SALEM WITCH JUDGE: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall, Eve LaPlante, Harper One, 2008,$14.95/C$16.25, pb, 352pp. 978-0-06-085960-2
In 1692 Samuel Sewall, 44, was one of the nine judges presiding over the Salem Witch Trials. Eve Laplante, a direct descendent of Sewall, states her purpose in writing this biography was to uncover the truths and restore Sewall to the hero she believes he was.
Her bibliography shows extensive research including Sewall’s daily journals. He was devoutly religious and struggled with his sense of right versus wrong during and after the trial. After five years he was compelled to repent for his role in condemning twenty witches to death by hanging based on spectral evidence.
Sewall was the only judge to ever take any responsibility. His admission was just the beginning of what would be a lifetime of self-mortification and praying to God for his restoration to good grace. Sewall spent his life working for the rights of women, blacks and Native Americans. His actions demonstrated his courageous nature and sense of morality. His relationship with God that would be the most important part of his life.
LaPlante tells her history in a fluid narrative style. This is a gripping account of a conflicted man; an essential biography for understanding the allure of the Salem Witch Trials.