Stephen Sewall

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Stephen Sewall (December 14, 1702 – September 10, 1760) was a judge in colonial Massachusetts. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, he was the son of Stephen Sewall, the clerk of court at the Salem witchcraft trials, and a nephew of Chief Justice Samuel Sewall, who presided at the witchcraft trials. He was the uncle of lawyer Jonathan Sewall.

Although never formally trained as a lawyer or admitted to the bar, he was appointed as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court in the colony. He also served on the Massachusetts Governor's Council, which was then the upper house of the Massachusetts General Court. He was generally respected by both friends (the "court party") and foes (the "popular party") of royal government.

Sewall's death in Boston in 1760 was followed by controversy. James Otis, Jr. believed that his father, James Otis, Sr., had been promised the office of chief justice, but Governor Francis Bernard appointed Crown supporter Thomas Hutchinson instead, creating a political rift that would have important implications in the development of the American Revolution. While Sewall had expressed doubts about the legality of writs of assistance, which were controversial general search warrants, Hutchinson authorized them—over the objections of Otis—in the famous "writs of assistance case" of 1761.


Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Graves
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature
Succeeded by
Chambers Russell
Preceded by
Paul Dudley
Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature
Succeeded by
Thomas Hutchinson