The Reverend John Cotton (December 4, 1585 – December 23, 1652) assisted in the foundation of Boston, Massachusetts and was a highly regarded principal among the New England Puritan ministers, who also included John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, Increase Mather (who became his son-in-law), John Davenport, and Thomas Shepard. He was also the grandfather of Cotton Mather, who was named after him.

Born in England, he was educated at Derby Grammar School, which is now the Derby Heritage Centre and attended Cambridge University, where he also served as a head lecturer, and became a long-serving minister in the English town of Boston, Lincolnshire before his Puritanism and criticism of hierarchy drew the hostile attention of Church of England authorities. In 1633, William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and like numerous other Puritan nonconformist figures, Cotton soon came under his close “eye of scrutiny”. In the same year Cotton, his family, and a few local followers sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Brownist congregational movement within the Church of England had by this stage, in effect at least, become a separate church. Because of his early views on the primacy of congregational government, his was an important role in Puritan aspirations to become the “city on a hill” which might help reform the English church. He is best known among other things for his initial defense of Anne Hutchinson early in her trials during the Antinomian crisis, during which she mentioned him with respect, though he turned strongly against her with the further course of the trial. He is also remembered for his role in the banishment of Roger Williams regarding the role of democracy and the separation of church and state in the Puritan theonomic society, both of which Williams tended to advocate. Cotton grew still more conservative in his views with the years but always retained the estimation of his community.

Cotton’s written legacy includes a body of correspondence, a catechism, numerous sermons, and a theonomic legal code titled An Abstract of the laws of New England as they are now established. [1] This legal code provided a basis for John Davenport’s legal system for the New Haven Colony, and was one of two competing drafts of that were compiled to make Massachusetts’s The Body of Liberties