Increase Mather, Remarkable Providences (1684)


Every disaster contained a Providential warning and might be either a deliverance or a tribulation. A deliverance was intended to make men and nations aware that all good came from God; a tribulation, to make them aware of His wrath at their sins. To ignore Providential signs was to defy God's plan and to endanger the soul. Writers and preachers identified two patterns in habitual sinners: they tended to commit more and greater sins, and by not repenting, they were in effect committing new sins.

The Providential disaster might well be adapted to the life of the individual; thus, storms were calls to sailors to turn to God. The Providential storm and the sailor were frequently used by preachers and religious writers to illustrate the behavior of sinners in general. The sailor (aka the sinner) was initially frightened by the storm and decided to repent, but gradually he became used to the storms. In a deepening alienation from God, the sailor became hardened by habit and might even take pride in his false courage.

To illustrate this way of interpreting storms, I have excerpted a passage from Increase Mather's Remarkable Providences (1684). In it, Mather uses a Biblical quotation as the authority for interpreting storms as a sign from God; he then goes on to recount three remarkable deliverances from terrible storms, all examples of God's Providence and mercy. A Puritan minister educated both in this country and in England, Increase Mather was one of the dominating figures in the Massachussets Bay Colony, as were his father Richard Mather and his son Cotton Mather. Increase Mather was a conservative in politics and in religion; his view of Providential disasters is representative of his and Defoe's time. It is a view that Crusoe also holds and is the way he comes to understand his being cast away on a deserted island and his survival there.


Chapter 1: Of Remarkable Sea Deliverances

The royal pen of the prophet David hath most truly affirmed, "that they who go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep." And, in special, they see wonders of Divine goodness in respect of eminent deliverances wrought by the hand of the Most High, who stills the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves. lt is meet that such providences should be ever had in remembrance, as most of all by the persons concerned in them, so by others, that the God of Salvation, who is the confidence of them that are afar off upon the sea, may have eternal praise....

Remarkable was that deliverance mentioned both by Mr. Janeway and Mr. Burton, wherein that gallant commander, Major Edward Gibbons, of Boston, in New England, and others were concerned. The substance of the story is this:–A New England vessel going from Boston to some other parts of America, was, through the continuance of contrary winds, kept long at sea, so that they were in very great straits for want of provision; and seeing they could not hope for any relief from earth or sea, they apply themselves to heaven in humble and hearty prayers; but no calm ensuing, one of them made this sorrowful motion, that they should cast lots, which of them should die first, to satisfy the ravenous hunger of the rest. After many a sad debate, they come to a result, the lot is cast, and one of the company is taken, but where is the executioner to be found to act this office upon a poor innocent? It is death now to think who shall act this bloody part in the tragedy. But before they fall upon this involuntary execution, they once more went unto their prayers; and while they were calling upon God, he answered them, for there leaped a mighty fish into the boat, which was a double joy to them, not only in relieving their miserable hunger, which, no doubt, made them quick cooks, but because they looked upon it to be sent from God, and to be a token of their deliverance. But alas! the fish is soon eaten, and their former exigencies come upon them, which sink their spirits into despair, for they know not of another morsel. To lot they go again the second time, which falleth upon another person; but still none can be found to sacrifice him: they again send their prayers to heaven with all manner of fervency, when, behold a second answer from above! a great bird alights, and fixes itself upon the mast, which one of the company espies, and he goes, and there she stands till he took her with his hand by the wing. This was life from the dead the second time, and they feasted themselves herewith, as hoping that second providence was a forerunner of their complete deliverance. But they have still the same disappointments; they can see no land; they know not where they are. Hunger increaseth again upon them, and they have no hopes to be saved but by a third miracle. They are reduced to the former course of casting lots; when they were going to the heart-breaking work, to put him to death whom the lot fell upon, they go to God, their former friend in adversity, by humble and hearty prayers; and now they look and look again; but there is nothing. Their prayers are concluded, and nothing appears, yet still they hoped and stayed; till at last one of them espies a ship, which put new life into all their spirits. They bear up with their vessel, they man their boat, and desire and beg like perishing, humble supplicants to board them, which they are admitted. The vessel proves a French vessel–yea, a French pirate. Major Gibbons petitions them for a little bread, and offers ship and cargo for it. But the commander knows the Major (from whom he had received some signal kindnesses formerly at Boston), and replied readily and cheerfully–"Major Gibbons, not a hair of you or your company shall perish, if it lie in my power to preserve you." And accordingly he relieveth them, and sets them safe on shore.

Memorable also is that which Mr. Janeway, in his Remarkable Sea Deliverances, p. 35, hath published. He there relates, that in the year 1668, a ketch, whereof Thomas Woodbery was master, sailing from New England for Barbadoes; when they came in the latitude 35 deg., because there was some appearance of foul weather, they lowered their sails, sending up one to the top of the mast, he thought he saw something like a boat floating upon the sea; and calling to the men below, they made towards it, and when they came near, it appeared to be a longboat with eleven men in it, who had been bound for Virginia; but their ship proved leaky, and foundered in the sea, so that they were forced suddenly to betake themselves to their Iong-boat, in the which they had a capstanbar, which they made use of for a mast, and a piece of canvas for a sail, so did they sail before the wind. But they having no victuals with them, were soon in miserable distress. Thus they continued five days, so that all despaired of life. Upon the sixth day they concluded to cast lots for their lives, viz., who should die, that the rest might eat him, and have their lives preserved. He that the lot fell upon, begged for his life a little longer; and being in their extremity, the wonder-working providence of God was seen, for they met with this New England vessel, which took them in and saved their lives. An hour after this, a terrible storm arose, continuing forty hours, so that if they had not met the vessel that saved them in the nick of opportunity, they had all perished; and if the New England men had not taken down some of their sails, or had not chanced to send one up to tallow the mast, this boat and men had never been seen by them. Thus admirable are the workings of Divine Providence in the world. Yet further:

That worthy and now blessed minister of God, Mr. James Janeway, hath published several other Remarkable Sea Deliverances, of which some belonging to New England were the subjects. He relates (and I am informed that it was really so) that a small vessel-the master's name Philip Hungare-coming upon the coast of New England suddenly sprang a leak, and so foundered. In the vessel there were eighteen souls, twelve of which got into the long-boat. They threw into the boat some small matters of provision, but were wholly without fire. These twelve men sailed five hundred leagues in this small boat, being by almost miraculous providences preserved therein for flve weeks together. God sent relief to them by causing some flying-fish to fall into the boat, which they eat raw, and were well pleased therewith. They also caught a shark, and opening his belly, sucked his blood for drink. At the last the Divine Providence brought them to the West Indies. Some of them were so weak as that they soon died; but most of them lived to declare the works of the Lord.


Day 1 (W, Sept. 4) Introduction
Day 2 (M, Sept. 9) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, “Preface” - "I Build My Fortress"
    Overview of Daniel Defoe
    Overview of Robinson Crusoe
    The Sources of Robinson Crusoe
    Alexander Selkirk
Day 3 (W, Sept. 11) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe,  "The Journal" - "I Am Very Seldom Idle"
    Increase Mather, Remarkable Providences
Day 4 (T, Sept. 17)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Make Myself a Canoe" - "I See the Wreck..."

Day 5 (W, Sept. 18)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Hear the First Sound..." - "We Quell..."
Religion in Robinson Crusoe
Web paper due (1-2 pages)

Day 6 (M, Sept. 23)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "We Seize the Ship" - "I Revisit My Island"
Robinson Crusoe as Economic Man