978-0-00-716362-5 / 9780007163625

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





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About the book:

The Salem witch hunt of 1692 has entered our vocabulary as the very essence of injustice. Biographer and novelist Richard Francis looks at the familiar drama with fresh eyes, grasping the true significance of this cataclysm through the personal story of Samuel Sewall, New England Puritan, Salem trial judge, antislavery agitator, defender of Native American rights, utopian theorist, campaigner against periwigs, family man, gallant wooer.

Sewall's life encompassed the tensions that faced the second-generation colonists, caught between the staunch conservatism of the Puritans and the possibilities their new world offered. Everywhere there was conflict, schism, and violence; the new Americans were pitted against the Native Americans, whose pagan ways terrified them, and a hostile mother country intent on imposing her control over the colony. Out of the struggle to maintain unity emerged the forces that drove the Salem tragedy. For the first time, Francis reveals the nature and scale of the threat the authorities believed they were facing.

Five guilt-wracked years after pronouncing judgment at the trials, Sewall walked into his church in Boston and recanted the guilty verdicts, praying for forgiveness. This extraordinary act not only proved a turning point for Sewall, it marked the moment when modern American values and attitudes came into being -- the shift from an almost medieval and allegorical view of good and evil to a respect for the mysteries of the human heart.

Drawing on Sewall's copious diaries, Francis enables us to see the early colonists not as grim ideologues but as flesh and blood idealists, striving for a new society while coming to terms with the desires and imperfections of ordinary life. Through this unsung hero of conscience, we gain access to the first lost frontier of the New World.

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