1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sewall, Samuel

22311881911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 24 — Sewall, Samuel

SEWALL, SAMUEL (1652-1730), American jurist, was born at Horton, near Bishopstoke, Hants, England, on the 28th of March 1652. He was taken to New England in 1661; graduated at Harvard in 1671; studied divinity; and was resident fellow of Harvard in 167 3-1674, and keeper of the college library in 1674. In 1683 he was deputy to the General Court for Westfield; from 1681 to 1684 he managed the only licensed printing press in Boston; and as a member of the Board of Assistants in 1684-1686 and in 1689-1690 he was ex ejicio a judge of the Superior Court. He was a member of the Council in 1691-1725, and in 1692 he was made one of the special commissioners of oyer and terminer to try persons accused of witchcraft in Suffolk, Essex and Middlesex counties. This court condemned nineteen. Sewall in January 1697 stood in meeting while a bill was read in which he took “ the blame and shame ” of the “ guilt contracted upon the opening of the late commission of oyer and terminer at Salem, ” and asked pardon. He was a judge of the Superior Court from 1692 to 1728, and in 1718-1728 was its chief justice; in 1715-1728 he was judge of probate for Suffolk county. He died in Boston on the 1st of January 1730. Sewall has been called the “ last of the Puritans ” and his character is attractively portrayed in Whittier's Prophecy of Samuel Sewall. He was a strict Calvinist and opposed the growing liberal control of Harvard College; he contributed to the cause of Indian missions, 'built an Indian meeting-house (probably in Sandwich), was one of the commissioners of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent, and for more than twenty years its secretary and treasurer.

He wrote: The Selling of Joseph, a Memorial (1700), the first antislavery tract printed in America; with Edward Rawson, anonymously, The Revolution in New England Justzfied (1691; reprinted in Force's Tracts and in The Andros Tracts); Phænomena' quaedam apocalyptic ad aspectum novi orbis conjigurata (1697) and Talitha Cumi, or an Invitation to Women to look after their Inheritance in the Heavenly Mansions, both full of strange Biblical interpretation; and a journal begun in 1673, which, with his other papers, was bought by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1869, and was published in vols. xiv.-xlviii. of its Collections.

See the sketch in J. L. Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, ii. (1881), 345-371; an article by C. H. C. Howard in vol. xxxvii. (Salem, 1901) of the Essex Institute Historical Collections; N. H. Chamberlain, Samuel Sewall and the World He Lived In (Boston, 1897); and G. E. Ellis, An Address on the Life and Character of Chief Justice Samuel Sewall (Boston, 1885).

His son, Joseph Sewall (1686-1769), became pastor of the Old South Church in 1713, and was a powerful preacher who sided with Whitefield. A descendant, Samuel Edward Sewall (1799-1888), a lawyer, was prominent in the anti-slavery movement, first as a Garrisonian and afterwards as a member of the Liberty and Free-Soil parties; he was counsel for a number of fugitive slaves, and after the Civil War he worked for the improvement of the legal status of women.

See Nina M. Tiffany, Samuel E. Sewall: A Memoir (Boston 1898).