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Witchcraft and Maine Land Speculation in Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables

Witchcraft and Maine Land Speculation in Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables

From "Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692" by Emerson W. Baker and James Kences.

Although scholars are just beginning to explore the links between witchcraft and Maine land speculation, residents of Salem understood it over 150 years ago. Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables focuses on the descendants of Judge Pyncheon, a man who condemned to death the alleged wizard Mathew Maule then seized Maule's property to build an imposing mansion. A subplot of the novel is the Indian land deed, granted to the judge by Indians. It "comprised the greater part of what is now known as Waldo County, in the State of Maine, and were more extensive than many a dukedom." The deed was lost, and Judge Pyncheon died before he could use his influence to confirm his title. So the Pyncheon family could never claim what they believed was rightfully theirs--the potential source of "incalculable wealth to the Pyncheon blood." Instead they had to be content to maintain a map of their purchase, "grotesquely illuminated with the pictures of Indians and wild beasts." Scholars readily acknowledge that the House of Seven Gables contains historical autobiographical information about Salem and Hawthorne. He was a descendant of the Judge John Hathorne, who heard many of the preliminary hearings in the witchcraft cases. The real House of Seven Gables was built by merchant John Turner's family, whose daughter Elizabeth was the sister-in-law of Judge Bartholomew Gedney. Hawthorne borrowed the last name of his wizard from Thomas Maule, a Salem Quaker and outspoken critic of the witchcraft trials. The real Pyncheon (or Pynchon) family were land barons in seventeenth-century western Massachusetts, purchasing countless acres from the Indians. While their history may have influenced Hawthorne, much of Waldo County was actually purchased from Sachem Madockawando by Sir William Phips, the Maine native who was Governor of Massachusetts during the witchcraft trials. Less than a year after signing the deed Phips died unexpectedly, before he could legitimately establish his family's claim to their "dukedom." Like so many others, Sir William had bargained with Satan, and ended up with nothing.
Source: Emerson W. Baker and James Kences, "Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692." Maine History, volume 40, number 3, Fall 2001 (pp. 159-189).


Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11905/


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