Robert Calef

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Small Book, Large Impact. Robert Calef's "More Wonders"

Robert Calef (c. 1648–1719) was a cloth merchant in colonial Boston who came to America before 1688. He was the author of More Wonders of the Invisible World, a book composed throughout the mid-1690s denouncing the recent Salem witch trials of 1692-3 and particularly examining the influential role played by Cotton Mather. Aside from the book, little is known about Robert Calef. Thomas Hutchinson, the next important historian to write about the trials, relied on Calef's analysis in 1768 and called him a "fair relator."[1] The book has been reprinted numerous times.[2] Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of Robert Calef's book and had it carefully arranged in his library at Monticello.[3]

More Wonders of the Invisible World[edit]

  • The Preface lays out Calef's argument that Christians should rely on scripture, not superstition or mythology. Calef objected to proceedings that lead to "a Biggotted Zeal, stirring up a Blind and most Bloody rage, not against Enemies, or Irreligious Proffligate Persons, But (in Judgment of Charity, and to view) against as Vertuous and Religious as any they have left behind them in this Country, which have suffered as Evil doers with the utmost extent of rigour.
  • Part 1 Cotton Mather's published account of his visit to Margaret Rule in 1693.
  • Part 2 Calef's eyewitness account of Mather's visit to Margaret Rule in 1693, as sent in a letter to Mather, seeking comment, as well as numerous subsequent letters to Mather and attempts to get him to respond in writing to theological questions. Once, Mather sends a messenger to Calef to read a letter aloud and on another occasion Mather sends Calef a letter but says it must be returned in a fortnight and "which he forbad to be Copyed." Mather disagrees with Calef about whether or not he rubbed Maraget Rule's stomach, how she was covered, and whether his father, Increase Mather, prayed for up to thirty minutes or merely fifteen.
  • Part 3 A compilation and reprinting of the sad letters between Parris and his congregation following the Witch trials 1693-1695, especially the relatives and survivors of those who were tried and executed. Parris apologizes but is dismissed from his position.
  • Part 4 Correspondence with an anonymous gentleman "endevouring to prove the received opinions about Witchcraft."
  • Part 5 Accounts of trials at Salem in 1692, mostly from court documents including petitions from the accused and letters to ministers and judges, followed by a later apology, in 1696, from one of the judges saying "he was apprehensive that he might have fallen into some Errors in the Matters at Salem" and quoting a letter signed by 12 members of the jury at Salem, "We do heartily ask forgiveness of you all... and do declare according to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again on such grounds for the whole World..." Finally, in stark contrast, "The Preface of Mr. C.M. in Wonders of the Invisible World to his Account of the Tryals of five of those that were executed at Salem [and] The whole of his said Account..." Thus Calef's book both begins and ends with Cotton Mather in his own words.
  • Postscript: Following the completion of his book in 1697 (internal date) Calef was unsettled to come across a memoir of Sir William Phips written anonymously by C.M.

Due to licensing and control over the printing press by Boston clergy, and particularly the Mathers,[4] Calef's book was shipped to England to be published in 1700. Cotton Mather wrote in his diary, "It was highly rejoicing to us when we heard that our Booksellers were so well acquainted with the Integrity of our Pastors, as that not one of them could admit of any of those Libels to be vended in their shops."[5]

Mather's father, Rev. Increase Mather, publicly burned the book in Harvard Yard.[6] In 1701, Mather responded with Some Few Remarks upon a Scandalous Book, written in the plural with co-signers, but occasionally lapsing into first person. The opening lines suggest that Calef's book had been well received by the masses in New England, despite his inability to have it published there: "...that Scandalous Book... has made our worthy Pastors Obnoxious ... among an unguided multitude." Mather does not directly dispute the particulars of Calef's book but accuses Calef of being a follower of Satan, and uses select quotes from the Bible intended to put the merchant Calef in his place, including "Exodus 22:28 Thou Shalt Not Speak Evil of the Ruler of Thy People."

Grave of Robert Calef in Roxbury section of Boston MA

Increase Mather subsequently lost Presidency of Harvard College and neither he nor his son Cotton Mather were able to regain the position despite numerous tries.[7][citation needed] From 1702-04, Calef was an overseer of the poor. In 1707 he was chosen an assessor, and in 1710 a tithingman. He retired to Roxbury, where he was a selectman. He died there in 1719.[8][citation needed]



  1. ^ Hutchinson, Thomas (1768). History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay Vol II. London: J. Smith. 
  2. ^ "More Wonders of the Invisible World" Robert Calef, London, 1700. Reprinted by Cushing and Appleton, Salem, 1823. Public domain.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University," J.L. Sibley. Three Volumes: Vol. I 1642-1658, pub. 1873, Vol II 1659-1677 pub. 1881; Vol. III 1678-1689 pub. 1889. University Press. Cambridge, MA. Public Domain.
  5. ^ Mather, Cotton (1911). Diary of Cotton Mather 1681-1708. Boston: Collections of MHS 7th Series Volume VII. pp. See end of 1700. Note 1692–3 are missing, re–written in summary. See private letters for that period. 
  6. ^ "A Biographical Dictionary," by John Eliot, D.D. Corresponding Secretary of the MHS. Published 1809 in both Boston and Salem. Public Domain.
  7. ^ "Diary of Samuel Sewall" Vol. I 1674-1700, Vol II 1700-1729 MHS Collections Vol. V-VI Fifth Series, Boston MA 1878.
  8. ^ Drake, Samuel G (1866). The Witchcraft Delusion [including a reprint of Calef's More Wonders]. Roxbury MA: Woodward. pp. Preface and Notes, including Calef family tree and a Memoir.