Maria Grace Andrews Saffery (1772-1858) and her sister, Anne (1774-1865), were originally from Shaw, near Newbury, but spent most of their youth at Isleworth, Middlesex, on the outskirts of London, where their mother (and possibly their father) operated a school. By the early 1790s they were spending considerable periods of time in Salisbury with their grandparents, reading contemporary literature, writing about radical politics, and experimenting with dissenting religion. Though raised in the Anglican Church, during the first half of the 1790s they began attending the Particular Baptist congregation in Brown Street, spending much time as well in the home of the pastor, John Saffery. On 19 June 1798, Anne Andrews married Philip Whitaker (1766-1847) of Bratton, the nephew of Jane Attwater. On 20 August 1799, Maria married her recently widowed pastor, John Saffery. They had six children, including Philip John Saffery (1800-69), who succeeded his father as minister at Brown Street in Salisbury, later becoming a leading figure within the Baptist denomination, working for the Baptist Missionary Society as well as the Religious Tract Society. Shortly after her marriage, Maria Saffery opened a boarding school for girls and maintained it until 1835, when she retired to live with her daughter, Jane (1805-84), who had married her cousin, Joshua Whitaker (1801-64) of Bratton, that same year.

Maria Saffery began writing poetry from an early age. Her first published poem, Cheyt Sing, was written in 1787, but was not published until 1790; it was dedicated to the Whig politician Charles James Fox. She was also interested in fiction, publishing The Noble Enthusiast, a romance novel (with tinges of the gothic) in 1792. Both works were published anonymously. After that, she primarily published in religious and literary magazines for the next thirty-five years; her only volume of poetry, Poems on Sacred Subjects, appeared in 1834. Among her manuscripts are some eighty unpublished poems, including Lyra Domestica, her unpublished collection of poems and drawings from the early 1830s addressed to family, friends, and a few important literary, religious, and political figures. Maria Saffery’s published and unpublished poems appear in Volume 5, along with some unpublished poems by Anne Whitaker. The extant portions of Anne Whitaker’s diary (begun in the 1790s and continued into the 1850s) appear in Volume 8. An extensive correspondence of more than two hundred and fifty letters involving both sisters, c. 1790-1840, comprises the contents of Volume 6. Within the correspondence are also letters letters of Philip Whitaker and John Saffery, letters of the two sisters to their children, letters between Maria and Jane Saffery Whitaker, letters to the two sisters and their mother from their friend, Mary Egerton Scott (wife of the Anglican Evangelical divine, Thomas Scott) and letters involving Maria Saffery and parents of her scholars, including a remarkable set of letters to Maria and John Saffery by Richard and Harriet Ryland of London as well as letters from the Revd John Ryland (no relation to Richard Ryland) and his wife, Frances, of Bristol.

For a lengthy biographical notice of Saffery and her sister, along with her complete surviving poetry and correspondence, most of it previously unpublished, and the text of her novel, The Noble Enthusiast, see Timothy Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vols 5-7. For a selection of letters between Maria Grace and her sister, Anne Andrews, 1792-96, click here.