Tuesday, April 01, 2014

“The defiling and provoking nature of such a Foolish practice”

On 1 Apr 1708, Samuel Sewall (1652-1730), merchant, judge, and eventually chief justice of Massachusetts, 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.

(A version of this item appeared on Boston 1775 in April 2007.)

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