Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

John Saffin

Massachusetts & Rhode Island

"John Saffin (1632-1710) was born in 1632 in Devonshire, England. He was the eldest son of Simon Saffin of Exeter and Grace Garret of Barnstable, England. Saffin emigrated to America as a youngster and by 1643 he was living in Scituate, Massachusetts. By the age of 21, Saffin was elected to be a selectman in Scituate, which meant that he was a part of the board of town officers chosen annually to manage the community's local affairs. On 2 December 1658, he married his first wife, Martha Willett of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Martha was the daughter of Thomas Willett, a magistrate of Plymouth and the first mayor of New York. John and Martha were married for twenty years and had eight children, but only one survived past childhood: John (1659-1661), John II (b. 1662), Thomas (1664-1687), Simon (b. 1666), Josiah (b. 1668), Joseph (b. 1670), Benjamin (b. 1672), Joseph II (b. 1676). Martha died in 1678 and John often lamented her loss in his writings.

Following the death of his first wife, Saffin was made a judge of the Supreme Court in Boston and became prominent in the city's affairs. In 1680, Saffin married Elizabeth (Scammon) Lidgett (d. 1682). This marriage was childless and short lived, since Elizabeth died two years later. In 1686, he was the speaker of the general assembly and also spent time as a deputy for Boston to the general court. Saffin moved to Bristol, R.I. in 1688 and here he met his third wife, Rebecca Lee (fl. 1688), who was the daughter of the first settled minister in the town. Saffin was the first judge of probate in the county of Bristol from 1692-1702. John Saffin died in 1710."

[Source: "Historical Note," John Saffin Diary, Manuscripts Division, Rhode Island Historical Society]

Dictionary of Literary Biography


Samuel Sewall Speaks Out

The Selling of Joseph: Africans in America

Proslavery: A History of The Defense of Slavery In America

Samuel Sewall


John Saffin, John Saffin, His Book (1665-1708): A Collection of Various Matters of Divinity, Law, & State Affairs Epitomiz'd Both in Verse and Prose (New York: Printed at the Harbor Press, 1928)(Caroline Hazard intro.)


Alyce Enid Sands, John Saffin: Seventeenth-Century American Citizen and Poet (Thesis, Pennsylvania State University, 1965)

Bibliography: Articles

Jessie A. Coffee, Arcadia to America: Sir Philip Sidney and John Saffin, 45 (1) American Literature 100 (1973).

Alyce E. Sands, Establishing John Saffin's Birthdate: A Biographical and Historical Problem, 2 Early American Literature 12 (Spring, 1967)

Lawrence W. Toner, The Sewall-Saffin Dialogue on Slavery, 21 (1) William and Mary Quarterly 40 (1964)

Albert J. Von Frank, John Saffin: Slavery and Racism in Colonial Massachusetts, 29 (3) Early American Literature 254 (Winter 1994)

Brom Weber, A Puritan Poem Regenerated: John Saffin's "Sayle Gentle Pinnace," 3 Early American Literature 65 (Fall, 1968)

Research Resources

Robert James Daly, God's Altar: A Study of Puritan Poetry (Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 1972)