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Portrait of Samuel Sewall (1652-1730), minister, merchant, and magistrate. He was active in the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692, and he was the only judge involved who publicly admitted his error in sentencing 19 people to death.
Samuel Sewall was born in England and settled with his family in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1661. A 1671 graduate of Harvard College, he was a prominent merchant in Boston, as well as a member of the Governor's Council, and a justice of the Superior Court of Judicature. If Sewall was only known today for the diary that he kept for more than fifty years, he would be a notable figure in early American history, but he is perhaps best remembered for his role as a judge in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. Although the trials could have tarnished his reputation forever, his legacy was redeemed by his public confession of guilt in the witchcraft tragedy, and his firm antislavery stand bolstered by the publication of The Selling of Joseph in 1700.
Sewall, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Sewall, 1674-1729. M. Halsey Thomas, ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973.