Salem Witch Judge
HarperOne, Nov 2008, $14.95
In 1692, magistrate Samuel Sewall sat on the Massachusetts Court along with other zealous judges hosting the trials of hundreds accused of witchcraft by their neighbors. He convicted over thirty people of the crime and oversaw the execution of twenty by hanging and one by large stones pressing down on him. Some of the executed were friends of the presiding judge. Five years later, removed from the frenzy and reflecting what he and others wrought, Samuel repented taking responsibly for the “shame and blame” and grief he caused. No other judge showed even the slightest remorse.
Eve LaPlante provides a great biography of Judge Swell, who like her previous nonfiction (see AMERICAN JEZEBEL: THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF ANNE HUTCHINSON, THE WOMAN WHO DEFIED THE PURITANS) is apparently an ancestor of the author. Combining diaries by Judge Sewell with anecdotes by her Aunt Charlotte, Ms. LaPlante provides a deep gripping description of a deeply religious Puritan who realized looking back at the atrocities that fundamental extremism led to unnecessary deaths; basically governmental theocracy sanctioned murder. A doting father and husband, he spent the rest of his life following his public confession atoning for what he felt were sins he committed as he wrote papers demanding equality, justice and freedom for everyone even Indians, women, and slaves. This is a timely well written look at the one SALEM WITCH JUDGE who regretted his role in the Salem witch-hunt.