John Cotton, one of the first ministers of Boston, Mass., born in Derby, Eng., Dec. 4, 1585, died in Boston, Dec. 23, 1652. In 1598 he entered Trinity college, Cambridge, and was afterward fellow of Emmanuel and employed as lecturer and tutor. About 1612 he became vicar of St. Botolph's church in Boston, Lincolnshire, where he remained 20 years, noted as a preacher and controversialist, and inclining in his doctrines and practices toward the Puritan worship. His influence with his people carried them mostly with him, but he was at length informed against for not kneeling at the sacrament, and cited to appear before Archbishop Laud in the high commission court. Upon this he sought safety in flight, and after sojourning for some time in London went to America, arriving in Boston Sept. 4, 1633. In October he was ordained on a day of fasting, by imposition of hands by the minister and two elders, teacher of the church in Boston and colleague with Mr. Wilson the pastor. In this connection he remained until his death, with such influence and standing that he has been called the patriarch of New England. His death was brought on by exposure in crossing the ferry to Cambridge, where he was going to preach.
He was a critic in Greek, wrote Latin with elegance, and could discourse in Hebrew, and spent 12 hours a day in reading, his favorite author being Calvin. His pulpit eloquence was famous for its simplicity and plainness, and his discourses were exceedingly effectual in exciting attention to religion. He was very regular in religious observances, keeping the Sabbath holy from evening to evening, and it was from him that the form of that observance was disseminated throughout New England. Among his numerous works the most important are those published in the course of his controversy with Roger Williams, "Milk for Babes," a religious book for children, and "The Power of the Keys," on the nature of church government. Against Williams he defended the interference of the civil power in religious matters for the support of the truth, maintaining the duty, for the good of the church and of the people, of putting away those who, after repeated admonitions, persist in rejecting fundamental points of doctrine or worship. - A monumental tablet, with a Latin inscription by Edward Everett, was erected in St. Botolph's church in Boston, England, in 1857, in honor of Cotton, chiefly by contributions from his descendants in Boston, Mass.