1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 John Saffin Diary


Judge of Bristol, R.I.

 Papers, 1665-1708

 Size: .25 ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 696

 Processed by: Elizabeth Delmage, May 2007

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            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.


Munro, Wilfred H. The History of Bristol, R.I. Providence, R.I.: J.A. & R.A. Reid, Printers and

            Publishers, 1880.

Saunders, Dorothy Chapman. Bristol, R.I.'s Early Settlers. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books,

            Inc., 1992.

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Scope and content:

            This important volume has been transcribed in full, and was published as John Saffin: His Book (1665-1708) by the Harbor Press in 1928, with an excellent introduction by Caroline Hazard (1856-1945). Its call number is PS825 S3 J6. The printed volume maintains the original paging, paragraphing, and spelling that is found in Saffin's original manuscript. The original volume is fragile and should be consulted in only the rarest instances.

            John Saffin wrote at the beginning of this volume that "This Book containes Miscellanies, or a Collection of various matters of Divinity Law State affaires Epitomis'd Both in verse and Prose began Anno 1665 A d." Therefore, this book includes quotes and Saffin's interpretations of the subjects that interested him the most, which were divinity, law, history, and arts and sciences. Saffin did not use any quotations marks, so it can be difficult to determine if an entry his own, or taken from another source. The author also included poems that he had written, handwritten copies of elegies of contemporaries from other sources, chronologies of important events in world history, and some of his correspondence.

            For more information on the contents of this volume, please refer to the Guide to Men's Diaries, available in the reading room of the RIHS library.

            This collection also includes a deed of sale between John Saffin and Capt. Thomas Willett as well as a bond of sale between John Saffin and his third wife Rebecca with William Throop of Bristol, R.I.

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            This item was a gift from Laura H. and Mary Carpenter of Wakefield, R.I. in December 1894.

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Processing note:

            John Saffin's volume was previously housed in a blue velvet jacket, but has since been removed and rehoused into an archival box. The deed of sale is filed in double oversized storage and the bond of sale is filed in oversized storage.

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Box 1                                      John Saffin's Diary                                         1665-1708

Double oversized folder         Deed of Sale                                                   25 Aug 1679

Oversized folder                     Bond of Sale                                                   10 Apr 1699

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Diary, 1665-1708

Hazard, Caroline, 1856-1945

Memorandum book, 1665-1708

Saffin, John, 1632-1710

United States - History - Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775

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