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From the Diary of Samuel Sewall 24 June 1700

June 24th was quite a day for Judge Samuel Sewall. Too many only recall his name in connection with the Salem Witch Trials. Sewall’s diary is packed full of essential and interesting colonial history.

Samuel Sewall, abolition, The Selling of Joseph, salem witch judge

Samuel Sewall, author, The Selling of Joseph

Within entries relating to 24 June, his diary addresses not only the ship Charles, John Quelch, and the Trial of the Pirates, but also his publication of the seminal American abolitionist tract, The Selling of Joseph, on 24 June 1700.

Sewall’s diary indicates that, following a funeral, his thoughts turned to the issue of slavery. “Having been long and much dissatisfied,” he writes,

“With the Trade of fetching Negros from Guinea; at last I had a strong Inclination to Write something about it; but it wore off. At last-reading [Paul Bayne’s commentary on the Ephesians] about servants, who mentions Blackamoors; I began to be uneasy that I had so long neglected doing any thing. When I was thus thinking, in came Brother Belknap to shew me a Petition he intended to present to the General Court for the freeing of a Negro and his wife, who were unjustly held in Bondage.

“And there is a Motion by a Boston Committee to get a Law that all Importers of Negros shall pay 40s per head, to discourage the bringing of them. And Mr. C. Mather resolves to publish a sheet to exhort Masters to labour their Conversion. Which makes me hope that I was call’d of God to Write this Apology for them; Let his Blessing accompany the same.”

The Selling of Joseph clearly reveals Sewall’s mounting abhorrence of the slave trade. Citing passages from the Bible, he states his case; in the subsequent section of the tract, judge Sewall raises, and answers, hypothetical objections to his verdict condemning the practice of slavery.

Answering the objections, he inadvertently attests the prejudices of his era. Sewall was enlightened relative to his time, bold enough to condemn slavery, but the answers to his objections betray him as, regrettably, still a racist. One could argue that, just perhaps, Sewall, after first offering Biblical proof of the evils of slavery, proceeded to offer more practical, secular proofs of those evils, adopting something of the contemptible thought processes of the day solely for the sake of exposing their weakness and refuting them. Unfortunately, the supposition rings hollow, as soon as Sewall notes, “they can never embody with us, and grow up into orderly Families, to the Peopling of the Land.”

Although he condemned slave holders and traders, he would rather not have Blacks in Boston. Although an abolitionist, he remained a segregationist.

Nevertheless, The Selling of Joseph represents an essential element in the study of the abolitionist movements on US soil.

Sewall’s tract was, in part, inspired by a slave, Adam, who was held by John Saffin, one of Sewall’s legal colleagues in Boston and, like Sewall, a respected merchant. Unlike Sewall, Saffin trafficked in slaves; particularly galling to Sewall, Saffin reneged on a deal to manumit Adam. Sewall and Saffin argued over the issue. Sewall criticized Saffin in private, but Saffin went public and issued his defense of slavery in his A Brief Candid Answer to a Late Printed Sheet Entitled, The Selling of Joseph in 1701. The “Sewall-Saffin Dialog” represents the roots of the antebellum slavery debates in America.

The Selling of Joseph gets right to its point. Here is an excerpt, reformatted for enhanced web readability, but with few further textual alterations.

Samuel Sewall, abolition, The Selling of Joseph, salem witch judge Illustration by Dore

Samuel Sewall, author, The Selling of Joseph. Illustration by Dore

FORASMUCH as Liberty is in real value next unto Life: None ought to part with it themselves, or deprive others of it, but upon most mature Consideration.

The Numerousness of Slaves at this day in the Province, and the Uneasiness of them under their Slavery, hath put many upon thinking whether the Foundation of it be firmly and well laid; so as to sustain the Vast Weight that is built upon it.
It is most certain that all Men, as they are the Sons of Adam, are Coheirs; and have equal Right unto Liberty, and all other outward Comforts of Life.

GOD hath given the Earth [with all its Commodities] unto the Sons of Adam, Psal 115. 16. And hath made of One Blood, all Nations of Men, for to dwell on all the face of the Earth; and hath determined the Times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation: That they should seek the Lord. Forasmuch then as we are the Offspring of GOD &c. Act 17.26, 27, 29.

Now although the Title given by the last ADAM, doth infinitely better Mens Estates, respecting GOD and themselves; and grants them a most beneficial and inviolable Lease under the Broad Seal of Heaven, who were before only Tenants at Will: Yet through the Indulgence of GOD to our First Parents after the Fall, the outward Estate of all and every of the Children, remains the same, as to one another. So that Originally, and Naturally, there is no such thing as Slavery.

Joseph was rightfully no more a Slave to his Brethren, then they were to him: and they had no more Authority to Sell him, than they had to Slay him. And if they had nothing to do to Sell him; the Ishmaelites bargaining with them, and paying down Twenty pieces of Silver, could not make a Title. Neither could Potiphar have any better Interest in him than the Ishmaelites had. Gen. 37. 20, 27, 28.

For he that shall in this case plead Alteration of Property, seems to have forfeited a great part of his own claim to Humanity.

There is no proportion between Twenty Pieces of Silver, and LIBERTY. The Commodity it self is the Claimer. If Arabian Gold be imported in any quantities, most are afraid to meddle with it, though they might have it at easy rates; lest if it should have been wrongfully taken from the Owners, it should kindle a fire to the Consumption of their whole Estate.

’Tis pity there should be more Caution used in buying a Horse, or a little lifeless dust; than there is in purchasing Men and Women : Whenas they are the Offspring of GOD, and their Liberty is,

Auro pretiosior Omni.

And seeing GOD hath said, He that Stealeth a Man and Selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to Death. Exod. 12.16.

This Law being of Everlasting Equity, wherein Man Stealing is ranked amongst the most atrocious of Capital Crimes : What louder Cry can there be made of the Celebrated Warning,

Caveat Emptor !


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When he wasn’t busy giving speeches celebrating the opening of the Erie Canal, classifying fish, or founding colleges, polymath Samuel Mitchell, a senator from New York, spent time in the field in which he received University training: medicine.

Samuel Mitchell was graduated from Scotland’s prestigious University of Edinburgh. Among virtually innumerable pursuits, he saw patients, at least early in his career, but his lasting recognition as a man of medicine has more to do with research than practice, as attested by his contributions to the development of anesthesiology, or his founding of The Medical Repository, the first medical journal first published in the United States.

Samuel Latham MitchellMitchell was routinely consulted on a wide range of matters of science. The groundbreaking pamphlet, The Surprising Case of Rachel Baker, Who Prays and Preaches in her Sleep, finds the eminent Samuel Mitchell on a panel of five physicians called as informal expert witnesses to Baker’s somnambulist sermons.

Although the stenographer Mais’ role in writing the book outweighed that of Mitchell, who contributed the introduction, the publication of Baker’s performance positions Mitchell as a bit player in a groundbreaking, and trendsetting, piece of work. Mitchell’s primary role was to lend credence to the recording of the events, and only secondarily, if appropriate, reflect upon the substance of the events, or contribute medical diagnosis.

That being said, Mitchell, who never wasted an opportunity to expound- and usually at some length- wrote an introduction to the book that “evinced psychological views of original combination,” per the New York Journal of Medicine, and drew parallels between Baker’s symptoms and those of one suffering from epilepsy or hysteria. He concluded that Baker’s state of consciousness was between waking and sleep.

Mitchell studied neither somnambulism nor multiple personality disorder after observing Baker in 1814. As the century rolled on, however, somnambulism, more specifically in the context of the trance speakers and writers, would come to play a substantial role in popular culture, science and, perhaps most importantly, the women’s movement and other aspects of political reform. The psychology of multiple personality disorder continues to evolve.

The Surprising Case of Rachel Baker, Who Prays and Preaches in her Sleep is important as an early contribution to both fields.

See also A Chaos of Knowledge, Samuel Latham Mitchell

 

For further reading:

Mais, Charles and Samuel Mitchill. The Surprising Case Of Rachel Baker, Who Prays And Preaches In Her Sleep: With Specimens Of Her Extraordinary Performances Taken Down Accurately In Short Hand At The Time …: The Whole Authenticated By The Most Respectable Testimony Of Living Witnesses.

 

Rieber, Robert W. The Bifurcation of the Self: the History and Theory of Disassociation and its Disorders.

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“Very early I knew that the only object in life was to grow.” – Margaret Fuller

  

 Seminal American feminist and influential Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller was born May 23, 1810, in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. 

Daguerreotype of Margaret Fuller, feminist, transcendentalist

Margaret Fuller

By her mid-twenties, Fuller had developed a list of friends and collaborators that reads like a Who’s Who of the United States in the early to mid nineteenth century, covering Thoreau, Emerson, Horace Greeley, and Bronson Alcott.  

Intellectually aggressive, persuasive and charismatic, Fuller’s trailblazing spirit established her among the pantheon of notable teachers, thinkers, and writers of her era. She forced Harvard University to evolve, and grant her access to the library stacks. Attuned to inequality and social injustices, Fuller relentlessly exposed and addressed aspects of culture and society in deep need of reform. Passionate in support of women’s suffrage and rights to an education, she was just as tenacious a proponent of the abolition of slavery and prison reform.  

Following her tenure replacing Elizabeth Peabody as a teacher at Boston’s Temple School, organized by Bronson Alcott, whose “controversial” pedagogical methods were steeped in the belief that all children were cable of learning well, and responded better to dialog rather than rote learning, Fuller initiated a series of philosophy workshops for women, conducted in the Socratic style.  

Fuller referred to these neo-Platonic workshops as “Conversations.” Enormously popular among educators, authors, the wives of politicians, and future luminaries of the women’s civil rights movement, the series ran for five years, during which she edited Emerson’s Transcendentalist periodical, The Dial. Her Conversations provided an unprecedented forum for women to discuss politics, morality, philosophy, and theories of social justice, topics of conversations to which women had not been previously invited as active participants.  

Margaret Fuller’s groundbreaking Feminist study, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, represents an embellished record of one of her Conversations.  

Just forty years after her birth in May 1810, Margaret Fuller drowned on June 19, 1850, with her husband and young son, following a shipwreck off the coast of Fire Island, New York.  

For Further Reading:  

Dickenson, Donna. Margaret Fuller: Writing a Woman’s Life.  

Fuller, Margaret. Woman in the Nineteenth Century.  

Von Mehren, Joan. Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller.

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