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Confessions of a Harvard-Trained Witch Hunter: An Analysis of Judge Samuel Sewall's Confession of his Role in the Salem Witch Trials G. Joseph Gatis
To Sewall, every moral and legal issue was either white or black, right or wrong. Sewall approached his religious book, the Bible, with far more reverence than a corporate attorney approaches statutes on corporate law. A corporate attorney approaches statutes to interpret them in the light most favorable to his or her client; Sewall approached his religious statute book with one hermeneutic objective—to find the one “correct” interpretation. In this spirit, Sewall lays down the law from Acts 17:26-29: And hath made of one blood, all nations of men, for to dwell in all the face of the earth, and hath determined the time before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation: that they should seek the Lord. Sewall compares the care that the colonists would exercise in buying and selling a horse with the care that some colonists bought slaves: Tis pity there should be more caution used in buying a horse than there is in purchasing men and women, whereas they are the offspring of God and their liberty is from God.”20
Sewall forcefully warns the colonists that his religious book of legal statutes is of everlasting equity. Accordingly, Sewall sardonically warns the colonists, “caveat emptor.”21 Capital punishment underscores the atrocity of kidnapping and slavery. These Ethiopians, as black as they are, seeing they are the sons and daughters of the first Adam, the brethren and sisters of the last of Adam, and the offspring of God, they ought to be treated with a respect agreeable.22 Such advocacy significantly repelled the tide in Massachusetts away from the institutionalization of slavery.
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