1672-1815; bulk: 1672-1728

Guide to the Collection

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Representative digitized documents from this collection:

Restrictions on Access

Use of the originals is restricted. This collection is available as color digital facsimiles (see links below). Black and white microfilm of select items is also available for use in the library.

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the papers (excluding his diary) of Samuel Sewall (1652-1730), merchant, colonial magistrate, legislator, and member of the Massachusetts Governor's Council.

Biographical Sketch

Merchant, colonial magistrate, member of the Governor's Council, and diarist, Samuel Sewall (1652-1730) played a major role in the activities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for 56 years.

As a merchant, private banker, and property holder in England and in the colonies, he did business with numerous "cousins" in the mother country, spending a year in England from 1688 to 1689, mainly on private business.

As a legislator, he served in the General Court and later the Governor's Council from 1683 to 1725. He was also successively a magistrate, a justice of the Superior Court, Judge of Probate for Suffolk County, and Chief Justice of the Superior Court. His most dramatic service was as a member of the Commission of Oyer and Terminer, appointed in 1692 to oversee the Salem witchcraft trials--a service for which he sought public forgiveness five years later.

In the civic life of the colony, he was manager of the printing press, an overseer of Harvard College, captain of the South Company of Militia in Boston, a pillar of Boston's Old South Church, and a commissioner of the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel. Among his publications, Phaenomena Quaedam Apocalyptica (1697) gives a New England Puritan's vision of the Apocalypse, and The Selling of Joseph (1700) is the earliest anti-slavery tract in the American colonies.

His marriage of 41 years to Hannah Hull produced 14 children, five of whom survived him. He subsequently married twice more, and unsuccessfully courted Katherine Winthrop, until her stipulations on his lifestyle and a marriage settlement caused him to break off negotiations.

Born at Bishop Stoke, Hampshire, England.
Emigrated with his family to Newbury, Massachusetts.
A.B., Harvard College.
Married Hannah Hull, daughter of John Hull (1624-1683), mintmaster of Massachusetts Bay.
Took up residence in Hull's house in Boston and thereafter "followed Merchandize."
Admitted to membership in the Third Church of Boston (Old South Church).
Deputy (non-resident) from Westfield, Hampshire County, to the General Court.
Elected member of the Court of Assistants, a post carrying judicial responsibilities as magistrate, and member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard College.
Captain of the South Company of Militia in Boston.
Traveled in England on business.
Made member of the Governor's Council.
Made one of the justices of the Superior Court of Judicature and served on witchcraft trials. (The Superior Court became the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1782.)
Asked pardon for his role in witchcraft trials.
Published his first book: Phaenomena Quaedam Apocalyptica ad Aspectum Novi Orbis Configurata.
Published The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial, the first anti-slavery tract in America.
Judge of Probate for Suffolk County.
Hannah Hull Sewall, his wife, died in Boston.
Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature.
Unsuccessfully courted Katherine Winthrop.
Married Abigail (Melyen) Woodmansey Tilley.
Sudden death of Abigail Sewall, his second wife.
Married Mary (Shrimpton) Gibbs.
Declined re-election to the Governor's Council.
Died at his home in Boston in his 78th year.

Collection Description

This collection is housed in 15 cased volumes and one narrow box and consists of the sermon notes, account books, correspondence, and miscellaneous manuscripts and notes of Samuel Sewall. Other individuals represented in the collection include Sewall's son, Samuel Sewall, Jr. (1689-1757); Henry Sewall; and Samuel Sewall of Burlington, Mass. Excluded from this collection are Sewall's diaries and related volumes, which can be found in the collection of Samuel Sewall diaries (call number: Special Colls. Sewall).

Some of the documents from this collection and the Samuel Sewall diaries have been microfilmed onto two reels (call number: P-87). See Contents of Microfilm below for a list of the items on the microfilm.

Acquisition Information

The Samuel Sewall papers were acquired through gifts, purchases, and deposits, including gifts of the members of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Jan. 1869; purchase, Apr. 1893; gift of Louisa Natt Perkins and Frances Jane Brewer, Feb. 1902; deposit by Mrs. Sarah Salisbury Walker, Apr. 1912; bequest of Robert Cassie Waterston, May 1917; purchase, Oct. 1962; gift of Horatio G. Somerby.

Restrictions on Access

Use of the originals is restricted. This collection is available as color digital facsimiles (see links below). Black and white microfilm of select items is also available for use in the library.

Other Formats

This collection is available as color digital facsimiles. Select items are also available on microfilm, P-87, 2 reels.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Sermon notes, 1672-1714digital content

171.3.12, 017.18digitized
Notes on sermons by Nathaniel Chauncy and others, 1672-1674

Use microfilm, P-87, reel 1.

171.3.20, 017.20digitized
Notes on scripture texts discussed at meetings of the Old South Society held at different houses, beginning in 1676
171.3.14, 017.20digitized
Notes on sermons by Samuel Willard and others, 1677-1678
171.3.15, 017.20digitized
Notes on sermons by James Allen and others, 1688-1690
171.3.15a, 017.20digitized
Notes on sermons, 1691-1692
171.3.16, 017.20digitized
Notes on sermons by Samuel Willard and others, 1694
171.3.17, 017.20digitized
Notes on sermons by Ebenezer Pemberton and others, 1703-1704
Box 1Folder 1digitized
Notes on sermons, beginning in 1714

One small paper-bound volume.
Old accession number: MHS AC62-M39.

II. Account books, 1686-1790digital content

Bill of lading book, 1686-1698, 1782-1790

Shipping records used by Samuel Sewall, 1686-1698, and later by James Foster of Portsmouth, N.H., 1782-1790.

Use microfilm, P-87, reel 1.

171.3.19, 017.22digitized
Account book, 1688-1692

Use microfilm, P-87, reel 1.

III. Letterbook, 1686-1737digital content

Copies of outgoing correspondence probably kept by Samuel Sewall, 1686-1729, and by Samuel Sewall, Jr., 1730-1737.

Use microfilm, P-87, reel 2.

171.3.6., 017.12digitized
Letterbook, 1686-1737

IV. Miscellaneous manuscripts, 1675-1815digital content

Philosophia Naturalis, by Adrianus Heereboord, annotated by Sewall, [1675]
171.3.24, 017.14digitized
Arithmetick and Copy-book of Samuel Sewall, Jr., 1698-1772

Commonplace-book containing arithmetic problems, 1698-1714; proceedings of town meetings in Brookline, Mass., 1704-1708; copies of diary entries, 1702-1743 (in particular genealogical records); letterbook copies, 1730-1749; a record of livestock, 1706-1709; memoranda of Henry Sewall, 1743-1772; and other miscellaneous copied and tipped-in documents.

171.3.22a, 017.22digitized
Diary notes of Samuel Sewall, 1705, 1717-1718, and Samuel Sewall, Jr., 1714

Several loose gatherings of pages in a case.

171.3.10, 017.16digitized
Probate Court records, 1715-1728, with additional notes by Samuel Sewall of Burlington, Mass., 1815

Records of Probate Court proceedings in Suffolk County kept by Samuel Sewall from 1715-1728, with additional notes in shorthand, notes on books, extracts of laws, and historical notes by Samuel Sewall of Burlington in 1815 and other notes, including extracts of Thomas Fuller's The History of the Worthies of England.

Use microfilm, P-87, reel 1.

Box 1Folder 2171.3.23, 017.25digitized
Proposals Touching the Accomplishment of Prophecies, by Samuel Sewall, Jr., [172-]

One paper-bound volume.

Box 1Folder 3017.12
Letter, Samuel Sewall to Samuel Sewall, Jr., with miscellaneous notes on family, 21 Apr. 1720

Negative photostat only. Original owned by Harold J. Sewall of Bath, Me.

171.3.25, 017.26digitized
Faneuil Hall Lottery Ticket #5, [1767]

List of subscribers to Lottery #5, including list of ticket holders #2101-2399 and list of winners of #2101-2799.

Contents of Microfilm

Listed below are the contents of the two reels of microfilm known as the Samuel Sewall papers (microfilm call number: P-87). These items are now arranged into two collections: the Samuel Sewall diaries (see and this collection, the Samuel Sewall papers. In addition to the contents of the reels, the list below also indicates which collection the item is from.

Reel Contents Collection
Reel 1 Bill of lading book, 1686-1698, 1782-1790 Samuel Sewall papers
Reel 1 Diary, 1714-1729 Samuel Sewall diary
Reel 1 Diary and commonplace-book, 1675-1721 Samuel Sewall diary
Reel 1 Commonplace-book, 1677-1698 Samuel Sewall diary
Reel 1 Account book, 1688-1692 Samuel Sewall papers
Reel 1 Probate Court records, 1715-1728 Samuel Sewall papers
Reel 1 Notes on sermons, 1672-1674 Samuel Sewall papers
Reel 1 Diary, 1717-1726 Samuel Sewall diary
Reel 2 Letterbook, 1686-1737 Samuel Sewall papers

Preferred Citation

Samuel Sewall papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Foster, James.
Sewall, Henry.
Sewall, Samuel, 1689-1757.
Sewall, Samuel, of Burlington, Mass.


Third Church (Boston, Mass.).
Massachusetts. Probate Court (Suffolk County).


Account books--1688-1692.
Arithmetic--Study and teaching.
Brookline (Mass.)--History.
Probate records--Massachusetts--Suffolk County.
Shipping--New Hampshire--Portsmouth.

Materials Removed from the Collection

The following issues of the Boston News-Letter (1704-1726) appear to have been removed from the Samuel Sewall papers to the Massachusetts Historical Society's run of this title in the general newspaper collection. A very small number contain underlinings and/or marginal markings, possibly by Samuel Sewall.

26 June 1704
3 July 1704
17 July 1704
24 July 1704
27 Nov. 1704

9 June 1707
16 June 1707

2 July 1711
13 Aug. 1711
20 Aug. 1711
17 Sep. 1711
24 Sep. 1711

6 Oct. 1712
13 Oct. 1712
20 Oct. 1712
3 Nov. 1712
17 Nov. 1712
24 Nov. 1712
8 Dec. 1712
15 Dec. 1712
22 Dec. 1712
29 Dec. 1712

13 Apr. 1713

25 Jan. 1714
15 Feb. 1714
1 Mar. 1714
7 June 1714
28 June 1714
5 July 1714
12 July 1714
2 Aug. 1714
16 Aug. 1714
13 Sep. 1714
6 Dec. 1714
2 May 1715
11 July 1715 (issue missing)

11 June 1716
3 Dec. 1716

13 Jan. 1718
27 Jan. 1718
24 Feb. 1718
3 Mar. 1718
17 Mar. 1718
24 Mar. 1718
12 May 1718
19 May 1718
2 June 1718
21 July 1718
28 July 1718
11 Aug. 1718
25 Aug. 1718
22 Dec. 1718
29 Dec. 1718

2 Mar. 1719

20 Feb. 1721

16 July 1722

25 Feb. 1725*

7 Apr. 1726*
9 June 1726*
23 June 1726

* These issues appear to have been replaced by copies purchased in 1917.