Mather, Samuel (1626–71), Independent minister, was born in Much Woolton, Lancashire, England, eldest son of Richard Mather (1596–1669) and his wife, Catherine Hoult (d. 1655). Richard Mather was an anglican minister turned nonconformist, while Catherine Hoult's family was staunchly puritan. The Mather family emigrated to New England in 1634. Samuel Mather graduated from Harvard in 1643. He returned to England during the interregnum, and for a time ministered in Magdalen College, Oxford, and then in Leith, Scotland, attending the parliamentary commissioners for Scotland. In 1654 he was appointed to attend Henry Cromwell (qv) in Ireland and in the same year he was selected as a senior fellow in TCD. In August 1655 he was appointed a commissioner for the approbation of ministers in the country, and held an influential position in church affairs.
He ministered in Dublin with Samuel Winter (qv), provost of Trinity College and pastor of the Independent church at St Nicholas-within-the-Walls, a congregation modelled on the covenant practice of New England. There Mather was ordained in 1656 by Samuel Winter, Timothy Taylor of Carrickfergus, and Thomas Jenner of Drogheda. Mather became co-pastor with Winter in St Nicholas-within-the-Walls, while also preaching every six weeks in Christ Church, Dublin, in the presence of the lord deputy, Henry Cromwell.
In 1659 Winter and Mather drew up a declaration for the Independent churches in Ireland: The agreement and resolution of the ministers of Christ associated within the city of Dublin and province of Leinster (Dublin, 1659). This document reflects the waning power of Independent ministers in Ireland, and the development of an alliance between Scottish and English presbyterians in Ireland. Once the monarchy had been restored (1660), Winter and Mather were suspended from their ministry and forced to leave their church. They founded another congregation at New Row in Dublin, were soon deposed for nonconformity, and were forced to leave Ireland in 1661. Mather returned in 1664, and although he remained outspoken in his views, he retained his leadership of the congregation at New Row, along the lines of the theological practice established during the interregnum. He adopted a decision passed in the New England synod of 1662, affirming the personal and permanent membership of children baptised in the church. Known as the ‘Half-way covenant’, this was aimed at preventing a decline in membership. Mather's efforts to maintain union within the nonconformist churches in Ireland was expressed in a work he wrote at this time: Irenicum, or an essay for godly union wherein are humbly tendered some proposals in order to some union among the godly of different judgements (London, 1680).
By his own admission, Samuel Mather acknowledged that after 1664 in Ireland he had freedom to minister, which was not enjoyed by Independent churches in England. So, while Mather rejected the forms of church government of the established church in Ireland, he was careful to publicly rebuff Jeremiah Marsden's views in 1669. In a sermon that year in New Row, Marsden preached the Fifth Monarchy. Clearly, Mather feared that Marsden's preaching would put in jeopardy the freedom of worship his congregation exercised in New Row. Indeed for a short period, New Row was closed, until Mather made it clear to the government that he had no sympathy with millenarian views, and had published his disagreement with Marsden. This position in 1669 marks a shift in the thinking of Mather. At the restoration, he had been suspended for similar views to Marsden. Now, some years later, his rejection of Marsden indicates a neutering of radical thought, and an acceptance of compromise in order to survive. Samuel Mather died in Dublin in 1671. After his death, several of his sermons and tracts were published by his brother Nathaniel.
Nathaniel Mather (1631–97), Independent minister, was born in Much Woolton, second son of Richard Mather and Catherine Hoult, and emigrated to New England with the family in 1634. He graduated from Harvard in 1647 and returned to England in 1650. He ministered first in Devonshire and later in Rotterdam, Holland. In 1671 he succeeded his brother, Samuel, as minister in New Row, Dublin.
As the Independent congregation dwindled and lost the capacity to attract new members, Nathaniel Mather's position became progressively more difficult in Ireland. He moved to England in 1687 and became minister of Lime St. congregational church in London in 1688. This appointment was contentious, as the choice lay between two ministers from Dublin. Daniel Williams had been a minister of Wood St. congregation in Dublin, and was from the English presbyterian tradition. The strains between the Independent and English presbyterian tradition did not emerge publicly in Ireland in the period after the restoration but did so in London in 1688, and indeed in the years following. This controversy lasted several years there and was debated in the pulpit and in print. Nathaniel Mather published several of his brother Samuel's sermons and tracts. He died in London in 1697.