J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Judge Sewall Issues Injunctions

This week I had the good fortune to receive a gift of The Diary of Samuel Sewall (1652-1730), merchant, judge, and eventually chief justice of Massachusetts. He was an important figure in the transition from a Puritan colony to a royal province with a less assured sense of mission. Sewall was also one of the first Americans to argue against the established system of slavery, with his tract The Selling of Joseph.

I thought it was therefore most timely to quote Judge Sewall on an issue that’s more important today than ever. On 1 April 1708 he wrote to Boston schoolmasters Ezekiel Cheever and Nathaniel Williams:

What an abuse of precious Time; what a Profanation! . . . I have heard a child of Six years old say within these 2 or 3 days; That one must tell a man his Shoes were unbuckled (when they were indeed buckled) and then he would stoop down to buckle them; and then he was an April Fool. . . . Insinuate into your Scholars, the defiling and provoking nature of such a Foolish practice; and take them off from it.
Eleven years later this topic still weighed on Sewall’s mind, and in his diary recorded a lecture to his fourteen-year-old grandson and a younger boarder:
In the morning I dehorted Sam. Hirst and Grindal Rawson from playing Idle Tricks because ’twas first of April; They were the biggest fools that did so.
One starts to sense that someone had once told Judge Sewall that his shoes were unbuckled when they were in fact buckled.

1 comment:

David Sewall said...

Thank you for posting this. I always wondered where I got my sober, unappreciating views towards the April Fools syndrome - now I know. After reading my Uncle Sam's injunction, I think maybe I would have respectfully urged him to lighten up just a little. But those were sterner times.