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Salem and Hawthorne

Salem and Hawthorne

by Margaret B. Moore
Independent Scholar
Athens, GA

Margaret B. Moore, Independent Scholar, Athens, GA
Margaret B. Moore, Independent Scholar, Athens, GA (photography by Lou Procopio)

I very much appreciate the opportunity to be here in Salem and to talk about two of my favorite subjects -Nathaniel Hawthorne and Salem, and I'd like to begin by thanking Jim McAllister who asked me to. do this and those who have made my work in Salem so pleasant through the years--the people at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, currently Will LaMoy and Jane Ward, and previously many librarians there who patiently dealt with my queries and brought me all the books and manuscripts I asked for. Among others who helped I must mention the late and lamented Janet Appleton of Beverly who informed me about the Manning and Lord families; the late Joe Flibbert whom we shall miss and who was so gracious in his review of my book; and Jane Reed, formerly of Salem now of Beverly, who has driven me around the whole North Shore and tramped through countless cemeteries with me and kept me informed about Salem and Beverly doings; and, finally, Ada and Donald Roberts of the Amelia Payson Guest House who have made my various stays in Salem so comfortable and pleasant. This only begins to thank the people here who have contributed to my knowledge, insight, and stimulation. I should also assert my pleasure in speaking at the Lyceum, in one incarnation of which Nathaniel Hawthorne was a somewhat reluctant secretary in the 1840s.

Maybe I should start with the origins of my interest in Hawthorne and Salem. Salem came first. One branch of my family--the George Felt family--was in New England by 1633 and in Salem by 1690. The last member of my line, Marion Felt Sargent, who lived at 6 Federal Court, died in 1967. A whole trove of family documents and letters were sent to my other family, the Charles Whites: in Virginia in the nineteenth century when Marion's grandfather concluded that his sister, Mary Porter Felt White, and her son William Chester White in Virginia were more engaged with the family history than the few Felts who remained in Salem. Subsequently, the latter became interested, a circumstance which is so often the case and only goes to prove that all of us should become more aware of family earlier in life or the supporting documents may go elsewhere. Cousin Marion later wondered where all the papers had gone; she found only a few in the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute. Late in her life she and her Virginia cousins had a grand reunion in Richmond and exchanged information and memories.

I grew up with the knowledge that there were many family letters which subsequently my mother let me read. She and two of my aunts kept thinking they would write a family history, and I heard much about Salem and the people who lived here. Eventually the three decided that they were no longer able to write that history, and I fell heir to some of the letters. One of my first cousins has more. I have called this the Felt-White Collection. One batch of letters interested me particularly. They were the letters my great-great-great grandmother, Margaret Heussler Felt (1787-1863) wrote to my great-great-great grandfather, Jonathan Porter Felt (1785-1860),while, for the most part, he was the captain of ships all over the globe. These letters opened a new world to me--a world, of course, quite different from my own, not only because it was from a past not altogether familiar to me, but also because I was a Southerner with a slightly different past. Yet the more I read the letters (and others from that period) the more these people seemed familiar to me and their story well worth telling.

Thus I began with that thought. I would collect and annotate the letters and let other people read about that time and place. That meant, of course, I had to-dig out dates and stories (as well as I could) of many Salemites. I had to learn about ships and all the unfamiliar language which pertained: supercargo, master mariner, and such. I had to delve into the customs of the time--the churches they went to, how they treated neighbors, what medicine and doctors were like. It was great fun. But, when I finally finished annotating, I discovered that no academic press wanted to publish what I had found. I believe they thought it was too much a story of one family that would not interest others enough to pay good money to buy it. I am sure that was partly the reason. I also suspected that, since I offered this just at the time when feminism was blasting full steam ahead, that Margaret Felt's general satisfaction with her lot did not appeal to those who preferred to see her railing at her fate. She was left behind months and sometimes years with children to bear and to bury, with relatives on both sides of the family to care for, with 'a house to maintain, and yet she never whined. She was deeply religious, but she also had a good sense of humor. She simply did not feel "put upon." She did not ask us to "feel her pain" except when it was genuine. I haven't given up on her story, but I did not know what to do with all the knowledge of Salem that I had somewhat laboriously acquired.

At that point, the editor of the University of Missouri Press, Beverly Jarrett, who had read some of my articles and my introduction to the letters of Margaret Felt, suggested that I write about Salem and Hawthorne. She said to me that no one would think of writing about William Faulkner without delving deeply into his Mississippi origins and surroundings, so why not Hawthorne? I had already become aware (this was in the early 1980s) that, since the very early biographies, scholars had not wasted a whole lot of time on Hawthorne's Salem years and that much of the Salem life which surrounded him had not been studied. I had written my master's thesis on Hawthorne. I had been deterred from teaching by the rearing of children, except sporadically, but I was married to a literary scholar, who encouraged me, and I set to work. Altogether it took nigh onto 15 or 20 years. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

As you know, Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in Salem from his birth in 1804 to 1821 when he went to Bowdoin College in Maine for four years. He was here again from 1825 to 1842 when he married Sophia Peabody and went to Concord to live and then again from 1845 to 1850 when he was Surveyor of the Custom House until he was fired. He never lived here again, but I believe that Salem was always with him. And here I am quoting partially from my book. In "Grimshaw" Nathaniel Hawthorne has the old Doctor ask: "Whence did you come? Whence did any of us come? Out of darkness and mystery, out of nothingness, out of a kingdom of shadows, out of dust, clay. impure mud I think, and to return to it again" (CE12:356). On a less philosophical level, however, Hawthorne knew very well from whence he came, and he always had mixed feelings about it, what Henry James called "the mingled tenderness and rancour." With his singular obtuseness about his parent, Julian Hawthorne said that his father's "instinct for localities was not strongly developed." I believe, nevertheless, that his father had a very clear sense of place, and for nowhere so much as Salem:

On the one hand, he felt a strong attachment to the town. It was, he thought, the "mere sensuous sympathy of dust for dust," or the "kindred between human being and the locality" (CE 1:9,11). He felt, as did his character Peter Goldthwaite, "a fatality that connected him with his birthplace" (CE (:385). In Our Old Home he wrote with the perspective on England upon him of "my own dear native place" (CE5:16-5). No matter what he said about it, Salem was the locale for many of his stories, sketches, a novel, and a fragmentary novel. Salem history haunted him, and Salem people fascinated him.

Yet he also hated Salem. He confessed in January 1841 to Sophia Peabody whom he was to marry: "I ought to love Salem better than I do; for the people have always had a pretty generous faith in me, ever since they knew me at all'' (CE 15:518). That same year in November he again wrote Sophia: "I am intolerably weary of this old town . . . . Dost Thou not think it really the most hateful place in the world? My mind becomes heavy and nerveless the moment I set foot within its precincts. Nothing makes me wonder more than that I found it possible to write all my tales in this region of sleepy-head and stupidity" (CE 15:596). He often saw Salem as a sleepy, run-down town full of unpainted wooden buildings, living on past glories in a present that was dull and unalluring. This feeling was especially evident, of course, after he was fired in 1849, and his sketch, "The Custom-House" was particularly biting. He spoke of his "strange, indolent, unjoyous attachment" to the city, caused, he thought, by his "deep and aged roots," which gave him "a sort of home-feeling with the past" (CE 1:12,8,9). He observed: "The spell survives and just as powerfully as if the natal spot were an earthly paradise. . .as if Salem were for me the inevitable centre of the universe." (CE1:11, 12)

What Salem thought of Hawthorne was somewhat more one-sided for a long time. Before her death in 1909, Caroline King characterized him as a "strange and picturesque figure with gloomy brow and repellent manners" who was "mooning about the streets of Salem." George Holden spoke of the "muck-heaps of local prejudice" still apparent in 1881 in those who could not forgive his treatment of Salemites, especially in "The Custom-House." Henry M. Brooks noted in 1894 that he well remembered seeing Hawthorne before he went into the Custom House. "He was a very retiring man, and seldom was seen to speak to any one in the street, rarely rising his eyes from the ground . . . . In the Custom House he never made any advances to any one or took notice of any except political friends. If you said 'good morning' to him he would make no reply."[Indeed I have heard a Salemite of a much later time say that in her youth Hawthorne was barely studied in Salem schools and was not a popular topic.] Yet, as William Dean Howells affirmed, "there was, in fact, no love lost between Hawthorne and his birthplace, but probably neither knew how much was their mutual debt."

The study of Hawthorne and Salem brings many surprises. I shall probably in this talk emphasize Salem more than Hawthorne since I do not know how much of Hawthorne's writing you know. One surprise lay in the interconnectedness of families on the North Shore. You perhaps are not as surprised as I, or at least Salemites of a hundred and fifty years ago would not have been, but I was constantly amazed as I dug into family trees. For instance, anyone who has read "The Custom-House" or taken one of Jim McAllister's tours, would be aware that Hawthorne's great great grandfather was John Hathorne,(1641-1717), a witch judge whose tombstone can be seen in the Charter Street Burying Ground; But, I, at least, did not know that among the writer's forebears were also to be found, convicted witches (Sarah Lord Wilson), one of the afflicted girls (Sarah Phelps), persons on the witch juries (William Eliot), and even those who made the fetters to hold the witches in jail( Thomas Manning). [Read # 2 and 3 on pages 43 and 44 about the Porters and Burroughs]

I did not know that the second of his three wives who was rumored to have been murdered by Burroughs was the widow of William Hathorne, the brother of Judge John. "Thus, both his sister's disbelief in the guilt of Rebeccah Nurse and his sister-in-law's alleged fate in the hands of her accused witch husband must have made his position difficult indeed."

Hawthorne's paternal grandmother, Rachel Phelps Hathorne, in whose house the writer was born, was descended from early Quakers who were quite different in their actions from present-day Quakers. They disrupted churches, walked naked through towns to make a point, and essentially horrified the straight-laced Puritans of the 1650s. Nathaniel's first Hathorne immigrant was castigated by Quaker historians because he had such disturbers of the peace stripped to the waist and whipped through towns at the back of a cart. Nathaniel was interested in Quakers, he thought them "a strange people" with "the gift of a new idea"; he admired George Fox, the well-known English practitioner. He wrote a story, "The Gentle Boy" about them. The early Phelps Quakers were Nicholas and Hannah Phelps who lived to the west of Salem in what was called the Woods. Hannah's second husband was Nicholas's brother Henry, Hawthorne's ancestor. Henry and Hannah were banished from Salem and moved to the Perquimmons District on the coast of North Carolina and became pioneers for Quakerism in that region. I do not know whether Hawthorne knew of his own connections with those early Quakers, but I would not be surprised. Hawthorne was steeped in the history of his region, and surely one so self-aware as he would not let the Phelps name go by without investigation.

Another surprise was Hawthorne's Guppy connection [Read from bottom of p.35-36]

The more I studied the Hawthorne families, the more people I found whom I am convinced that Hawthorne knew and that knew him. From them he would have heard family legends which he then incorporated into his work. If you have ever lived in a small town, you know more about other residents, than you would sometimes care to acknowledge, and vice-versa. If you are a writer, that knowledge is grist for your mill.

I was also interested to learn the fullness of activities in the Salem of the early nineteenth century. So many national leaders came to or through Salem. There is the unforgettable picture of the Marquis de Lafayette, riding in the rain, surrounded by all the schoolchildren of Salem who wore blue sashes with the picture of Lafayette stamped upon them. All manner of entertainers and lecturers arrived to profit the townspeople. Numerous fads of that time came to Salem too--animal magnetism, mysterious veiled ladies who knew the future at least until they were proved to be fakes, so many inventions--there was even a showing of a machine which could teach you grammar. I suppose that we of the present time who use machines for everything should not be surprised at that. There were concerts, dances, circuses, plays, and lectures. Hawthorne refers to many such entertainments in The Blithedale Romance in which he records his reaction to the lyceum when he says the hall "was dedicated to that sober and pallid, or, rather,, drab-colored, mode of winter evening entertainment, the Lecture" (CE 3:196). Sober we maybe but I hope we are not pallid or drab-colored!

Hawthorne scholars have known very little about Hawthorne's early education, or they have not felt it important. Much can now be recovered from early newspapers or letters. Of Nathaniel's teachers one of the most interesting was Joseph Emerson Worcester, famous later as a lexicographer and a maker of dictionaries. He and Noah Webster engaged in the famous War of the Dictionaries, a war which Webster's publishers, the Merriams, eventually won. Webster advocated Americanized usage, whereas Worcester was more formal, more traditional in his use of the language. In newspaper advertisments of the time, it may be noted that New England, especially the Boston area, was much more in favor of Worcester. Hawthorne wrote his old teacher later that he had taught him the "sacredness of language." Nathaniel's own precision in the use of words reflects, I believe, what Worcester taught him.

Another teacher worth mentioning is the tutor who prepared him for college. Benjamin Lynde Oliver, Jr., a lawyer, instructed him in Latin and Greek every weekday morning in the year before he went to Bowdoin. Oliver is fascinating because he was descended from so many Massachusetts men who were Tories in the American Revolution. The Hutchinsons, the Olivers, the Lyndes, the Pynchons all suffered from having to flee the country in that earlier civil war. I learned much about that side of the war. I discovered old manuscripts and letters from the Hutchinsons and the Olivers in the Manuscript room of the old British Library in the British Museum in London (it is now, as you know, in a new more modern building but without the charm of the old). I read all those papers avidly, wondering how their Oliver descendant recalled their memories and whether he ever told anything to Hawthorne. I found when I returned home that some of what I read had been published, but it was so exciting to hold the actual letters in my hand as I tried to figure out their handwriting.

Another area about which I knew nothing was the practice of medicine in the early nineteenth century. Nathaniel hurt his foot when he was nine in 1813. He was more or less lame until 1816. The family called several doctors to cure him, including Dr. Nathaniel Peabody, his future father-in-law who was primarily a dentist, Dr. Gideon Barstow who married Nathaniel's second cousin, Nancy Forrester, and a Dr. Kittridge, but nothing seemed to help. Many scholars have treated this episode as a time when Hawthorne got out of going to school, and they consider the eventual cure with laughter. It was "a Dr. Smith from Hanover" who finally helped by having cold water poured on his foot every day. This is as far as I got in my book, but this interested me. I have kept on working on it since. This Dr. Nathan Smith, it turns out, was the most respected physician in New England, even more than Salem's own Dr. Holyoke. He founded four medical schools--Dartmouth, Yale, Bowdoin, and Vermont. He had scores of students who trailed around with him and became famous in their own right. One of his students at Dartmouth, Dr. Reuben Mussey, took Smith's place at Dartmouth when he left for Yale, but was a doctor here in Salem first. There is a new book about Smith in which one can see him as prudent, caring, and a believer in cold water for certain illnesses. Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States, wrote the preface to that new book. One of Smith's students was Dr. Malthus Ward, who was superintendent of the East India Marine Society from 1825-1832 when he went to the University of Georgia to teach botany, mineralogy, geology, and physiology. His notebooks are housed in the Hargrett Rare Book Room at the University of Georgia. What fun it was to read them, especially the one a with notes from Dr. Smith's class at Bowdoin. It was clear from these notes as well as his journals that Smith believed in the curative properties of cold water! He seems to have been never too busy to make home visits for all sorts of patients, not just those connected with hospitals. How the Mannings happened to get him, I don't know, but they procured for Nathaniel the premier doctor of the region.

I learned a great deal about the religious struggles in Salem in the time of Hawthorne's boyhood and young manhood. Puritanism was no longer the dominant force except insofar as it influenced Congregationalism with its emphasis on the Trinity. Unitarianism was a reaction to it in many ways in its emphasis on reason, its rejection of the Trinity and miracles. The Baptists were strong, but the Methodists had no church until 1822. Episcopalians had St. Peter's, and the few Roman Catholics were meeting in homes. Other religious persuasions were Free-Will Baptists, Adventists, especially after the predictions of William Miller that the world would end probably in March 1843, and Presbyterians off and on. Mormons visited from time to time. The main battle, however, was between the Congregationalists and the Unitarians. Families were split. You didn't join a church--or not--as a rite of passage or as members of families. Each individual had to come to his own moment of truth. Very few, however, thought this was unimportant. People, such as Abner Kneeland, a Freethinker and atheist, who married a Salem lady, the mother-in law of George Archer, one of Hawthorne's first cousins, was roundly denounced and finally went to prison for blasphemy--in Boston it must be said, not Salem.

Also of interest were the blacks, or Africans as Salem called them. They appear only peripherally in Hawthorne's works, but they were very much present in Salem. This was the period in which abolitionism was gradually gathering steam, but very slowly in Salem. The blacks lived in the "Huts" near Buffum's Corner, in the rear of High Street, on the lower part of St. Peter's Street, or on the Neck lands. The Clarkson Society was founded to teach them to read the Bible. John and Nancy Remond were a noted black couple who catered and sold food from Hamilton Hall and who were the parents of Charles Lenox Remond and Sarah Parker Remond, both important in the Abolition movement. A black girl, Charlotte Forten Grimke, was sent by her father from Philadelphia to gain an education in Salem. Her journals reveal much about Salem at that time.

Certain events which took place in Salem seemed to affect not only Salem but the budding writer as well. I shall deal only with two of them. It was fairly fashionable to say during the Vietnam War that the United States had previously never fought an unpopular war, but the War of 1812 was exceedingly unpopular here in Salem, especially with the Federalists. In the eastern part of town full of Republicans/Democrats, the war was supported. When the Shannon and the Chesapeake fought offshore here in June 1813, the American ship was not only captured, but the two main officers were killed. George Crowninshield in a Salem ship went out to recover the bodies, which were brought back with great ceremony. The memorial service was held in the Branch or Howard Street church. The procession moved up Union Street from the Wharf, by the Hathorne home on to Howard Street. Out in Salem harbor was a prison ship for British prisoners of war. Both Federalists and Republicans, however, sent out privateers in an effort to gain the same sort of money and prestige which had been garnered in the Revolutionary War. Forty privateers were sent to sea by Salem merchants in the second British War, but twenty-six never returned.

In late summer 1814 there were many alarms that the British were coming. All Salem men were summoned by shouts of alarm. Caleb Foote, the editor later of the Salem Gazette described the scene:

Every house facing the street had a candle in the window; and it had a solemnizing effect upon the women and children to see armed men hastening singly in that ghastly light to their rendezvous. Few minutes sufficed to bring the men into marching order, and in a surprisingly short order they were moving in solid bodies down to the Neck, or toward Beverly, or Marblehead, or wherever the alarm came from.

Earlier that year the U.S. frigate, the Constitution, was chased into Marblehead Harbor and it was horses from the Manning stables which rushed cannon to the scenes. Part of this time Hawthorne was lame, so he may have observed these activities and kept them in his memory.

Another event which was memorable was the White Murder in April 1830. Captain Joseph White, eighty-two years old, was murdered in his bed in his home which is now called the Gardner-Pingree house. The event struck the town with horror. Doors were locked for the first time, and many could not sleep. A Committee of Vigilance was formed with broad powers. Gideon Barstow, husband of Nancy Forrester, was in charge. Rumors abounded. Two Knapp brothers and two Crowninshield brothers were arrested. The trial was attended not only by those in the courthouse, but by many who could hear from outside. Daniel Webster gave a powerful speech for the prosecution and the two Knapps were hanged. Much of the populace watched the executions. One Crowninshield committed suicide, and the other escaped by a legal technicality. This made the news all over the country. The event remained in the memory of Salemites for a very long time.

Salem indeed abounded in intriguing people and interesting families. The Derbys and the Crowninshields produced many fascinating offspring. The George Crowninshield who owned the ship, Cleopatra's Barge, and sailed her around the world, was known for saving people from drowning, and yet he is the one who left illegitimate offspring who seemed--Clara at least-- to have suffered from that fact not at all. She sailed with the Longfellow family to Europe later. John Barton Derby, the grandson of Elias Haskett Derby, was a writer, a politician, and an inmate of McLean Asylum for a brief period, and the father of George Derby, known as "Squibob," who was highly praised by Mark Twain as "the first of the great modern humorists".

There were were many stories of rags to riches. The Driver family which lived in front of the Ropes Mansion when it was farther back on its lot, was sustained by the shoemaker father, but two of the sons became ministers, who may not have had the "riches of this world" but perhaps of the "moth doth not corrupt" sort.

There were Hathornes and Hathornes. The wife and children of another William Hawthorne(1715-1794) were particularly colorful. One Mary was a peddler who went to consult conjurors when her goods were stolen. Susan Ingersoll, whose mother was a Hathorne, was set upon by another John Hathorne's family who wanted her money and she had to be protected by Dr. William Bentley. She, as a single woman, adopted Horace Lorenzo Conolly, who was sometimes a friend and sometimes an enemy of Hawthorne's. Ebenezer Hathorne, whom Hawthorne met when Ebenezer was working at the Boston Custom House, was a rabid Democrat and family-proud. He returned to Salem and lived where his father spent his last years at the Neck, what was called the Point of Rocks, later Hollingworth Hill, and finally married to the amazement of all.

There were Forresters and many were the stories that surrounded that name. As a boy, Simon Forrester was brought from Ireland to Salem by Nathaniel's grandfather, Daniel Hathorne. He later became enormously rich but left in addition to money to his daughters and their children, a legacy of alcoholism to his sons. The most poignant of those was Simon, Jr., a good friend of Leverett Saltonstall. Simon was suspended from Harvard in 1803, to his father's dismay. He was later given a post by his father as supercargo on one of his ships; wrote a shipboard letter to Saltonstall proclaiming his gratitude to his father and his hope to make him proud, and then committed suicide from one of the portholes of the ship before reaching Salem again. Many of Hawthorne's cousins were Simon Forester, Sr.'s daughters, Nancy Barstow, Catherine Forrester Andrew, and Eleanor Forrester Carlisle, later Coit. In the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, there is a whole manuscript collection from some of these cousins.

The writer Hawthorne has often been characterized as shy, friendless, and aloof. A little work in Salem stories can, I think, prove that he was not altogether without friends. They were a varied lot. His political friends were not, I believe, the rowdy hacks which some have made them out to be. Benjamin F. Browne was certainly not. He was a druggist, a civic-minded citizen, a poet, and a collector of all facts antiquarian. William Pike does not seem that way either. He was interested in spiritualism as well as the Custom House. Zechariah Burchmore may fit the bill a little more.

His other friends where, to select only a few, David Roberts, lawyer and onetime mayor of Salem; Caleb Foot, longtime editor of the Salem Gazette, and his wife, Mary Wilder White; Dr. Malthus Ward, superintendent of the -East India Marine Society and its cabinet; Jones Very, mystic aid poet; the Peabody sisters, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia.; Susan Ingress who lived in a house with seven gables; Susan Burley, wealthy mentor and hostess of the "Hurled-Burleys" or literary salons; and Eleanor Barstow Conduit, cousin and "Little Annie" ,who appears in "Little Annie's Ramble:"

I have concentrated more on Salem than Hawthorne for this audience, perhaps wrongly. So much has `been written on Hawthorne and so much an Salem, but rarely the two together. I do not believe you can read Hawthorne without detecting all sorts of hints and references to Salem. Perhaps you latter-day Salemites, if that is what you are, can find even more allusions in his work than I have pointed out in my book. I would be happy to know what you find.

Thank you very much for your cordial invitation and your kind attention. It has been a pleasure to "talk" to you. If you have any questions, I shall be happy to try to answer them.

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