mr. Cotton had a reputation for profound learning. He was accustomed to study twelve hours a day, and loved, as he said, "to sweeten his mouth with a piece of Calvin" before going to sleep. He was a critic in Greek, wrote Latin with elegance, and could discourse in Hebrew. His pulpit oratory was distinguished by simplicity. Notwithstanding his own experience in England, he was extreme in his views as to the .power of the civil authority in religious matters, and carried on a famous controversy on the subject with Roger Williams. Mr. Cotton introduced into New England the custom of keeping the Sabbath from evening to evening. A tablet to his memory, with a Latin inscription by Edward Everett, was erected in 1857 in St. Botolph's church, Boston, England, chiefly by contributions from his descendants in Boston, Massachusetts. Cotton was a voluminous writer, being the author of nearly fifty books, all of which were sent to London for publication. Soon after reaching New England he drew up, by request of the general court, an abstract of the laws of Moses for use in the colony. This was published, though not adopted; but a revision of the abstract, supposed to be the joint work of Cotton and Sir Henry Vane, was adopted and printed (London, 1641). Of his other works, some of the most important are " Set Forms of Prayer" (1642); "The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Power Thereof," giving his theocratic ideas of government (1644); " The Bloody Tenent Washed and made White in the Blood of the Lamb," one of his letters to Roger Williams, who had charged him with holding a "bloody tenent of persecution" (1647); and the famous catechism whose full title reads, " Milk for Babes, drawn out of the Breasts of both Testaments, chiefly for the Spiritual Nourishment of Boston Babes in either England, but may be of use for .any Children" (London, 1646).

Two of his tracts relating to Roger Williams, edited by Reuben A. Guild, were published by the Narragansett club (1866). See Mather's "Magnalia" and Norton's "Life and Death of Mr. John Cotton" (London, 1648; new ed., with notes by Prof. Enoch Pond, Boston, 1834).--His son, Seaborn, born at sea in August, 1633; died 19 April, 1686, was graduated at Harvard in 1651, and was minister at Hampton, New Hampshire, from 1660 till his death.--Another son, John, born in Boston, 13 March, 1640; died in Charleston, South Carolina, 18 Sept, 1699, was graduated at Harvard in 1657. He was minister for thirty years in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and afterward in Charleston, South Carolina He was eminent for his acquaintance with the Indian language, frequently preached to the aborigines at Martha's Vineyard and Plymouth, and revised and corrected the whole of Eliot's Indian Bible (Cambridge, 1685).--Josiah, son of the second John, born 8 January, 1680; died 19 August, 1756, was graduated at Harvard in 1698. He studied theology, taught in Marblehead and Plymouth, and, though not ordained over any church, preached occasionally for several years. He also gave his attention to agriculture, having a good farm in Plymouth. Having acquired considerable knowledge of the Indian language, he visited various tribes in Plymouth colony as a missionary during nearly forty years, receiving a salary of £20 from the commissioners for propagating the gospel. He was also clerk of the county court, and register of probate. He prepared a vocabulary of the language of the Massachusetts Indians (" Massachusetts Historical Collections," vol. ii.. 3d series).

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