Judge Samuel Sewall

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Samuel Sewall

Also Known As: "Samuel Sewall Salem Witch Trials Judge"
Birthdate: (77)
Birthplace: Bishopstole, Hampshire, England
Death: January 1, 1730 (77)
Boston, Suffolk , Massachusetts
Place of Burial: Boston, , Massachusetts
Immediate Family:

Son of Rev. Henry Sewall and Jane Sewall
Husband of Hannah Quincy Sewall; Abigail Sewall and Mary Sewell
Father of Elizabeth Hirst; Rev. Dr. Joseph Sewall; Samuel Sewall, Jr.; Mary Sewall; Sarah Sewall and 7 others
Brother of Hannah Tappan; Elizabeth Sewall; John Sewall; Maj. Stephen Sewall; Jane Gerrish and 3 others

Occupation: judge advocate presided Salem witch trials
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Judge Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall was a Massachusetts magistrate of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Five years after the Salem Witch Trials, Sewall publicly regretted his role in the trials, the only magistrate involved to do so.

He felt that he had made many bad decisions & stood up in the South Church during service and admitted to "blame, and shame." Twelve jurors also stood up and said that their actions were "sadly deluded and mistaken."


Sewall was one of the earliest colonial abolitionists. He wrote the essay "The Selling of Joseph" in 1700, in which he came out very strongly against slavery.

-from Wikipedia

Diary of Samuel Seawall

Puritan Family Life

By Judith S. Graham

pg 17


Samuel Sewell was one of the judges of the Salem Witch trials. He is also the author of the first anti-slavery tract of what was to become the United States. Much of what is known about colonial life in Massachusetts comes from Samuel Sewell's Diary. He was a chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Province of Massachusetts.


SEWALL, Samuel, jurist, born in Bishopstoke, England, 28 March, 1652; died in Boston, Massachusetts, 1 January, 1730. His early education was received in England before his parents came to New England. They went to Newbury, Massachusetts, and his lessons were continued there. He was fitted to enter Harvard in 1667, and took his first degree in 1671, his second in 1675. He studied divinity and had preached once before his marriage, but after that event, which took place on 28 February, 1677, he left the ministry and entered public life. His wife was Hannah Hull, the daughter and only child of John and Judith [Quincy) Hull. The position which his father-in-law held as treasurer and mint-master undoubtedly had somewhat to do with the change in the young man's plans. One of his first ventures after his marriage was to assume charge of the printing-press in Boston. This was under his management for three years, when other engagements compelled him to relinquish it. His family connections, both through his marriage and on the maternal and paternal sides, brought him in contact with some of the most prominent men of the day. In 1684 he was chosen an assistant, serving for two years. In 1688, he made a voyage to England, and remained abroad a year in the transaction of business, visiting various points of interest. In 1692 he became a member of the council and judge of the probate court. Judge Sewall appeared prominently ill judging the witches during the time of the Salem witchcraft. His character was shown more clearly at that time and immediately afterward than at any other time during his long life. He was extremely conscientious in the fulfillment of duty, and yet, when he found he was in error, was not too proud to acknowledge it. Of all the judges that took part in that historic action, he was the only one that publicly confessed his error. The memory of it haunted him for years, until in January, 1697, he confessed in a "bill," which was read before the congregation of the Old South church in Boston by the minister. During its reading, Sewall remained standing in his place. The action was indicative of the man. During the remaining thirty-one years of his life he spent one day annually in fasting and meditation and prayer, to keep in mind a sense of the enormity of his offense. In 1699 he was appointed a commissioner for the English Society for the propagation of the gospel in New England. Soon afterward he was appointed their secretary and treasurer, His tract, entitled "The Selling of Joseph," in which he advocated the rights of the slaves, was published in 1700. He was very benevolent and charitable, and his sympathies were always with the down-trodden races of humanity. In 1718 he was appointed chief justice, and served till 1728, when he retired on account of the increasing infirmities of old age. He also published "The Accomplishment of Prophecies" (1713)'" A Memorial Relating to the Kennebec Indians" (1721); "A Description of the New Heaven" (1727). The Massachusetts historical society have published his diary, which covers the larger portion of his life, in their "Historical Collections," and it has also published his letter-book, in which he kept copies of his important letters These throw light . upon the civil and social life of the day in a marked degree, and strengthen the opinion that he was a man of eminent ability and of sterling character. In addition to his diary, he kept a "commonplace book," in which he recorded quotations from various authors whose works he had read. At the time of his death he had also filled twelve manuscript volumes with abstracts of sermons and addresses that he had heard at various times. His funeral sermon, by the Reverend Thomas Prince, was highly eulogistic, but evidently a just tribute to one of the most remarkable men of his age.

Harvard 1671

1681-4 Managed the Colony's Printing Press

1692 Appointed as one of several Commissioners to try the cases of witchcraft in Salem. During July and August the Court sentenced 19 people to death. He was the only one of the Judges who publicly admitted that he had been in error in the matter. On Jan 14, 1697, Sewall stood up in the old South Church in Boston while Rev. Samuel Willard read a confession of error and guilt which Sewall wished to make for himself publically. Commissioner of the "Society for the propagation of the Gospel in New England" in 1699. He was local Secretary and Treasurer. He published "The Selling of Joseph" one of the earliest appeals in the anti-slavery cause. Judge of Probate for Suffolk County in 1715. Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1718, for ten years. Author of a great many notable works.

From Freedom Trail Foundation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhcjsN_NClc&index=22&list=PLcbIMUlG8KMnAY5l0B0XPwKu673zglfFh

Infosource: http://www.jeaniesgenealogy.com/2015/04/henry-sewall-jr-of-newbury-ma.html

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Judge Samuel Sewall's Timeline

March 28, 1652
Bishopstole, Hampshire, England
Age 28
August 5, 1688
Age 36
Age 48
January 1, 1730
Age 77
Boston, Suffolk , Massachusetts
January 1730
Age 77
Boston, , Massachusetts