Salem Witch Judge, by LaPlante, Eve
- ISBN: 9780060859602 | 0060859601
- Cover: Paperback
The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall
I Have Signed Against the Lord
At four in the morning on Monday, December 21, 1685, on the second floor of one of Boston's largest houses, the "faint and moaning noise" of a two-week-old baby forced a father from his warm bed. Wishing to disturb neither his wife nor his child's fitful sleep, he knelt beside the cradle. A bitter wind rattled the shuttered windowpanes of the bedchamber. Outside, snow blanketed the peninsula known to the settlers as Shawmut, an English corruption of an Algonquian word for "he goes by boat."
Samuel Sewall, a thirty-three-year-old public official, bowed his head over his swaddled baby. The father wore a loose nightshirt. His shoulder-length hair was starting to thin at the crown. In a voice hardly audible, Samuel begged the Lord to extend his grace and favor unto his "weak and sick servant," baby Henry. Reminding God that he loves not only the faithful but also their seed—"not only the sheep of Christ but even the tender lambs"—Samuel asked God "by thine Holy Spirit" to make good his gracious covenant with Sewall's "poor little son."
Samuel Sewall was used to talking freely with God. He had spent seven years at Harvard College studying for the ministry. He knew much of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, in both ancient and modern languages, from memory and was familiar with numerous devotional manuals. The words flowed, but still his feeble child moaned.
As Samuel prayed the sun rose as it always did over the Atlantic Ocean, the harbor islands, and the cosseted town. Noting the dawn, Samuel determined to seek help. He dressed quickly and descended the stairs to find a manservant to summon the midwife. Goodwife Elizabeth Weeden, who had attended at all his children's births, soon arrived to examine the baby. As news of the child's precarious state spread across town, a circle of prayer made up mostly of female friends and relatives grew inside the house.
Sewall's wife, Hannah, who was twenty-seven, remained in their bed, where she had spent most of the fortnight since her sixth childbirth. Their firstborn, Johnny, had died seven years before at the age of seventeen months, but their subsequent five children had so far survived. This was a great blessing in a world in which roughly one in two children did not live to see their fifth birthdays.
Hannah Sewall was not by nature frail. When a horse that she and Samuel were riding together fell down abruptly on Roxbury Neck, she scrambled off, brushed the dust from her skirts, and gamely remounted the horse to continue the trip. Only six months before this lying-in, on June 20, Hannah rode pillion behind her husband for four miles from Shawmut Peninsula to Dorchester to visit her friend Esther Flint. After dining on just-picked cherries and raspberries, she and Esther "took the air" in the Flints' orchard overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, leaving Samuel alone in "Mr. [Reverend Josiah] Flint's study reading Calvin on the Psalms." John Calvin (15091564), the great theologian of Puritanism, adored the psalms, the Old Testament songs in praise of God, which were essential to Puritan worship. Samuel shared with his spiritual forebear a love of religious music. He sang a psalm or two daily, at home by himself or with his family, with friends in his Bible study group, or at church with the entire congregation, an experience that he likened to "an introduction to our singing with the choir above."
The bedchamber in which Hannah Sewall spent her lying-in was in her childhood home, built by her grandfather, the blacksmith Robert Hull, a half century before. Timber framed in oak and likely covered with weatherboards, it had a central chimney and a thatched roof. The inside walls were either plastered or covered with wide, upright pine boards. The ground floor contained two large halls and a kitchen, which extended to one side beneath a lean-to roof, with a long hearth. The second floor had numerous bedchambers and closets. Beneath the rafters the loft provided more sleeping space. With additions and improvements made by Hannah's father and husband, the house was more than sufficiently large to accommodate the Sewall and Hull families and their many servants and frequent houseguests. It occupied the southern corner of Washington and Summer streets in modern Boston that later hosted two twentieth-century department stores, first Jordan Marsh and then Macy's. The ten thousand shoppers daily who visit Filene's Basement in Boston's Downtown Crossing enter a space that was once the cellar of Sewall's mansion.
That house, on the town's main street, lay a block east of Boston Common and three blocks south of the central market square, the First Church of Christ in Boston, and the governmental Town House. An iron fence surrounded Samuel's land on the large, then-undivided block east of Washington Street (then Cornhill Road) between Summer and Bedford (then Pond) Streets. The mansion's main gate was on Cornhill, but many of its rear and side windows afforded fine views of Boston Harbor. The house was furnished with oak and mahogany objects imported from England by Robert Hull and Edmund Quincy, fabrics from England and the Far East, and silver vases, beakers, platters, and even chamber pots. Outside there was a kitchen garden full of herbs as well as flower gardens, plots of vegetables, and orchards of apples and pears that Samuel tended with the help of a tenant farmer. In the distance, groves of elm and walnut trees shaded Wheeler's Pond, which no longer exists. There were stables, a coach house, small abodes for the tenant farmer and some of the family's servants, and a building containing the colonial treasury built three decades earlier when Hannah's father became the colony's mint master. Hannah's mother, Judith Quincy Hull, a widow of fifty-nine, lived with the family and shared the management of the household with Hannah. A nanny and servants tended seven-year-old Samuel Jr.; five-year-old Hannah; Elizabeth ("Betty"), who was nearly four; and seventeen-month-old Hull, who had suffered from "convulsion fits" since March.Salem Witch Judge
The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall. Copyright © by Eve LaPlante. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall by Eve LaPlante
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.