John Cotton

John Cotton

Cotton, John, 1584-1652, Puritan clergyman in England and Massachusetts, b. Derbyshire, educated at Cambridge. Imbued with Puritan doctrines, he won many followers during his 20 years as vicar of the rich and influential parish of St. Botolph's Church, Boston, Lincolnshire. He was summoned to appear before the High Court of Commission (1632), but instead of appearing he resigned and fled. Some of his followers sailed (1633) with him to Massachusetts Bay, where the young city of Boston was so named primarily to honor him. He and John Winthrop were the leading figures of the colony, and Cotton was chiefly responsible for the exile of Anne Hutchinson, because of her antinomian doctrines, and for the expulsion of Roger Williams. He was one of the molders of the Congregational Church, and his arguments in such treatises as The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (1644), The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England (1645), and The Way of the Congregational Churches Cleared (1648) were influential in his day. He was a firm believer in the right of the Congregational minister to dictate to the faithful, and thus he has been viewed as a strong upholder of theocracy. His Milk for Babes (1646) was a well-known catechism for children. His daughter was the wife of Increase Mather and the mother of Cotton Mather.

See biographies by L. Ziff (1962) and E. Emerson (1965).

Dana, John Cotton, 1856-1929, American librarian and museum director, b. Woodstock, Vt. He was a lawyer and a civil engineer before joining the staff of the Denver (Colo.) Public Library in 1889, where he instituted the first branch for children. In 1902 Dana became head of the Newark (N.J.) Public Library, which under his direction offered new services to the public including a branch for businessmen. In 1909 the Newark Museum was founded, with Dana as its director until 1929. Dana was a pioneer in library advertising and in library printing and was one of the founders of the Special Libraries Association and its first president. He was president (1895-96) of the American Library Association. Among his many publications are A Library Primer (1899) and The New Museum (1917).
John Cotton (December 4, 1585December 23, 1652) was a highly regarded principal among the New England Puritan ministers, who also included John Winthrop, 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 Cambridge University, where he also taught, and 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 the "City upon a Hill" which might 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 attend, 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 events leading up to the English Civil War with the split between the King and Parliament. Cotton believed that he could be more effective in influencing the Assembly through his writings.

Cotton's written legacy includes a body of correspondence, numerous sermons, a catechism, and in 1646 a shorter catechism for children titled Milk for Babes, which is considered the first children's book by an American and was incorporated into The New England Primer around 1701 and remained a component of that work for over 150 years. His most famous sermon is probably Gods Promise to His Plantation (1630), preached at the departure of John Winthrop's fleet for New England.

Additionally, he wrote a theonomic legal code titled An Abstract of the laws of New England as they are now established. This legal code provided a basis for John Davenport's legal system for the New Haven Colony, and was one of two competing drafts of that were compiled to make Massachusetts's The Body of Liberties. His most influential writings on church government were "The Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven" and "The Way of Congregational Churches Cleared". He also had a paper battle with Roger Williams on liberty of conscience. Williams's "The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution" brought forth Cotton's "The Bloudy Tenent washed and made white in the bloud of the Lamb". Cotton's theonomy has had a profound effect on the 20th-century Dominionist movement.

Cotton is buried in the King's Chapel Burial Ground in central Boston, MA, in the same grave as John Davenport (d. 1670), John Oxonbridge (d. 1674) and Thomas Bridge (d. 1713).



  • Ziff, Larzer, The Career of John Cotton: Puritanism and the American Experience, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1962
  • Cotton, John, John Cotton on the Churches of New England ed. Ziff, Larzer (containing "A Sermon at Salem," "The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven" and "The Way of Congregational Churches Cleared". Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press, 1968.
  • Emerson, Everett H., "John Cotton," New York: Twayne Publishers, 1965
  • Bush, Jr., Sargent, ed., The Correspondence of John Cotton, Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 2001.

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