Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

By Heather Miyano Kopelson | Go to book overview

4
“Extravasat Blood”

Adam Saffin’s actions challenged varying levels of puritan notions of bodily order. Laying the descriptions of Adam’s behavior that had landed him in court against a consideration of his motives and perspective suggests the unstable place of an African man who insisted on personal dignity backed by physical force in Boston at the opening of the eighteenth century. In 1701, Adam thought he was free. He had served out his time, and so when his former master John Saffin demanded that he leave Boston for Bristol and then work for someone in Swansea, Adam refused. Instead, he got dressed in clothes that he had probably been able to acquire using the £3 of income gained from tending his own patch of tobacco, left Saffin’s household, and went about his own business in Boston. He secured a lawyer and worked through the legal system to contest John Saffin’s continuing efforts to have his “enfranchizement,” his manumission, declared void on the basis that he had not fulfilled the terms of the agreement. In the meantime, when the court ordered him back under Saffin’s direction he complied and worked on building the fortifications at Castle Island. Adam did object when, after he had ignored the militia officer’s direction to dig earth in a different way, that officer called him a “Rascal.” The captain’s insult was not only a statement that Adam belonged to the lowest social order, but it also accused him of dishonesty. Adam retorted that he was “no rascal, no rogue, no thief,” whereupon the captain hit his pipe out of his mouth and pushed him, violence Adam returned. His physical defense of his reputation earned him another stint in jail.1

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