Jonathan Mitchell Sewall (1748–1808) was a lawyer and poet who achieved some notability, published as Jonathan M. Sewall.
He was born in Salem, Massachusetts, (or according to other sources, York in 1749) and adopted by his uncle, chief Justice Stephen S. Sewell, studied law and in 1774 became register of probate in Grafton County, New Hampshire. His ode, War and Washington was celebrated and sung in the revolutionary war. A volume of his poems was published in 1801. He died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on March 29, 1808.
'On the 29th of March, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, Esq., counsellor at law, in the sixty-first year of his age. The subject of this tribute to genius and eloquence was born in Salem, Massachusetts, A. D. 1748. His parents died in the early part of his life; and his excellent uncle, the honourable Stephen Sewall, at that time chief justice of the supreme court of Massachusetts, adopted and patronized the young orphan; and from his invaluable counsels he imbibed that firmness of moral principle, honour, and integrity, for which he was so eminently distinguished; and a love for the belles lettres and elegant literature, which afforded him the most rational, refined, and sublime pleasures. Mr. Sewall was apprenticed to mercantile business, but, some years before his time expired, he was attacked by a fever of the most malignant type, which reduced him so extremely low, that a voyage to a milder clime was recommended by his physicians, as the only means of recovering his health. He accordingly embarked for Spain; but although this salubrious climate produced a favourable effect on his system in general, yet the violence of the fever, and the necessary use of extremely powerful medicines, rendered him the future subject of exquisite nervous affections, and at times a prey to the keenest sufferings, which deprived his friends of the pleasure of his company, and the delight his fascinating and instructive conversation afforded. These discouragements, however did not preclude his attention to the study of the law. Soon after his return from abroad, he commenced his legal studies with his kinsman, Jonathan Sewall, Esq., an eminent lawyer in Boston; and finally completed them with the late learned and worthy John Pickering, Esq., of Portsmouth. By him he was introduced to the bar, where for many years, and till his declining health obliged him to retire, he was equally celebrated as a pleader of distinguished merit, and a gentleman of the strictest honour and integrity.
Elevated by ennobling and generous principles above the love of popular applause, he never courted office at the hands of the public; but that venerable body who framed the constitution of the state persuaded him to accept the office of secretary; and he discharged the duties of his station in such a manner as to merit and receive their entire approbation.
In one particular sphere, Mr. Sewall was destined to shine with unrivalled splendour. The humane, the fine sensibilities of his feeling bosom deplored the commission of crimes; while pity and compassion at the same moment impelled him to plead the cause of the criminal. Of all the capital causes he advocated (and they were numerous), he never lost one. Success always attended his generous and ardent efforts; while the compensation that he usually received was the tear of gratitude, when a jury pronounced the poor client “not guilty.” The widow, the fatherless, and the stranger also found in his talents a never-failing resource; for without even the hope of reward, he devoted his great abilities to their service.
As a patriot, Mr. Sewall was no less distinguished than as a lawyer. The love of his country was a living principle that glowed within his independent bosom: and while his impassioned eloquence might have roused the sons of America to worthiest deeds, his powers of melody and song have led the gallant soldier on to battle, and returned him from the field of victory triumphant in deathless verse. Attached to the illustrious Washington, from sentiments of veneration, respect, and love, the inhabitants of Portsmouth appointed Mr. Sewall to pronounce the funeral eulogy of the hero, the patriot, and the sage; and this admirable performance may be ranked among the first classical productions of the day; while the feeling, the pathos of the mournful orator melted the hoary veteran into tears, and impearled on the cheek of beauty the dew of sorrow.
But, above all, he that now rests in the silent tomb was a firm believer in the Christian religion, and bore honourable testimony in its cause. He delighted to explore the word of God, and his capacious and enlightened mind dwelt with rapture on the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of the Deity. His hopes of salvation firmly rested on the merits of his dear Redeemer. The divine truths of revelation cheered his soul in the season of adversity, and, under the pressure of bodily infirmity, enabled him to look forward, with joyful expectation, to another and better world. After a long retirement from the busy scenes of life, he was attacked by those afflicting nervous complaints which embittered so many of his days, with more than wonted violence, and after eighteen months’ patient and submissive suffering, he resigned his spirit without a groan or struggle.
May that Being who “tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” mercifully adapt his consolations to the particular situation of each individual of the bereaved and sorrowing family.
Virtues like those of a Sewall will long embalm the memory of departed worth: and while genius without sensibility lives unbeloved, and science without philanthropy dies unregretted, the fatherless, the widow, and the poor, gather round his grave; and even the prisoner, and the appointed for death, exclaim, There sleeps our warmest, truest friend.'