More About Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

In 1659, a second burying place was laid out in Boston, nearly three decades after the establishment of King’s Chapel Burying Ground in 1630. Located in the North End, this second cemetery was originally called North Burying Ground. Today, it is known as Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, after early settler William Copp, a shoemaker who lived near today’s Prince Street. Copp and members of his family are buried here.

 

In 1708, the cemetery was enlarged with additional land purchased from Judge Samuel Sewall, whose wife Hannah had inherited pasture land from her father. More land was purchased in 1809, from Benjamin Weld and his wife Nabby, and this section was known as the New North Burying Ground, or the Small Ground. Later, a private cemetery belonging to Charles Wells was merged with the North Burying Ground.

 

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the largest of the colonial cemeteries. It was used through the 1850s and holds the remains of over 10,000 people, including more than 1,000 free blacks and slaves. Today, more than 1200 graves are marked. The cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

 

Before the burying ground was laid out, in the earliest days of the colony, there was a windmill on the summit of the hill, which ground corn for settlers for many years. During the Revolutionary War, the British used this prominent high ground to establish a battery and shelled Bunker Hill from here.

 

Among those buried in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground are:

 

Puritan ministers Increase Mather (died 1723, aged 84), his son, Cotton Mather (died 1728, aged 65), and his grandson, Samuel Mather (died 1785, aged 79). Their remains are in the Mather tomb, located in the southeast corner of the cemetery. Other members of the Mather and Crocker families are also interred here. (Reverend Samuel Mather’s daughter Hannah married into the Crocker family.)

 

Although not personally involved in most of the witchcraft trials proceedings, Increase Mather played key roles in both the lead up to the trials and in the eventual end to the entire affair.

 

When Boston was first established in 1630, the Puritan settlers arrived with a charter in hand, allowing them, as English subjects, to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As time went on, England grew concerned as the colonists became more independent and more likely to ignore attempts to be governed. In 1684, England revoked the charter, leaving the colonists anxious and without clear laws. This was a crucial element in how the coming witch trials unfolded.

 

In 1686, England appointed Royal Governor Edmund Andros, formerly the governor of New York, to take charge of the new Dominion of New England, which included the New England colonies plus New York and New Jersey. Andros was widely reviled. Most of his efforts to change laws were thwarted, but he was able to establish the Church of England in Massachusetts, which the Puritans had previously prevented.

 

Increase Mather, then about 50 years old, traveled to London in 1688 in an effort to represent the colony’s interests and to convince England to reinstate the charter. While Mather was there, the 1689 Glorious Revolution took place, ousting King James II and replacing him with the seemingly more lenient William III and Mary II as England’s rulers. When the news reached Boston, Royal Governor Andros was arrested and held in Boston Fort before being sent back to England. The elderly Simon Bradstreet, who had been the Massachusetts governor before the charter was revoked, was once again appointed the  Massachusetts governor, if only temporarily.

 

It was not until 1691 that Mather successfully obtained a new charter for the colony, now called the Province of Massachusetts Bay (it included Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick). It was a renegotiated document, far from perfect, but it did allow the colony to maintain some independence and did allow Mather to choose the first Royal Governor. He chose William Phips, with whom he returned to Massachusetts, arriving in May of 1692. By the time Mather arrived with the new charter, the witchcraft delusion had been growing for months, and the jails were full of accused witches.

 

The new charter and its laws could not be enacted overnight, forcing Governor Phips to create an emergency court, the Court of Oyer and Terminer (to hear and determine). This court, unlike any other in American history, allowed “spectral evidence” as proof of guilt. The idea that the devil could take on the image of someone, and that only the accusers could see this invisible world of specters, was accepted by the magistrates. The use of spectral evidence was the reason many of the accused were convicted and executed.

 

The judges and ministers continued to disagree on the subject. Could the devil take on the shape of an innocent person, as some of the accused argued? Or, did the devil need one’s approval? Judge John Hathorne believed the devil needed consent, making those accused of spectral torment guilty of colluding with the devil. By the fall of 1692, more and more people were voicing their opposition to this idea. Increase Mather completed his Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits in the fall of 1692 and published it in 1693. In it he argued against the use of spectral evidence and said, “It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned.” The document helped influence the eventual end of the witchcraft hysteria.

 

Although Increase Mather was not personally involved in most of the actual examinations and trials during 1692, he did attend the trial of Reverend George Burroughs on August 6, along with Reverend Deodat Lawson. After hearing Burroughs’s claims of innocence, Mather later said, “Had I been one of the judges, I could not have acquitted him.”

 

Increase Mather was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1639, the youngest of six sons born to Reverend Richard Mather and his wife Katherine (Holt) Mather. The town of Dorchester was founded in 1630, just months before Boston. It was named after Dorchester, Dorset, England where its earliest Puritan settlers originated. In 1870, Dorchester was annexed to Boston and today is Boston’s largest neighborhood.

 

Mather graduated from Harvard College in 1656. In 1664 he became the minister of the Second Church, or North Church, where he remained for 60 years, until his death in 1723. For much of his tenure, his son Cotton Mather was also a minister at North Church, from 1685-1728. Increase Mather also held various titles at Harvard College from 1685 until 1692, including President for some of that time. He lived in Boston’s North End, where he and his wife (and stepsister) Maria (Cotton) Mather raised ten children. Maria died in 1714. Reverend Mather married for a second time, to Anne (Lake) Cotton, the widow of his nephew John.

 

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Cotton Mather was born in Boston in 1663, into an influential and powerful Puritan family. He was the oldest child of Increase Mather and the grandson of ministers John Cotton and Richard Mather. Five of his uncles were ministers. The year after his birth, his father Increase became the minister of Boston’s Second Church, also known as North Church, a position he held until his death in 1723. By 1685, at the age of 22, Cotton joined his father at the Second Church as an ordained minister. He had already been preaching at the church for four years.

 

Cotton Mather is a controversial figure in history, largely due to his involvement with the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. To some, Mather is a villain, blamed for encouraging the trials and supporting the proceedings. To others, he is one of the most misunderstood figures in pre-Revolutionary American history. Mather’s is a complex story.

 

There is no argument that Cotton Mather had a brilliant intellect. He graduated from Harvard College at the age of 15. He wrote more than 400 books in his lifetime. Three of his writings particularly influenced our perception of him today, all related to witchcraft.

 

In 1688, four years before the witchcraft hysteria took hold in Massachusetts, four children of the Goodwin family of Boston began to suffer fits and torments. The blame for their suffering was placed on a neighbor, an Irish Catholic servant named Ann Glover. The story also involves Ann’s daughter Mary, who was accused of stealing linen from the Goodwins. Ann Glover was apparently an old, argumentative, and possibly mentally ill woman, who defended her daughter against the theft charge. The Goodwin children then claimed to be afflicted when they were around Goody Glover, and cured when removed from her presence. Cotton Mather interviewed all the parties involved, and said Glover was, “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholic and obstinate in idolatry.” After visiting her in jail, he said she confessed to engaging with the devil and spirits at night. Much of the evidence against her was spectral in nature. Poppets were found at her home. Her inability to say the Lord’s Prayer properly was another strike against her. At her trial, she sometimes spoke in Gaelic, her native language. Her interrogators called her answers confusing.

 

Goody Glover was found guilty and hanged as a witch on Boston Common that same year, the last person to be executed for the crime in Boston. Before her death, she predicted the Goodwin children’s afflictions would not be cured with her hanging. She was correct. The children’s afflictions continued. Cotton Mather was so interested in the case that he brought the oldest of the afflicted Goodwin children, a girl of about thirteen, into his home for observation. Mather wrote about his findings, and described the afflictions in detail, in Memorable Providencespublished in 1689. His description of the afflicted children’s behavior, and the evidence used against Goody Glover, were eerily similar to what would transpire in just a few years. Robert Calef, one of the principal contemporary voices raised against the 1692 events, felt Memorable Providences laid the groundwork for what was to come.

 

Although not present at examinations or trials in 1692, Cotton Mather wielded great influence as the events unfolded. He was instrumental in the selection of William Stoughton as chief justice of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Stoughton was described by nineteenth century historian George Bancroft as, “a man of cold affections, proud, self-willed, and covetous of distinction.”

 

Mather also published Return of Several Ministers, written on behalf of several leading reverends, in June of 1692, just five days after the first innocent victim, Bridget Bishop, had been hanged. In it he expressed caution regarding the use of spectral evidence but, at the same time, urged the magistrates to move quickly.

 

Robert Calef places Mather at the hanging of Reverend George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, John Proctor, George Jacobs Sr., and John Willard on August 19. According to Calef’s account, Mather was mounted on a horse and, when the gathered public murmured their concern about Burroughs’s innocence after he said the Lord’s Prayer perfectly, Mather reportedly said, “… the Devil has often been transformed into an Angel of Light.”

 

The work for which Cotton Mather is best remembered is his review of the witchcraft trials, published in 1693. The Wonders of the Invisible World was a defense and justification of the conduct of the Phips administration and the magistrates. Following an introduction that included some of his sermons and an overview of European witchcraft, Mather wrote about five of the executed: Reverend George Burroughs (G.B. in the book), Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth How, and Martha Carrier. Both Court Clerk Stephen Sewall and Chief Justice William Stoughton signed off on the work as an accurate portrayal of the events of 1692.

 

Author Emerson Baker, in his 2015 book A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience, says, “Engaging in one of the first cover-ups in American history, Governor William Phips banned the publication of any account of the witch trials . . . However, Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, which attempted to whitewash the whole affair, escaped censorship and gained the governor’s endorsement.”

 

Boston merchant Robert Calef began to write a response to Mather’s book in the fall of 1693. It was completed in 1697 but, due to the government ban, could not be published in Boston. The manuscript went off to London in 1698, and was finally published in 1700 as More Wonders of the Invisible World. In it Calef disputed much of Mather’s account, criticized the use of spectral evidence, and made claims regarding Mather’s behavior during an episode  in 1693 involving the bewitchment of Margaret Rule. His claims triggered Cotton and Increase Mather to charge him with “Scandalous Libel.” While much of Calef’s book is considered an honest telling of the proceedings, some of the personal attacks against Mather may have been exaggerated or false.

 

Nevertheless, Calef’s book is another key work that influences our opinion of Cotton Mather today. Historian Samuel Morison wrote that More Wonders of the Invisible World, “tied a tin can to Cotton Mather which has rattled and banged through the pages of superficial and popular historians.”  One of the first major books about the events of 1692 was Charles Upham’s 1867 work Salem Witchcraft, in which he relied on Calef’s version of the story, leading Upham to say of both Cotton and Increase Mather, “I hold these two men responsible for what is called ‘Salem Witchcraft.’”

 

As time went on, some historians, including Samuel Morison, Perry Miller, Chadwick Hansen, John Demos, and Kenneth Silverman, began to have a different view of Mather. Some saw Mather as a positive or moderating influence during the hysteria, and a man of his time, a man whose purpose in life was to “do good.”

 

When the trials were over, Mather continued to write and wield influence. He was involved in two more witchcraft cases involving Mercy Short and, as mentioned above, Margaret Rule — the latter the subject of a charge of “Scandalous Libel” against Robert Calef by the Mathers. Cotton Mather published his greatest work in 1702, Magnalia Christi Americana. He was one of the first to suggest inoculation as a treatment for smallpox, an unpopular view in his time. He performed one of the country’s first plant hybridization experiments. He remained minister of the Second Church until 1728.

 

Like many in the 17th and 18th centuries, Mather suffered great personal tragedy. He married his first wife, Abigail (Phillips), in 1686. A decade later, four of their six children were already dead, three dying in infancy. Abigail died in 1702 at the age of 32, seven months after delivering a stillborn child. Mather married his second wife, his neighbor, the widow Elizabeth (Clark) Hubbard, in 1703.  She brought one child from her first marriage to mariner Richard Hubbard; Cotton brought the four surviving children of the nine he’d had with Abigail. Cotton and Elizabeth had four more children by 1711, one of whom died at the age of six months. In 1713, the worst measles epidemic in colonial American history came to Boston, killing 38-year-old Elizabeth, their 2-year-old daughter, their newborn twins, and their maidservant. Cotton married for a third time in 1715, to Lydia (Lee) George, the wealthy widow of Boston merchant John George. Lydia died in 1734.

 

When Cotton Mather died in 1728 at the age of 65, only two of his fifteen children were still living.

 

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Mercy Short, an orphaned servant who was afflicted during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692 is buried here. Her torments continued even as the trials were winding down, and didn’t end until March of 1693.

 

Mercy Short (aka Mary or Marcy) was born in the mid-1670s to Clement and Faith (Munt) Short. In March of 1690, a Wabanaki and French raid on Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, where the Short family was living, resulted in the massacre of more than thirty people, including Mercy’s parents and several of her siblings. Mercy and the remaining Short children were among the more than fifty survivors who were taken captive and marched to Quebec. In October of that year, Sir William Phips (later to be Governor) negotiated a prisoner exchange after his failed siege of Quebec. Mercy was returned to Boston.

 

By 1692, Short was a maidservant in the household of the wealthy Margaret Thacher, the mother-in-law of Judge Jonathan Corwin (and herself accused of witchcraft, although she was never arrested). Sometime in May, Widow Thacher asked her servant to run a charitable errand to Boston jail, perhaps to distribute clothing and food. The imprisoned Sarah Good asked Short for some tobacco, to which Short replied, “That’s tobacco good enough for you,” as she threw floor shavings at the accused witch. According to Short, Good cursed her, after which Short began to experience torments and afflictions.

 

Mercy Short’s afflictions continued throughout the summer. Reverend Cotton Mather and other North End neighbors took a great interest in observing Short’s behavior, and prayed for her. Short had ongoing conversations and struggles with demons only she could see. Says Marilynne Roach in The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, “…at some point in late summer, the problems lessened. When the specters departed they left her temporarily blind as if lightning had struck her. Mercy’s sight returned in a few days. Although still sickly, she resumed normal life for the time being.”

 

By November, after the Court of Oyer and Terminer had already been dissolved, Short was once again visited by the devil and specters. Cotton Mather and worried neighbors gathered around her to pray. Every day, Short was attended by a group of visitors, some of whom may simply have been curiosity seekers. Her torments were so believable, some observers began to see evidence of the invisible spirits themselves. Others in Boston thought Short was lying. Mather continued to take notes, pray, and fast on her behalf.

 

The torments went on for months. And then, in mid-March of 1693, the specters left and never bothered Short again. Cotton Mather’s account of the Mercy Short affair is found in his paper “A Brand Pluck’d out of the Burning.”

 

Mercy Short married Joseph Marshall in 1694 and at some point the couple moved to Nantucket, where they had six children. Perhaps the move was after 1698 when Mercy Short’s minister, Cotton Mather, excommunicated her from North Church after she was found guilty of adultery. Her gravestone says Marcy Marshall  died in 1712. She was only 36 years old. Joseph Marshall died in 1748 on Nantucket at the age of 76. Their daughter Patience Short married into the Copp family, for whom this burying ground is named.

 

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Quaker William Mumford (1641-1718), a stonecutter and builder, is buried here. He was married to Ruth Copp, the daughter of William Copp, the namesake of the cemetery. Mumford created many beautiful gravestones in New England, several of which can be found in this cemetery. Among his works, it is believed, is the stone of Nathaniel Mather, son of Increase and brother of Cotton. Nathaniel died at the age of 19 – his grave is in Salem’s Old Burying Ground. He was a devoted student who was sent to Salem’s Dr. Swinnerton when he became ill due to his constant study and prayer. He died in Salem. His brother Cotton said, “it may be truly written on his Grave, Study kill’d him.” Mumford built the first Quaker Meeting House in Boston, in 1694, located in Brattle Square, and built a second Quaker Meeting House on Congress Street in 1708.

 

Other fascinating people buried in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground include Shem Drowne, the coppersmith who created the grasshopper weathervane on top of Faneuil Hall; abolitionist and creator of Black Freemasonry Prince Hall; Phillis Wheatley, the first published black poet; Old North Church sexton Robert Newman, one of the men who placed two lanterns in the Old North Church steeple, a plan devised by Paul Revere to warn of British approach; and Edmund Hartt, builder of the USS Constitution.

 

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