Sewall, Samuel

Sewall, Samuel syo͞oˈəl [key], 1652–1730, American colonial jurist, b. England. He was taken as a child to Newbury, Mass., and was graduated from Harvard in 1671. He became a minister but gave up the cloth to assume management of a printing press in Boston and entered upon a public career. He was elected (1683) to the general court and was a member of the council. As one of the judges who tried the Salem witchcraft cases in 1692, he shared responsibility for the condemnation of 19 persons. However, he became convinced of the error of these convictions and in 1697 in Old South Church, Boston, publicly accepted the “blame and shame” for them; thereafter he annually spent a day of repentance in fasting and prayer. Sewall served (1692–1728) as judge of the superior court of the colony, being chief justice during the last 10 years. His diary (3 vol., 1878–82; repr. 1973) is very revealing of the man and of the period.

See biographies by O. E. Winslow (1964), T. B. Strandness (1967), and E. LaPlante (2007); N. H. Chamberlain, Samuel Sewall and the World He Lived In (1897, repr. 1967).

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