Judge Sewall's Apology: The Salem Witch Trials and the Forming of the American Conscience

Richard Francis, Author . Fourth Estate $25.95 (412p) ISBN 978-0-00-716362-5

In this lively chronicle, historian Francis (Transcendental Utopias ) offers a compelling portrait of the decline of Puritan ways in the late 17th century and the ascent of a secular spirit in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although devout, Samuel Sewall (1652–1730) turned away from an early religious vocation to pursue a career in public office and married into the colony's aristocracy. He found himself catapulted into the limelight as one of nine judges who condemned the alleged witches of Salem in 1692. Francis calls this the turning point in Sewall's life and work. Never convinced that the condemned women were guilty, Sewall felt remorse; in 1697 he walked into a Boston church and offered a public apology, the only one of the three judges to do so. As a result, he was rebuffed by his social circle. Yet, according to Francis, Sewall's courage is magnified by his taking a stand he knew would result in ostracism. In his later years, Sewall wrote tracts opposing the colonists' treatment of Indians and slaves. Francis beautifully captures not only Sewall's personality and significance but also the shifting times in which he lived, when it was becoming no longer possible to "see the world as a simple allegorical struggle between... good and evil." B&w illus. Agent, Caroline Dawnay at PFD, U.K. (Aug. 16)

Reviewed on: 06/13/2005
Release date: 08/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 412 pages - 978-0-00-716363-2
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-1-84115-677-4
Hardcover - 412 pages - 978-1-84115-676-7
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