Excerpt from Margaret Moore, unpublished manuscript (courtesy of Margaret Moore)
As this passage suggests, the Salem in which Hawthorne grew up was immensely rich in religious thinking and in religious controversy. It would have been nearly impossible for any educated, literate person to fail to be influenced by this ambience.
I learned a great deal about the religious struggles in Salem in
the time of Hawthorne's boyhood and young manhood. Puritanism was not longer
the dominant force except insofar is 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 (12-13).