Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Jonathan Mitchel Sewall

(1748-1808)
New Hampshire

"A lawyer of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, popular in his own day as a verse-writer. His verse is for the most part forgotten, but his song, War and Washington, is yet remembered . . . ." [Oscar Fay Adams, A Dictionary of American Authors 337 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899)]

"Sewall, Jonathan Mitchell . . . lawyer and occasional poet, was born in Salem, Mass., and reared in Portsmouth, N.H. He was a grandnephew of Samuel Sewall the diarist. His parents, Mitchell and Elizabeth (Prince) Sewall, died during his early childhood and he was adopted by a bachelor uncle, Stephen Sewall, chief justice of Massachusetts, who died when Jonathan was twelve years old. Young Sewall is reputed to have been a student at Harvard, although there are no official records of this or any other schooling. After clerking in a store, he studied law in a Portsmouth office, was admitted to the bar, and appointed register of probate for Grafton County, N.H, but it is not known that he ever took office.

He practiced law in Portsmouth until his death and took a prominent part in the civic and literary life of the town. He became well-know as a Revolutionary War poet, and besides achieving a local reputation for appropriate epitaphs, composed a number of laudatory poems to Washington—notably, his Eulogy on the Late General Washington, published in 1800." [Stanley J. Kunitz & Howard Haycraft (eds.), American Authors 1600-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of American Literature 683 (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1938)]

Sewall studied law under Judge John Pickering of Portsmouth. He is reputed to have been "an extremely modest man, and many of his writings were printed anonymously. Principal among these anonymous productions are a Fourth of July oration, delivered in Portsmouth in 1788, and later printed at the request of the citizens (this was the first Independence Day oration delivered at Portsmouth); and 'The Versification of Washington Farewell Address,' published in 1798. He wrote many epigrams, epilogues, and poems of a political cast, besides his patriotic lyrics. He also wrote paraphrases of Ossian and an 'Eulogy on George Washington,' delivered at St. John's Church, Portsmouth, Dec. 31, 1799. His His 'Miscellaneous Poems with Specimens from the Author's Manuscript Version of the Poems of Ossian,' was published in 1801. He was a noted wit and much sought after for his social qualities. It is said that his last years were darkened by intemperance. In politics he was a federalist. Nothing can be learned of his immediate family, except that a daughter survived him. He died at Portsmouth, N.H., Mar. 29, 1808." [The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography 30 (New York: James T. White & Co., 1901)(vol.2)]

[See also, Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, in Charles H. Bell, The Bench and Bar of New Hampshire 629-630 (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1884)(1893); Samuel Kettell, Specimens of Ameircan Poetry with Critical and Biographical Notices 198-200 (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1829)(vol. 1)(online text)]

[See also: Sidney Perley, The Poets of Essex County, Massachusetts 140-143 (Salem, Massachusetts: Sidney Perley, 1889) [online text]

Poetry

Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, Verses occasioned by reading the answer of the president of the United-States, to the House of Representatives, requesting certain papers relative to the treaty with Great-Britain (Boston: [s.n.]: Printed in the year 1797)

___________________, A Versification of President Washington's Excellent Farewell-Address, to the Citizens of the United States (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Printed and sold by Charles Peirce, at the Columbian bookstore, no.5, Daniel-Street, 1798)

__________________, Miscellaneous Poems: With Several Specimens from the Author's Manuscript Version of the Poems of Ossian (Portsmouth: William Treadwell, & Co., 1801) [online text]

Songs

Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, "Gen. Washington: a new favourite song, at the American camp: To the tune of the British grenadiers (United States: s.n., 1776?)(1 sheet)("A New song: to the tune of "British grenadiers." Boston: Sold [by Thomas and John Fleet] at the Bible and Heart in Cornhill, [1776])(1 braodside)("A favorite song at the Columbian Camp, in the late glorious and victorious struggle for liberty," Printed and sold at the Printing Office in Salem: by Ezekiel Russell, 1776)(broadside)

___________________, "Songs for the celebration of American independence, 1806," (1806)(1 sheet)

Orations

Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, An Oration, delivered at Portsmouth, New-Hampshire, on the fourth of Uly, 1788: being the anniversary of American independence. / By one of the inhabitants (Portsmouth [N.H.]: Printed by George Jerry Osborne, for the subscribers, 1788)

__________________, Eulogy on the Late General Washington (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Printed by William Treadwell, 1800)("pronounced at St. John's Church, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, 31st December, 1799. At the request of the inhabitants")

Writings

Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, A Parody on Some of the Most Striking Passages in a Late Pamphlet, entitled "A Letter to a Federalist" (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Printed at the Oracle Press, 1805)(Vernon H. Quincey, esq. [pseud.])

Bibliography

A.M. Payson & A. Laighton, The Poets of Portsmouth, Port Folio (June 25, 1808)