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Hawthorne at Salem

Biographical Information

Hawthorne's Adult Life: Introduction

Material prepared by:
Terry Whitney, Department of English 
North Shore Community College, Danvers, MA
Statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne in Salem, MA
Statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne in Salem, MA (photography by Terri Whitney)

After his graduation from Bowdoin in 1825, Hawthorne returned to Salem to live with his mother and sisters at 10 1/2 Herbert St. in Salem. Sometime between his graduation and 1827, he changed the spelling of his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne. Hawthorne spent the next years living in Salem and launching his career as a writer. He lived a somewhat solitary life, but he travelled around New England to the Shaker village in Canterbury, NH in 1831 and to the Erie Canal and Niagra Falls in 1832.

Hawthorne did go on walks in Salem, and he and his sisters would visit friends at their houses. It was not usual, however, for Hawthorne to call on families whom he knew only casually. On November 11, 1837, however, at the invitation of Elizabeth Peabody, daughter of Dr. Nathaniel Peabody and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Hawthorne and his sisters, Elizabeth and Louisa, called on the Peabodys at their home on Charter St. in Salem. It was on this occasion that Hawthorne first met Sophia Peabody, sister of Elizabeth and Mary, and the woman to whom he would become engaged the following year. Helped by Elizabeth Peabody, in January of 1839, Hawthorne obtained a position as measurer of salt and coal in the Boston Custom House. In late October he moved into rooms at 54 Pinckney St. with the Hillards and then to 8 Somerset Place in Boston. Hawthorne left his position at the Boston Custom House in the spring of 1840, and in the spring of 1841 he moved to Brook Farm, a utopian community in West Roxbury, Masschusetts. Soon disillusioned, however, Hawthorne left Brook Farm, and on July 9, 1842, he married Sophia Peabody at the house of her parents in Boston.

They moved into the Old Manse in Concord, rented from Emerson, with garden prepared by Thoreau. Here the Hawthornes had their first child, a daughter, Una, in 1844, and they all lived happily, if under some financial strain, in Concord until 1846 when, strapped for money, Hawthorne took a position as Surveyor of the Port at the Salem Custom House.

A son, Julian, was born in the summer of 1846, and in 1847 Hawthorne moved his family, including his mother and sisters, to 18 Chestnut Street in Salem; two months later they moved to larger quarters at 14 Mall Street. Hawthorne had a study on the third floor; his mother and sisters lived on the second floor, and the children resided on the first floor. In 1848, Hawthorne became manager of the Lyceum of Salem and invited Emerson and Thoreau to lecture.

The following year was a particularly trying one for Hawthorne. On June 7, 1849, he was fired(original article from the Salem Register part 1part 2) from his position as Surveyor of the Port at the Salem Custom House when Zachary Taylor, a Whig, was elected president. Then, less than two months later, on July 31, his mother died. These catastrophes were followed by a fecund period in his writing, however. It was in September of 1849 that Hawthorne began the novel that was to become The Scarlet Letter. In that novel he includes an opening chapter, "The Custom-House," based on his own experience as surveyor, which aroused controversy because of its unflattering portrayal of Salem and its residents. The novel was published the following year by Ticknor and Fields. A year later, in April of 1851, Hawthorne published The House of Seven Gables, and he wrote "Feathertop," his last tale. Then in 1852, he published The Blithedale Romance, based on his experiences at Brook Farm. That year, too, was a tragic one for Hawthorne; his sister, Louisa, died in a steamboat explosion on the Hudson River in New York.

In March of 1853, President Franklin Pierce appointed Hawthorne Consul in Liverpool, England. In July Hawthorne moved his family to Liverpool from Concord, and he assumed his position as Consul on August 1. In October of 1855, in an attempt to improve her health, Sophia went to Lisbon. She took Rose, the Hawthornes' second daughter, born on May 20, 1851, and Una with her, and they stayed in Lisbon until June. Julian remained with Hawthorne in Liverpool.

In November of 1856, Melville visited Hawthorne in Liverpool, and he visited him again for a short time in May of the following year. In October of 1857, when Pierce did not receive the presidential nomination, Hawthorne left his position as American Consul in Liverpool, knowing that his appointment would end. In January of the following year, Hawthorne and his family travelled to France, and from January 17 to May, 1858, they lived in Rome. From May to October, Hawthorne and his family lived in a villa in Florence. Hawthorne wrote about his experiences in Italy in his notebooks, and he began work on the romance published in America under the title, The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni. Also while in Italy, Hawthorne met William Cullen Bryant, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the American sculptor William Wetmore Story. In June of 1859, Hawthorne and his family moved to England where Hawthorne finished writing The Marble Faun which was published in London in February of the following year under the title Transformation and was published the following year in America.

Hawthorne and his family moved back to the Wayside in Concord, MA in February of 1860. At that time Hawthorne renovated the house, adding a tower that became his study. Two years later, in March of 1862, Hawthorne, Ticknor, and U.S. Representative Charles Russell Train called on President Lincoln in a visit arranged by Hawthorne's friend, Horatio Bridge. A short time later, Hawthorne published "Chiefly About War Matters By a Peaceable Man," an essay on the Civil War, which reports on his visit with Lincoln. In May of that year, Hawthorne attended the funeral for Henry David Thoreau who died of tuberculosis.

In January of 1864, Bronson Alcott called on Hawthorne to try to learn the cause of Hawthorne's coolness toward him and his family. Hawthorne tactfully identified Bronson's wife, Abba, as the problem. A few months later, Hawthorne travelled to New Hampshire with Franklin Pierce. It was on this trip on May 18/19 that Hawthorne died in his sleep. He is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA near Emerson and Thoreau along what is now known as Author's Ridge.