The Diary of Samuel Sewall

Recently, on a trip to pick up larger historical items (post about that coming soon), a few of our group members happened upon a fun book shop. As many historians are aware, book shops call to you in a way that cannot be denied. Of course we were impelled to enter, and purchase many many books. Among these books was a republication of Samuel Sewall’s Diary, which can be found as an online version here:

Samuel Sewall was an interesting man. His diary includes accounts of the witchcraft trials, pirate trials, day to day comings and goings, politics religion and more. It is a glimpse into the late 17th and early 18th century in New England. When it is put alongside other such diaries, court records and other New England documentation, we can start seeing a true picture of the era.

Most interesting is in accounting of the issues related to Captain William Kidd. As many may know, he was hung in 1701 for the murder of a fellow shipmate, after throwing a steel wrapped firkin at him in a fit of anger. Kidd was named as a pirate to protect the crown’s reputation, even though none of which he did was considered to be “piratical” during the time, since he had permission from the crown, Chencellow Somers, many nobelman and Bellomont. Sewall mentions Kidd’s court proceedings, and his treasure

“Wednesday, Feb 28. We ship off the Iron chest of Gold, Pearls &c., 40 Bails of East-India Goods, 13 hogsheads, chests and case, one Negro Man and Venturyo Resail, an East Indian born at Ceilon.”

Feb 16th is when Kidd was “set on board” with a warrant dated February 13th. Bellomont, who was the governor of the Massachussetts colony at the time, was also one of the original owner’s of Kidd’s vessel. Bellomont threw Kidd “under the bus” (Or into the gibbet in this case) when Kidd unknowingly attacked one of the East India Trading Company vessels. Bellomont wrote on Nov 30th, 1699 “These pirates I have in gaol make me very uneasy for fear they should escape. I would give 100 pounds they were all in Newgate”. It is telling that a man who helped finance the mission of Kidd would label him now as such a scary individual. Bellomont did not live to see Kidd’s execution. He died due to side effects from gout, the rich man’s disease.

There is of course much more that can be written about Kidd and the drama of his case. In fact whole books have been written about him. Sewall’s diary is a good starting place as a primary source and records of Bellomont and Kidd can be found at many historic registers.

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