University of Virginia Library


From that April day when Mr. Lawson closed his account it was long before another eye-witness undertook a narrative. Yet great things were doing. At Salem accusation and hearing went on apace, and the jails grew crowded, awaiting the session of a court. On May 14 arrived from England President Increase Mather, bringing the new charter, and with him the new governor, Sir William Phips. What the governor thought of the emergency and how he dealt with it we shall presently learn from his own pen. But other pens were earlier busy. Perhaps the most notable was that of Thomas Brattle, who early in October addressed the following letter to some clerical correspondent. Who this divine may have been whose questions the letter answers is unknown: our document is not the original, but a copy without superscription, and from its contents we can infer no more than that he lived or had lived in the colony. But Thomas Brattle we know well. “He was,” wrote President Leverett of Harvard at his death, “a gentleman by his birth and education of the first order in this country.” Born at Boston, in 1658, of wealthy parentage, a graduate and a master of arts of Harvard, then a traveller and a student abroad, he won such distinction as a mathematician, and notably as an astronomer, as to be made a member of the Royal Society, and was in close touch with the world of scholars; but his career was that of an opulent and cultivated Boston merchant, and for twenty years, from 1693 to his death in 1713, he was treasurer of Harvard College. “In the Church,” said of him the Boston News-Letter, “he was known and valued for his Catholick Charity to all of the reformed


Religion, but more especially his great Veneration for the Church of England, although his general and more constant communion was with the Nonconformists.” In other words, he was of the liberal party in religion and politics, an eminent opponent of the Puritan theocracy, and he did not escape the epithets “apostate” and “infidel.”

The letter here printed did not see print in his own day; but that the present copy exists suggests that it may have been meant to circulate in manuscript,[43] and it is not impossible that it was even written for that purpose. Yet if so, we may be sure it was used with discretion. It was his grand-nephew, the then well-known Thomas Brattle, Esq., of Cambridge, who late in the eighteenth century communicated it to the Massachusetts Historical Society.[44] From that manuscript copy it is here reprinted.



The suggestion is that of Sibley, in his sketch of Brattle's life (Harvard Graduates, II. 489-498), the best summary of what is known of him. That the extant copy is without superscription, and signed by initials only, may point to such a use. It must not be forgotten that it was written on the eve of the session of the General Court.


It was first published in that society's Collections, V. 61-79.