Rev. Richard Mather (1596-1669), the patriarch of the Mather dynasty, was born in Lancashire, England to Thomas Mather and Margarite Abrams of Lowton, England. They insisted that Richard attend grammar school although it was an extremely difficult experience for him. The schoolmaster was harsh and Richard was beaten almost daily. Eventually, however, he came to greatly appreciate his father’s steadfastness in not allowing him to quit, as it gave him a quest for knowledge that remained until his death, even though, he never completed a course of study at any university. He is largely self-educated, a fact that set him apart from his peers.
Toxteth Park, now a suburb of Liverpool, had been the property of the Crown from the time of King John. But in the 1604, Richard Molyneux purchased the land. Prior to this time, Toxteth Park was described as a "wasteland without inhabitants." Eventually, many people settled on the land and began its cultivation. Among the new settlers was Edward Aspinwall, whom Richard lived with, when, at the age of 15, he was called to take charge of the school there. During this time, Richard converted to Puritanism. There seems to have been some conflict between his beliefs and that of his host family, as reflected in Richard’s own words, stating that there was "a difference between his own walk and the most exact, faithful and prayerful conversation of some in the family of the learned and pios [sic] Mr. Edward Aspinwall of Toxteth Park...."
The Nonconforming Preacher
After three years of teaching at Toxteth Park, Richard began studying at Oxford, but he dropped out to take a position as a preacher back at Toxteth. (He was ordained a minister in 1620 when he was 24.) Desiring not to engage in the "sin of conformity," he refused to wear the "Surplice," a papal robe. For 15 years he preached the Puritan ethic before he was "silenced" in 1633 for "nonconformity" by the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church of England. He was briefly reinstated, then silenced again in 1634. It was also the year that his fourth son, Joseph, died shortly after his birth. During this difficult time in his life, Rev. Richard decided to leave England and bring his wife, Catherine Holt, and their three sons, Samuel, Timothy, and Nathaniel to New England where later two more sons, Eleazer and Increase, would be born.
Journey to New England
Rev. Richard Mather and his family left England in 1635 to begin a new life in Massachusetts. His agonizing decision to leave England and join the masses of people who were migrating to New England is reflected in the journal he kept. The journey took a total of six weeks, three of which were spent at sea. In his journal, Rev. Richard describes the hardships and storms at sea.
Life in Massachusetts
Less than a week after his arrival on August 17, 1636, Rev. Mather accepted the ministry of the North Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where he remained for 34 years. During their life in New England, his wife, Catherine, took charge of managing the household and their 100 acres of property, educating five boys in their early years, buying and selling cattle, as well as the planting and harvesting of the crops. Once the children began to read, Rev. Richard then directed their education. It was customary for boys to leave home at an early age in those days. Thus, four of them went to board at Harvard between the ages of 12 and 16. Timothy was apprenticed out as a farmer.
Meanwhile, Rev. Richard Mather’s influence spread beyond his own congregation. He was a leading figure in all the disagreements that shook the churches of early Massachusetts and was a principal translator and editor of the Bay Psalm Book, the Whole Booke of Psalms, the first book printed in this country. (1700 copies were printed, of which 11 today survive).
Richard died in his home in Boston on April 22, 1669 after suffering for days from uremic poisoning because of a kidney stone. He is buried in the Dorchester North Burying Ground a/k/a First Burying Ground in Dorchester.