Increase Mather was the son of Richard Mather, who was born in Lancashire, England, in 1596. Richard Mather studied at Oxford and was ordinaed as a minister in Lancashire, but he was suspended in 1633 due to his Puritan beliefs. He emigrated to Massachusetts in 1635 and was the "teacher" at the Dorchester church from 1636 until his death. Along with some collaborators, he wrote the Bay Psalm Book/i> in 1640, along with the original draft of the Cambridge Platform. He died on April 22, 1669 in Dorchester.
His son Increase Mather was born on June 21, 1639 in Boston. After graduating from Harvard in 1656, he continued his studies at Trinity College in Dublin, where he was awarded an M.A. degree in 1658. He preached for a while but returned to Boston after the restoration of Charles II.
In 1664, he was made "teacher" of Second Church in Boston and was elected a fellow of Harvard in 1674. He was made president of Harvard in 1685, serving in that position until 1701.
Increase Mather spent the years 1688 to 1702 in England on a diplomatic mission for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His main objective was to persuade first James II and then William III to restore the charter which Charles II had annulled. In this he was unsuccessful, but he did obtain a charter which left much of the power of the Massachusetts Assembly. The new charter took away the right of the colony to determine its own governor, but William gave Mather the privilege of picking the first governor under the new charter. Mather chose William Phipps, who accompanied him on his return to Massachusetts in May, 1692.
During the period of the Salem witchcraft trials, Increase Mather was a voice of moderation, arguing against the use of "spectral evidence" against witches and urged a presumption of innocence. He urged the use of inoculation against smallpox at a time when the general opinion of physicians was against the practice.
Increase Mather was the father of Cotton Mather^. He died at Boston on August 23, 1723.