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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

John Saffin
Before his family made his personal Notebook public at the beginning of the twentieth century, Saffin was known as a lawyer, judge, and very successful merchant in Boston whom diarist Samuel Sewall mocked as “wigg’d and powder’d with pretense.” Their disagreements went much deeper as the short verse “The Negroes Character” makes clear, but Saffin’s wig also points to his position and sophistication. Born in Somerset, England, of a well-to-do family, he emigrated as a youngster and grew up in the cultured town of Scituate, Massachusetts. Although he never attended a university, this environment encouraged his social ambitions and belletristic leanings. Saffin was a shrewd and inventive merchant, whose trade included slaves as well as plunder from foreign ships. His volatile personality made him many enemies, and when he fell out of favor politically, he retired in 1687 to Bristol, Rhode Island. His last years were also marked by his bitter feud with Sewall over the freeing of Saffin’s slave—and by extension, the justice of slave-owning in general. The complex and vexing legal case in which both were involved dragged on in the courts for a long time. Saffin’s Notebook contains about fifty poems, making him a prolific poet by colonial standards. The poems are unusually varied for the time—love poems, elegies, acrostics, satires, and occasional verse—and are remarkable for their intimate subjects and personal voice.

In the Heath Anthology
[Sweetly (my Dearest) I left thee asleep] (c.1700)
The Negroes Character (c.1700)

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American Heritage
John Saffin 1632-1710 Includes biolography and links to works.

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