Judge Sewall’s Apology: The Salem Witch Trials and the Forming of a Conscience (London and New York: Fourth Estate, 2005)
Samuel Sewall (1652-1730) is known as one of the witch judges of Salem – the only one to say sorry for what had happened. He kept a diary, to which he confided the details of his life, his hopes, fears, even his dreams. As a result he is the most three-dimensional Puritan we have, the only one we can really see living and breathing, loving and fearing, eating and drinking, working and praying – and even, on one unfortunate occasion, relieving himself. He had a finger in every pie – apart from being a judge, he was a merchant, diplomat, politician, loving family man, anti-slavery agitator, advocate for the Indians, utopian theorist, feminist, poet, campaigner against the wearing of periwigs, and friend and confidant of people from every section of colonial New England society.
My biography of him explores a complex and endearing human being, who participated in an injustice that reflected an essentially medieval view of the world, and who, by the time he embarked on an extraordinary series of courtships late in his life, had taught himself how to be a modern man.
‘Richard Francis’s intelligent, funny and sympathetic biography . . . he creates an unforgettable human being.’ David Aaronovitch, Times
‘Francis’s biography offers the most balanced and richly contextualised account of the Salem trials currently in print.’ John Adamson, Daily Telegraph
‘The author decrypts his microscosm with skill, conjuring a recognizably moral man and the increasingly complex community in which he came of age.’ Washington Post
Chosen by Margaret Drabble as one of her three books of the year in the TLS at Christmas 2005
I shall be giving a lecture on the Salem witchcraft crisis at 7:00 pm on Thursday 18 November at Salem Old Town Hall, as the opening presentation in a series sponsored by the Institute for Public History at Gordon College.