William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Rev. Richard Mather

Rev. Richard Mather (1596-1669), the patriarch of the
Mather dynasty, was born in Lancashire, England to Thomas Mather and
Margarite Abrams of Lowton, England. They insisted that Richard attend
grammar school although it was an extremely difficult experience for
him. The schoolmaster was harsh and Richard was beaten almost daily. He
came to greatly appreciate his fathers steadfastness in not allowing
him to quit, as it gave him a quest for knowledge that remained until
his death. (Even so, he never completed a course of study at any
university. He is largely self-educated, a fact that set him apart from
his peers.)


Toxteth Park, now a suburb of Liverpool, had been the property of the
Crown from the time of King John. But in the 1604, Richard Molyneux
purchased the land. Prior to this time, Toxteth Park was described as a
"wasteland without inhabitants. "Eventually, many people settled on the
land and began its cultivation. Among the new settlers was Edward
Aspinwall, whom Richard lived with, when, at the age of 15, he was
called to take charge of the school there. During this time, Richard
converted to Puritanism. There seems to have been some conflict between
his beliefs and that of his host family, as reflected in Richards own
words, stating that there was "a difference between his own walk and the
most exact, faithful and prayerful conversation of some in the family of
the learned and pios [sic] Mr. Edward Aspinwall of Toxteth Park. . . ."


After three years of teaching at Toxteth Park, Richard began studying at
Oxford. But he dropped out to take a position as a preacher back at
Toxteth. (He was ordained a minister in 1620 when he was 24.) Desiring
not to engage in the "sin of conformity," he refused to wear the
"Surplice," a papal robe. For 15 years he preached the Puritan ethic
before he was "silenced" in 1633 for "nonconformity" by the
ecclesiastical authorities of the Church of England. He was briefly
reinstated, then silenced again in 1634. It was also the year that his
fourth son, Joseph, died shortly after his birth. It was during this
difficult time in his life when Rev. Richard decided to leave England
and bring his wife, Catherine Holt, and their three sons, Samuel,
Timothy, and Nathaniel to New England. (Two more sons, Eleazer and
Increase, were born later in Massachusetts.)


Rev. Richard Mather and his family left England in 1635 to begin a new
life in Massachusetts. His agonizing decision to leave England and join
the masses of people who were migrating to New England is reflected in
the journal he kept. The journey took a total of six weeks, three of
which were spent at sea. In his journal, Rev. Richard describes the
hardships and storms at sea.


Less than a week after his arrival on August 17, 1636, Rev. Richard
Mather accepted the ministry of the North Church in Dorchester,
Massachusetts, where he remained for 34 years. During their life in New
England, his wife, Catherine, took charge of managing the household and
their 100 acres of property, educating five boys in their early years,
buying and selling cattle, as well as the planting and harvesting of the
crops. Once the children began to read, Rev. Richard then directed their
education. It was customary for boys to leave home at an early age in
those days. Thus, four of them went to board at Harvard between the ages
of 12 and 16. Timothy was apprenticed out as a farmer.

Meanwhile, Rev. Richard Mathers influence spread beyond his own
congregation. He was a leading figure in all the disagreements that
shook the churches of early Massachusetts and was a principal translator
and editor of the Bay Psalm Book, the Whole Booke of Psalms, the first
book printed in this country. (1700 copies were printed, of which 11
today survive).

Richard died in his home in Boston on April 22, 1669 after suffering for
days from uremic poisoning because of a kidney stone.


Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Pilgrims and Puritans