Cotton Mather’s Sermon on William Potter

[The following was copied verbatim from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americanus, Book VI Thaumaturgus, Appendix – Section III. Colonial “f”s have been changed to modern “s”s for readability. A rare and valuable 1702 edition of the Magnalia is housed at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, Mass.]


On June 6, 1662 at New Haven there was a most Unparallel’d Wretch, one Potter, by Name, about sixty years of age, Executed for damnable Bestialities; although this Wretch had been for now Twenty Years a Member of the Church in that place, and kept up among the Holy People of God there, a Reputation, for serious Christianity. It seems that the Unclean Devil, which had the possession of this Monster, had carry’d all his Lusts with so much Fury into this one Channel of Wickedness, that there was no notice taken of his being wicked in any other. Hence ’twas, that he was Devout in Worship, Gifted in Prayer, Forward in Edifying Discourfe among the Religious, and Zealous in Reproving the Sins of the other People; Everyone counted him a Saint: And he Enjoy’d such a Peace in his own Mind, that in several Fits of Sickness, wherein he seem’d Nigh unto Death, he seem’d Willing to die; Yea, Death (he said) Smiled on him. Nevertheless, This Diabolical Creature, had liv’d in most infandous Buggeries for no less than Fifty Years together; and now at the Gallows there were kill’d before his Eyes a Cow, two Heifers, three Sheep, and two Sows, with all of which he had committed his Brutalities. His Wife had seen him confounding himself with a Bitch Ten Years before; and he then excus’d his Filthiness as well as he could unto her, but conjur’d her to keep it secret; but he afterwards hang’d that Bitch himself, and then return’d unto his former Villanies, until at last his Son saw him hideously conversing with a Sow. By these means the burning Jealousie of the Lord Jesus Christ, at length made the Churches to know, that he had all this while seen the Cover’d Filthiness of this Hellish Hypocrite, and expos’d him also to the just Judgment of Death, from the Civil Court of Judicature. Very remarkable had been the Warnings which this Hell-hound had receiv’d from Heaven, to repent of his Impieties. Many Years before this he had a Daughter who dreamt a Dream which caus’d her in her Sleep, to cry out most bitterly; and her Father then with much ado, obtaining of her to tell her Dream, she told him, she dreamt, that she was among a Great Multitude of People to see an Execution, and it prov’d her own Father that was to be hang’d, at whose Turning over, she thus cry’d out.

This happen’d before the time that any of his Curs’d Practices were known unto her.

At another time, when there was a Malefactor adjudg’d in those Parts to die, for the very same Transgressions which this Rotten Fellow was guilty of, the Governour, with some of the Magistrates, most unaccountably, without any manner of Reason for their doing, turn’d about unto this Fellow, and said, What think you? is not this Man worthy to die? He now confessed, that these warnings did so awaken his Conscience, as to make him for a time leave off his Infernal Debauches; and so he said, He thought all was pardon’d, all was well with him. Nevertheless he return’d unto his Vomit, and his Quagmire, until the Sentence of Death at last fell upon him; and then he acknowledg’d, That he had liv’d in the Sin of Bestiality, ever since he was Ten Years old, but had sometimes intermitted the Perpetration of it for some Years together. During his Imprisonment, he continu’d in a Sottish and Stupid Frame of Spirit, and marvellously secure about his Everlasting Pardon and Welfare; but the Church whereto he belonged, kept a Solemn Day of Humiliation on this Occasion, wherein Mr. Davenport preach’d on Josh. 22.20. Did not Achan commit a Trespass in the Accursed Thing, and Wrath fell on the Congregation of Israel? And in the Close of the Fast, that Faithful People of God Excommunicated this Accursed Achan from their own Society. But, as I have seen Bewitch’d Self-Poisoners under a singular Energy of some Devil, obstinately refuse all offer’d Relief, until the Poisons had prevail’d so far, that all Relief was too late, and then with Roaring Agonies they would have given Ten Worlds for it; So this Bewitched Beast, that had not been afraid of Dying till he came to the Place of Execution, when he came there, he was awaken’d into a most Unutterable and Intolerable Anguish of Soul, and made most lamentably desperate Out-cries; among which Out-cries, he warn’d Men particularly to Take heed of neglecting Secret Prayer; which, he said had been his Bane. He said, he never us’d Secret Prayer in his Life, and that he frequently omitted Family Prayer too; Yet he said, he had Pray’d and Sinn’d, and Sinn’d and Pray’d; namely, by Ejaculations, with which he contented himself, throwing Set Prayer aside. But so he perished!

Return to POTTER, William & Frances


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