"Even political power—as in the case of Increase Mather—was within the grasp of a successful priest"
Increase Mather (1688)
Public DomainIncrease Mather (1688) - Credit: Jan van der Spriet

The wonderfully-named Increase Mather (1639-1723) was one of the most prominent Puritan ministers in New England. With politics and religion so intimately entwined, his ministerial responsibilities dovetailed with his involvement in government and he served as envoy to England from 1688-92. His greatest achievement was securing a new charter for the colony which restored many of its earlier privileges. Mather was also of a scholarly bent, serving as the president of Harvard College and penning several blistering jeremiads. These evidence a dogmatic Puritan mind which saw everything from bad weather to Native American warfare as tokens of God’s wrath at the colony’s back-sliding. He did, however, offer a tempering influence at the witch trials, arguing against the use of spectral evidence and torture to extract confessions. “It were better,” he famously declared, “that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned.”