Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall born in 1652 in England. He was taken as a child to Newbury, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard in 1671. He became a minister but gave up the role to take management of a printing press in Boston and entered upon a public career. He was elected in 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 the responsibility for the conviction of nineteen 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. Sewall served for thirty-seven years as judge of the superior court of the colony, being chief justice during the last ten years of his service. Sewall was also a well-known author and his most famous work was his three-volume diary, which is very revealing of Samuel Sewall and the period he lived in. Sewall was a respected figure of his time and shared relations with other prominent icons of the colonial era. When Sewall entered Harvard he shared a home for two years with Edward Taylor, a famous American poet who became a lifelong friend of Sewall’s. Also in the year of the Salem witch Trials Samuel Sewall was appointed as one of nine judges by Govenor Phips, another fellow judge on this board was Cotton Mather. A famous individual of colonial times he was a minister of Boston’s Old North Church and was a true believer in witchcraft. Sewall and Mather were both puritans, authors, and shared similar views. Samuel Sewall died in Boston, Massachusetts in 1730, January 1st.

Samuel Sewall’s writing was of a traditional Puritan style. His work often concentrated on religion, politics, business life, and good living. But unlike Puritans of his time Sewall’s many writings addressed specific concerns about the rights of Native Americans and of African-Americans brought as slaves to the colonies. Sewall wrote the first Puritan anti-slaveholding tract The Selling of Joseph. The literary work that Sewall is most famous for is his Diary; it consists of a minute record of his daily life, reflecting his interest in living piously and well. He notes little purchases of sweets for a woman he was courting, and their disagreements over whether he should affect upper class and expensive ways such as wearing a wig and using a coach. Sewall’s Diary is an acclaimed source of eighteenth century culture. It provides a view into the concerns both worldly and spiritual of a man whose life was well-known and very public in his own day.

Throughout American history there is exemplary men of each time period because of their achievements in society, religion, and the way they executed living their lives. A commendable figure of colonial times was the author, politician, judge, and Puritan Samuel Sewall. Sewall is best know for his literary works that largely described colonial society, his outspoken opinion on slavery and equality, and his own moral views. Sewall’s work as an author had a positive result on early American society, and made a difference in contemporary views of the time. Ultimately, Samuel Sewall got American Culture thinking more critically about slavery, and he contributed to American Culture an insightful full picture of a Puritan man and his society.

The Diary of Samuel Sewall gives us a view of the spiritual stress of a man very committed to his Puritan faith, yet constantly unsure of the quality of his morale. For Sewall, everyday events and acts of nature often took on supernatural meanings. After a

hail storm which knocked out the windows in many Boston houses, including his own, Sewall could not help but wonder if God wasn't making his displeasure known to him. In a separate incident, when Sewall's house was broken into, Sewall saw it as great vengeance, for he had been feeling "listless as to Spiritual Good"1 just a day before. Upon the death of his wife, Hannah, he attributed the cause as Divine wrath brought down upon himself. These types of accounts continually occur throughout the Diary. Sewall’s deeply religious thinking shows the strong force religion possessed in his era. Sewall records here a very personal view that says quite a bit about his own interpretations of god’s work on Earth. Samuel Sewall is continually shows himself as a strict Puritan, and contributes his own perspective on his religion to American culture.

Sewall’s strong religious perspective opposed slavery, and was the first Puritan to take a written stand against it. This excerpt from The Selling of Joseph best exemplifies Sewall’s Puritan beliefs intertwining with what he believes is just: “ It is most certain that all men, as they are the sons of Adam, are co-heirs, and have equal right unto liberty, and all other outward comforts of life”2. This philosophy of equality is presented throughout the entire pamphlet. At the time this writing inspired colonists to relate the issue of slavery with their religion, and to really see if it was something that could be considered a moral practice. The Selling of Joseph inspired Americans to make more action against slavery. Sewall helped ignite the flame that abolished slavery eventually from American culture.

Although many view Sewall’s Diary as a literary masterpiece there are those with different perspectives. This excerpt shows a diverse opinion on Sewall’s best-known work “Sewall’s diary records his daily life, with few opinions and no introspection. His diary indirectly reveals contemporary attitudes”3. This critique is very truthful of Sewall’s writing in his Diary. His writing is rather non descript and Sewall often does not voice his opinion in this literary work. But when Sewall does voice his opinion it is a strong well thought statement, and shows himself as a person not afraid to express his true feelings. This literary critique is accurate but presents Sewall’s diary as seemingly unintelligible, which it is not. The preciseness, and abrupt records on every date is what makes this work such a great reference tool for Colonial times. Samuel Sewall was the author of the most vivid, and clear-cut diary ever written by an American Puritan.

Samuel Sewall gave our society an insight into the ideal Puritan person, and also made a strong stand against inequality among people of all kinds in his era. Sewall was a man that represented the best-represented good human nature; he was a man who did not fear speaking his mind. Sewall was notorious for being honest at all times, and possessed a very strong will. Sewall gave a large contribution to American Culture in both being a model person, and by making a positive difference in his surroundings. Samuel Sewall took on different roles in his life, and was successful in all of them through hard discipline and a strong faith in god.