Date of this Version
SAMUEL SEWALL (1652-1730) is best remembered as a colonial judge during the Salem Witchcraft trials, as a significant diarist, and as an ardent millenarian, who published a number of eschatological tracts on his favorite obsession. Apart from his political achievements in the colonial judicature, Sewall published a number of significant works. The Selling of Joseph (1700) is one of the earliest abolitionist documents in American history. His famous Diary of Samuel Sewall, 1674-1729 (1878-82) is a Puritan document par excellence and a window on a crucial period in the development of the colony. His millenarian tract Proposals Touching the Accomplishment of Prophesies Humbly Offered (1713) highlights Sewall’s eschatological theories amplified in his earlier Phænomena quædam Apocalyptica . . . Or, some few Lines towards a description of the New Heaven (1697, second ed. 1727). Reprinted here in an online electronic text edition (based on an original copy held by the American Antiquarian Society), Phænomena is something of an exegetical conundrum that encapsulates the most significant eschatological theories of the day. Writing in defense of America’s place in Christ’s cosmography of the millennium, Sewall responds to Joseph Mede’s legerdemain denigration of the New World as the location of Hell. More significantly, Sewall writes the equivalent of an American martyrology, advocates the conversion of the Indians as remnants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, and reaffirms America’s future place in Christ’s millennial kingdom, at a time when the Mathers and many of their colleagues looked toward Europe and the Holy Land for the fulfillment of their fondest hopes. Often misunderstood, Phænomena illustrates the intricate connection between prophetic exegesis and New England politics, between eschatological speculations and self-representation and policies toward the Indian populations of North America.