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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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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