Judge Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall was born in England in 1652. In 1671 he graduated from Harvard and became master of arts in 1674.

In 1676 Sewall married the daughter of a prosperous merchant and went to work for his father-in-law. He became a constable in 1679 and in 1681 he was appointed to the Massachusetts General Court. His wife’s inheritance after her father’s death in 1683 was substantial, and it permitted Sewall to shift from business to civil service.

Sewall’s diary records his daily life, with few opinions and no introspection. He was mainly conservative, conventionally religious, worldly but charitable, a Puritan and a Yankee. The diary is less detailed than one might wish on the Salem witch trials of 1692, when he served as one of seven judges. Eventually he saw the evil of which he had been guilty by his condemnation of “witches,” and in 1697 he publicly acknowledged his error.

Following the witch trials, Sewall was appointed a judge of the Superior Court of Massachusetts, a post he held for twenty-five years. For eleven years he was chief justice. He was devoted to the cause of Christianizing Native Americans and freeing slaves. He wrote an anti-slavery pamphlet, The Selling of Joseph (1700). Another pamphlet argued that New England was a suitable site for the new Jerusalem.

Source: Judge Samuel Sewall
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