Some American worthies; Samuel Sewall, Puritan judge
The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters. The University of Chicago presents Robert E. Streeter professor of English in some American worthies programs about curious and interesting figures in the American past. Today we hear about Samuel Saul Puritan judge Mr. Streeter. We Americans have always been fond of making out lists and of looking over other people's shoulders when they make out lists. We particularly enjoy furrowing our foreheads over lists of the ten best something or other or the ten worst something else. This is a relatively harmless parlor pastime I suppose but perhaps it does turn the pest into something resembling the kind of play low budget producers are always looking for. A few principal actors and no supporting cast. For instance
I recall that in my childhood when a card game called authors was the most flagrant form of juvenile delinquency. I got the impression that the exclusive franchise for poetry in the United States was held by gentlemen with triple barreled names and long beards. Similarly it's easy for us to think of America in the age of the revolution as a stretch of country thinly populated by George Washington Paul Revere Lafayette Benedict Arnold Molly Pitcher and John Paul Jones. It may be worthwhile to remind ourselves then that the meaning and color of our experience on this continent have not been created exclusively by the big resounding names the Franklins the Adams's The Hawthorns the Emersons. All credit to the Titans but they can take care of themselves. Let's talk about people like Parson weans the
biographer of Washington or John Leonard the Explorer or the Learned Blacksmith or right now Samuel Sewell Samuel Sewell a New England Puritan lived in Boston around 17:00 at a time when Dr. Cotton Mather. The head of anyone's list of proper Bostonians in his own time. So it was not really an obscure person a Harvard graduate in sixteen seventy one. He was subsequently a successful businessman judge and colonial official to his own sorrow he was prominent enough as a judge so that he became involved in legal trials which resulted in the execution of the Salem witches and sixteen ninety two. The aftermath of the witchcraft trials demonstrated that this seemingly commonplace Puritan jurist had a sense of personal integrity greater than the usual measured from
January 14th 697 five years after the Salem hysteria. Samuel Sorrell arose in the meeting house and stood in silence while the minister read his public statement of confession for his error in the witchcraft trials. This act of manly self humiliation would probably be the only thing remembered about Samuel SOL if he had not like many other New Englanders before and since had a secret vice he kept a diary he kept it from sixteen seventy three until his death nearly sixty years later. And in this diary we find a simple human feeling a neighborly this an innocent talkativeness occasionally a homespun eloquence which open our eyes to aspects of Puritan life. We might never have appreciated without soules assistance. One of Sorrells greatest charms. This is willingness to record the situations in
which life got the better of him. For instance in one of his earliest diary entries when he describes a youthful attempt at preaching he started out as a minister. He writes sheepishly being afraid to look on the glass that is on the hour glass in the pulpit ignorantly and unwillingly. I stood two hours and a half. Even after he became a magistrate clothed in all the majesty of Puritan law we noticed certain diffidence almost a milktoast snus in the way he asserted his powers. One Saturday night February 6th 1714 and Saturday night of course was the beginning of the Puritan Sabbath. He was called upon to quell an unseemly tavern disturbance created by Boston Royster ors who were celebrating Queen Anne's birthday. But let's let him tell the story himself. My neighbor calls and he writes knocks at our door about 9:00 or
past to tell of the disorder's at the tavern at the South End and Mr. Addington so house kept by John Wallace. He desired me that I would accompany Mr. Brumfield and Constable how further it was thirty five minutes past nine at night before Mr. Bromfield came. Then we went. I took any assaulter with me found much company. They refused to go away said were there to drink the queen's health and they had many other health to drink called for more drink dried to me. I took notice of the affront to them. I said must and would stay upon that solemn occasion. Mr. John that maker drank the queen's health to me. I told him I drank none of Bob and that he ceased. Mr Brindley put on his hat to affront me. I made him take it off. I threatened to send some of them to prison that did not move them. They said they could but pay their fine in doing that they might stay. I told them if they had not a care they would be guilty of a riot. Mr. Brownfield spoke of
raising a number of men to quell them and was in some heat ready to run into street. But I did not like that. Not having pen an ink I want to take their names with my pencil and not knowing how to spell their names they themselves of their own accord with them. Mr nut maker reproaching the proud the province said they had not made one good law. At last I addressed myself to Mr. Bannister. I told him he had been the longest inhabitant in freeholder. I expected he should set a good example in departing thence. Upon this he invited them to his own house in a way they wanted and we after them went away. It should be added of course lest we think Puritan justice totally ineffective that after everyone had sobered up so will push the prosecution of the revelers and saw them appropriately rebuked for their hard words about the colonial government. However Stern the judge might try to be in chastening rogues who threatened to overturn puritan
society. He was basically a neighborly fellow moving easily and sympathetically through the provincial village life of his day. He was a great a tender of the wedding of funerals of council meetings. I am I think the most constant tender of counsels he says complacently. A gregarious soul so will love to stop and chat with everybody when he visited England he went to see the Jewish burial place at Milan and while there he invited the sexton to share a pot of beer in a friendly chat remarking that he wished we might meet in heaven and drink a glass of beer together. We were then doing. But he is not one to be swept off his feet by new ideas in 1714. Nearly two centuries after Copernicus we find so objecting to one of Cotton Mather sermons in which the son was described as the center of our solar system. I think it inconvenient to assert such
problems. The judge reflects so well reveals his idiosyncrasies fully in these pages. His pride in his little jokes. I said I should be able to make no judgement on the Pippin's without a review which made the company line with his business like accounting for the cost of his many gifts. Sugar almonds three shillings a pound and his technique for forwarding his courtship by bringing Madam Winthrop uplifting books on Puritan doctrine. The high point of the diary is of course the account of soules courtship of Madame Winthrop which occurred when the judge was sixty eight years old. Courting widows was of course a favorite Puritan pastime and as you gather from school was an economic as well as a romantic strategy. After the death of his first wife so him self accorded five different widows at various times but the widow Winthrop was by all odds the most intriguing to him.
In the diary so alone Madam Winthrop certainly come to life more vividly than the characters in many novels. With so will we try to read the signs of Madam Winthrop's fluctuating emotions with him we suffer when she appears and unclean linen. A clear indication that she is no longer trying to impress the judge. And we suspect that all the time she is leading him along and that even if he were to buy a coach and wear a wig as she wishes him to do she would still prefer to stay in her own home. And we wonder too about the nature of those unmerited favors as your calls them of October 10th 17 20 the night that Madam Winthrop treated him with a great deal of courtesy why and marmalade. We know of course that her kisses were more refreshing to Sorel than the best Canary wine. As an epilogue to this puritan Idol we must record that Sewall survive Madam Winthrop served as pall bearer at her
funeral and noted in his diary will be much missed. Compared with other colonial diaries Sorrells has a concreteness of expression which is its distinctive literary quality. Pretty successfully He stared between the twin dangers confronting the direst routine notation which is I'm revealing and to elaborate amplification. I am thinking of such entries as this during the siege of Madame Winthrop asked her to acquit me of rudeness if I drew off her glove. And acquiring the reason. I told her it was great odds between handling a dead goat and a living lady got it off. So it was characteristically an outward looking man and sometimes his simple hearted notation of physical details succeeds magnificently in suggesting to us the essence of a situation. There is that meaningful sentence in the account of his last interview with Madame Winthrop.
The fire was come to one short brand besides the block which brand was set up in and at last it fell to pieces and no recruit was made. In fact the complete account of the last meeting of Sulu Madam Winthrop is one of the great moments in Puritan literature. Let me read it to you. Monday November 7 17 20. My son prayed in the old chamber. Our time had been taken up by son and daughter Cooper's visit so that I only read the 100 30th and one hundred forty third Psalm. It was on the account of my courtship. I went to Madame Winthrop and found her rocking her little Katy in the cradle. I excuse my coming so late near eight she set me an armchair and cushion and saw the cradle was between her armchair and mine. I
gave her the remnant of my omens. She did not eat of them as before but laid them away. I said I came to enquire whether she had altered her mind since Friday or remained of the same mind still. She said thereabouts. I told her I loved her and was so fond as to think that she loved me. She said I had a great respect for me. I told her I had made her an offer without asking any advice. She had so many to advise with that twas a hindrance. The fire was come to one short brand besides the block which brand was set up in and at last it fell to pieces and no recruit was made she gave me a glass of wine of wine. I think I repeated again that I would go home and be away all my rashness in making more haste than good speed. I would endeavor to contain myself and not go on to solicit her to do that which she could not consent to took leave of her. As
- Some American worthies
- Samuel Sewall, Puritan judge
- Producing Organization
- University of Chicago
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- A profile of Samuel Sewall, a Puritan judge involved with the Salem witch trials.
- Other Description
- Profiles of curious figures in the American past, based on diaries, journals and other books of personal record. The speaker is Robert E. Streeter, a professor of English at the University of Chicago.
- Broadcast Date
- Diaries, letters, and memoirs
- Media type
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Streeter, Robert E.
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-11-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Some American worthies; Samuel Sewall, Puritan judge,” 1955-04-03, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 7, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-tb0xv060.
- MLA: “Some American worthies; Samuel Sewall, Puritan judge.” 1955-04-03. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 7, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-tb0xv060>.
- APA: Some American worthies; Samuel Sewall, Puritan judge. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-tb0xv060