I was in the book store yesterday and a new book caught my eye. It is titled "Judge Sewall's Apology. The Salem Witch Trials; the Forming of an American Conscience", by Richard Francis, 2005.
There is mention of Robert Walker twice in this book, on pages 30-31 and page 59. The information seems to be gleaned from The Diary of Judge Samuel Sewall, which I have reviewed in the past but do not own a copy of it myself.
It is page 59 in Francis’ book that is interesting to me. Some of this will sound familiar, but I wonder if the author has misinterpreted the entry in Sewall's diary that tells of the days prior to Robert Walker's death.
On page 59, Richard Francis writes:
"In May 1687, Sewall had recorded that the maypole in Charlestown, just north of Boston, had been cut down only to be replaced immediately by a bigger one, with a garland on top of it to emphasize the point. The next day he'd discussed the matter with Robert Walker, one of Boston's oldest settlers. He was the patriarch whose failure to acknowledge Sewall's entry into the congregation of the South Church of Boston had caused him spiritual terror, though the omission may simply have been caused by an incoming tide of slumber. Walker had suffered from narcolepsy for the past sixty years, and being a sort of Rip Van Winkle remembered all the more vividly a far-off Manchester where lavender grew in abundance (perhaps helped by the fact that he was currently taking lavender drops medicinally). Father Walker explained that the custom in that lavender-smelling England of his youth had been to dance about maypoles to the accompaniment of music, and he feared such customs might take hold in America."
Richard Francis makes no mention of Robert Walker's death 2 days later.
Brett Walker covers this on page 38 and 39 in his book "From England to Boston". However on page 38, under “Sickness and Death”, the entry from Sewall’s diary is incorrectly quoted. He omits part of two sentences and merges the other parts together. It is this section of Sewall’s diary that is interpreted on page 59 of Francis’ new book. Below is the entry in Sewall’s diary from my notes:
From the Diary of Judge Samuel Sewall, volume 1, p. 141"
“Friday, May 27, between 5. and 6. (1687)
Father Walker is taken with a Lethargy as was shutting up his shop to goe to their privat Meeting. His left side was chiefly struck with a kind of Palsy. His speech came to him something between 6. and 7. He told me there was plenty of Lavander in the Town where he was Prentice. He overheard some discourse about the May-Pole, and told what the manner was in England to dance about it with Music, and that 'twas to be feared such practices would be here. Told me he had been liable to be overtaken with Sleep for three-score years, and that 'twas his Burden which he something insisted on. Had a blistering plaster to his neck, Drops of Lavander in 's mouth and his neck chaf'd with Oly of Amber.
May. 28. Mr. Cook scrapes white Hellebore which he snuffs up and sneizes 30. times and yet wakes not nor opens his eyes. Hot wether.
May 29. Sabbath. Dame Walker desires me to pray with her husband, which I do and write two notes, one for our House and one for the Old. Sam. Carries the first. Between 12. and one Robert Walker dies, about a quarter after Twelve. He was a very good Man, and conversant among God's New England People from the beginning. About one, several great guns were fired.”
The question to ponder is, how do you interpret the following sentence: “Told me he had been liable to be overtaken with Sleep for three score years, and that ‘twas his Burden which he something insisted on.”
Apparently Richard Francis interprets it to mean that Robert Walker suffered from narcolepsy for the past 60 years (3 score years), and perhaps this was the reason that Robert Walker failed to acknowledge Sewall’s entry into the church 10 years earlier.
Or, does it mean that Robert Walker, just 2 days before death, simply feels so poorly that he says he could be overtaken with sleep for 3 score years, and proceeded to do just that – go into a sleep from which he never awakened. I guess I can see it both ways. In modern language, perhaps Robert Walker simply said, “I’m so tired I feel like I could go to sleep for 60 years”, and perhaps Sewall was just reporting that “Robert Walker said he felt so poorly that he could be overtaken with sleep for 60 years”.
Minor details, but it’s fun to think about. Plus, it’s nice to know that Robert Walker is in bookstores right now, nationwide!
Submitted by Tim Walker