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Samuel Sewall (March 28, 1652 - January 1, 1730), was a Massachusettsmarker judge, best known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials, for which he later apologized, and his essay The Selling of Joseph (1700), which criticized slavery.


Sewall was born in Bishopstokemarker, Hampshire Englandmarker, on March 28, 1652, the son of Henry and Jane Sewall, and grandson of Henry Sewall, the mayor of Coventrymarker, England. He emigrated from Englandmarker to the Massachusetts colony in 1661 and settled in Bostonmarker. A devout Puritan, he attended Harvard Universitymarker, (graduating in 1671), hoping to study for the ministry, but he eventually left to pursue a career in business. He also entered local politics, and was elevated to the position of assistant magistrate in the judiciary that in 1692 judged the people in Salemmarker accused of witchcraft. Sewall was perhaps most remarkable among the magistrates involved in the trials in that he was the only magistrate who, some years later, publicly regretted his role, going so far as to call for a public day of prayer, fasting, and reparations. In Salem, Sewall's brother Stephen had opened up his home to one of the initially afflicted children, Betty Parris, daughter of Salem Village's Reverend Samuel Parris, and shortly afterward Betty's 'afflictions' appear to have subsided.

Apart from his involvement in the trials, Sewall could be very liberal in his views. In The Selling of Joseph (1700), for instance, he came out strongly against slavery, making him one of the earliest colonial abolitionists. There he argued:
"Liberty is in real value next unto Life: None ought to part with it themselves, or deprive others of it, but upon the most mature Consideration."

He regarded "man-stealing as an atrocious crime which would introduce amongst the English settlers people who would remain forever restive and alien," but he also believed that

"There is such a disparity in their Conditions, Colour, Hair, that they can never embody with us, and grow up into orderly Families, to the Peopling of the Land."

Although holding such segregationist views, he maintained that:
"These Ethiopiansmarker, as black as they are; seeing they are the Sons and Daughters of the First Adam, the Brethren and Sisters of the Last ADAM, and the Offspring of God; They ought to be treated with a Respect agreeable."

His 1725 essay "Talitha Cumi" refers to the "right of women." It is republished for the first time since 1725 in the appendix to the most recent biography of Sewall, .

His Journal', kept from 1673 to 1729, describes his life as a Puritan against the changing tide of colonial life, as the devoutly religious community of Massachusetts gradually adopted more secular attitudes and emerged as a liberal, cosmopolitan-minded community. As such, the diary is an important work for understanding the transformation of the colony in the days leading to the American Revolution.

In 1717, Sewall was appointed chief justice of Massachusetts.

Sewall married four times. His first wife was Hannah Hull, daughter of John Hull, mintmaster of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, whom he married on 28 February, 1676 in Boston. She was mother of all fourteen of his children. She died in 1717; two years later, in 1719, Sewall married Abigail (Melyen) Woodmansey Tilley, who died seven months later. In 1722, Sewall married Mary (Shrimpton) Gibbs, who survived him.

Sewall died in Boston, Massachusettsmarker, on January 1, 1730 at age 78 and was interred in the family tomb at the Granary Burying Groundmarker, Tremont Streetmarker, Bostonmarker. His great grandson Samuel Sewall would later represent Massachusetts in the U. S. Congress. A biography of Sewall was published by Richard Francis in 2005; two years later another appeared by Eve LaPlante, Sewall's 6-great-grand-daughter.


Works include:


  1. LaPlante op. cit., pp. 285–7
  2. LaPlante op. cit., pp. 312–3
  3. PAL: Samuel Sewall (1652-1730)


  1. LaPlante op. cit., pp. 285–7
  2. LaPlante op. cit., pp. 312–3
  3. PAL: Samuel Sewall (1652-1730)
  • Judge Sewall's Apology: The Salem Witch Trials and the Forming of a Conscience, Richard Francis, Fourth Estate, London: 2005 ISBN 1841156760; HarperCollins, New York: 2005 ISBN 0007163622; HarperPerennial, London & New York, 2006, ISBN 1841156779

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