Samuel Sewall was a remarkable man. Possessed of perhaps the keenest legal mind in his day in late 17th and early 18th century Massachusetts, he would rise to be Chief Justice of Massachusetts. He would write the first anti-slavery tract in the colonies, The Selling of Joseph. For 56 years he kept a diary which provides insight into the Puritan mind in a time of transition. As a junior magistrate, he participated in the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. He was the only judge to repent of his role in that debacle, and he did so in 1697 when he publicly apologized:
Samuel Sewall, sensible of the reiterated strokes of God upon himself and family, and being sensible that as to the guilt contracted upon the opening of the late Commission of Oyer and Terminer at Salem, he is, upon many accounts, more concerned than any that he knows of, desires to take the blame and shame of it, asking pardon of men, and especially desiring prayers that God, who has unlimited authority, would pardon that sin and all his other sins, personal and relative. And according to His infinite benignity and sovereignty, not visit the sin of him or of any other, upon himself or any of his, nor upon the land. But that he would prowerfully defend him against all the temptations to sin for the future, and vouchsafe him the efficacious, saving conduct of His Word and Spirit.
It is hard for most people to admit error; doubly hard for those in public life. In this political season it is appropriate to remember someone who had the honesty and courage to admit that he was wrong.