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.