Robert Calef

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Robert Calef (c. 1648–1723) 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.


Grave of Robert Calef in Roxbury

Aside from More Wonders of the Invisible World, little is known about Robert Calef. From 1702-04, Calef was an overseer of the poor. In 1707 he was chosen an assessor, and in 1710 a tithingman, which he declined.[1] He retired to Roxbury, where he was a selectman.[citation needed] He died there in 1722 or 1723, "aged about 45".[2]

More Wonders of the Invisible World[edit]

Robert Calef's More Wonders

To defend the Salem witch trials, Cotton Mather published his account of the Salem witch trials, Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the Tryals of Several Witches, Lately Executed in New-England, in 1692, and his father Increase Mather published his own Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits the same year. Robert Calef, after exchanging several letters with Cotton Mather, published his book More Wonders of the Invisible World, deliberately referencing Cotton Mather's title. 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".[citation needed] Aside from the preface and postscript, Calef begins and ends with Mather's accounts in his own words. He finished his compilation in 1697, but added a postscript before final publication.


  • Preface: Calef's argument that Christians should rely on scripture, not superstition or mythology.
  • Part 1: Cotton Mather's published account of his visit to Margaret Rule in 1693.
  • Part 2: Calef's account of Margaret Rule and correspondence with Mather about her
    • Calef's eyewitness account of Mather's visit to Margaret Rule in 1693, as sent in a letter to Mather, seeking comment
    • Numerous subsequent letters to Mather and attempts to get him to respond in writing to theological questions.[3]
  • Part 3: A compilation of letters between Samuel Parris and his congregation, especially the relatives and survivors of those who were tried and executed.[4]
  • Part 4: Correspondence with an anonymous gentleman "endevouring to prove the received opinions about Witchcraft"[citation needed]
  • Part 5: Legal documents of the trials, including:
    • 1696 apology from one of the judges saying "he was apprehensive that he might have fallen into some Errors in the Matters at Salem" and
    • 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..."
    • Mather's own preface to Wonders of the Invisible World
  • Postscript: A memoir of Sir William Phips he attributes to Mather, discovered by Calef after compiling the rest in 1697 but before publication.


Due to licensing and control over the printing press by Boston clergy, and particularly the Mathers,[5] 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."[6]

Mather's father, Rev. Increase Mather, publicly burned the book in Harvard Yard.[7][8][9] In 1701, Mather[citation needed] 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".[10] Mather does not directly dispute the particulars of Calef's book[citation needed] 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".[11]

Increase Mather subsequently lost Presidency of Harvard College[12] and neither he nor his son Cotton Mather were able to regain the position despite numerous tries.[13]


Writing about the trials in 1768, historian Thomas Hutchinson relied on Calef's analysis and called him a "fair relator."[14] The book has been reprinted numerous times,[15] having "tied a tin can to Cotton Mather which has rattled and banged through the pages of superficial and popular historians".[16] Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of Robert Calef's book and had it carefully arranged in his library at Monticello.[17]



  1. ^ Drake (1866), p. xii
  2. ^ Drake (1866), Family tree between pages x and xi.
  3. ^ 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 Margaret Rule's stomach, how she was covered, and whether his father, Increase Mather, prayed for up to thirty minutes or merely fifteen.[citation needed]
  4. ^ Parris apologizes but is dismissed from his position.
  5. ^ Sibley, John Langdon (1885). Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, Volume III: 1678-1689. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 14–18. 
  6. ^ Mather, Cotton (1911). Diary of Cotton Mather 1681-1708. 7th Series, Vol. 7. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society. pp. 371–373, 377–380, 383–384, 393 (quote not found on any page). 
  7. ^ Sibley (1885), p. 17.
  8. ^ Drake, Samuel G. (1866). The Witchcraft Delusion, Volume II: More Wonders of the Material World by Robert Calef. Roxbury, MA: Woodward. pp. xxi–xxii. 
  9. ^ Eliot, John (1809). A Biographical Dictionary. Salem, MA: Cushing and Appleton. 
  10. ^ Gill, Obadiah; Barnard, John; Goodwin, John; Robie, William; Wadsworth, Timothy; Cumbley, Robert; Robinson, George (1701). "To the Christian Reader". , upon a Scandalous Book, against the Government and Ministry of New-England. Boston: T. Green / Nicholas Boone. p. A2. 
  11. ^ Quoted in Some Few Remarks... Boston: T. Green / Nicholas Boone. 1701. p. 7. 
  12. ^ Miller (1953), p. 246.
  13. ^ Sibley (1885), p. 18-21.
  14. ^ Hutchinson, Thomas (1768). History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay Vol II. London: J. Smith. pp. 54, footnote. 
  15. ^ Calef, Robert (1823) [1700]. More Wonders of the Invisible World. Salem: Cushing and Appleton. 
  16. ^ Miller (1953), p. 204, attributed to Samuel Eliot Morison.
  17. ^ Sowerby, E. Millicent, ed. (1959). Catalogue of the library of Thomas Jefferson. 1. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. p. 204.