MATHER, RICHARD (1596–1669), American Congregational clergyman, was born in Lowton, in the parish of Winwick, near Liverpool, England, of a family which was in reduced circumstances but entitled to bear a coat-of-arms. He studied at Winwick grammar school, of which he was appointed a master in his fifteenth year, and left it in 1612 to become master of a newly established school at Toxteth Park, Liverpool. After a few months at Brasenose College, Oxford, he began in November 1618 to preach at Toxteth, and was ordained there, possibly only as deacon, early in 1619. In August–November 1633 he was suspended for nonconformity in matters of ceremony; and in 1634 was again suspended by the visitors of Richard Neile, archbishop of York, who, hearing that he had never worn a surplice during the fifteen years of his ministry, refused to reinstate him and said that “it had been better for him that he had gotten Seven Bastards.” He had a great reputation as a preacher in and about Liverpool; but, advised by letters of John Cotton and Thomas Hooker, and persuaded by his own elaborate formal “Arguments tending to prove the Removing from Old-England to New . . . to be not only lawful, but also necessary for them that are not otherwise tyed, but free,” he left England and on the 17th of August 1635, and landed in Boston after an “extraordinary and miraculous deliverance” from a terrible storm. As a famous preacher “he was desired at Plimouth, Dorchester, and Roxbury.” He went to Dorchester, where the Church had been greatly depleted by migrations to Windsor, Connecticut; and where, after a delay of several months, in August 1636 there was constituted by the consent of magistrates and clergy a church of which he was “teacher” until his death in Dorchester on the 22nd of April 1669.
He was an able preacher, “aiming,” said his biographer, “to shoot his arrows not over his people’s heads, but into their Hearts and Consciences”; and he was a leader of New England Congregationalism, whose policy he defended and described in the tract Church Government and Church Covenant Discussed, in an Answer of the Elders of the Severall Churches of New England to Two and Thirty Questions (written 1639; printed 1643), and in his Reply to Mr Rutherford (1647), a polemic against the Presbyterianism to which the English Congregationalists were then tending. He drafted the Cambridge Platform, an ecclesiastical constitution in seventeen chapters, adopted (with the omission of Mather’s paragraph favouring the “Half-way Covenant,” of which he strongly approved) by the general synod in August 1646. In 1657 he drafted the declaration of the Ministerial Convention on the meaning and force of the Half-way Covenant; this was published in 1659 under the title: A Disputation concerning Church Members and their Children in Answer to XXI. Questions. With Thomas Welde and John Eliot he wrote the “Bay Psalm Book,” or, more accurately, The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre (1640), probably the first book printed in the English colonies.
He married in 1624 Katherine Hoult or Holt (d. 1655), and secondly in 1656 Sarah Hankredge (d. 1676), the widow of John Cotton. Of six sons, all by his first wife, four were ministers: Samuel (1626–1671), the first fellow of Harvard College who was a graduate, chaplain of Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1650–1653, and pastor (1656–1671, excepting suspension in 1660–1662) of St Nicholas’s in Dublin; Nathaniel (1630–1697), who graduated at Harvard in 1647, was vicar of Barnstaple, Devon, in 1656–1662, pastor of the English Church in Rotterdam, his brother’s successor in Dublin in 1671–1688, and then until his death pastor of a church in London; Eleazar (1637–1669), who graduated at Harvard in 1656 and after preaching in Northampton, Massachusetts, for three years, became in 1661 pastor of the church there; and Increase Mather (q.v.). Horace E. Mather, in his Lineage of Richard Mather (Hartford, Connecticut, 1890), gives a list of 80 clergymen descended from Richard Mather, of whom 29 bore the name Mather and 51 other names, the more famous being Storrs and Schauffler.
See The Life and Death of That Reverend Man of God, Mr Richard Mather (Cambridge, 1670; reprinted 1850, with his Journal for 1635, by the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society), with an introduction by Increase Mather, who may have been the author; W. B. Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit, vol. i. (New York, 1857); Cotton Mather’s Magnalia (London, 1702); an essay on Richard Mather in Williston Walker’s Ten New England Leaders (New York, 1901); and the works referred to in the article on Increase Mather. (R. We.)