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Excerpts from The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Margaret Moore
The Salem Custom House on  1908 postcard
The Salem Custom House on 1908 postcard

Excerpts from The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Margaret Moore (courtesy of the University of Missouri Press)

In these excerpts Moore talks about real people and places Hawthorne includes in "The Custom-House" chapter of The Scarlet Letter: Jonathan Pue, Major William Hathorne, Simon Forrester, and Zachariah Burchmore, Jr.

St. Peter
St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Salem
On Jonathan Pue:

"One can see how both Hawthorne and Condit [Eleanor Barstow Condit, Hawthorne's cousin, who wrote Philip English's Two Cups, "1692" under the pseudonym M.B.] probably used recorded fact as it was passed to them by word of mouth and by newsprint, as, for example, in the Salem Observer on June 8, 1833…[in the article about the uncovering of the remains of Jonathan Pue when digging the foundation of the new Episcopal church in Salem]. Here was grist for Hawthorne's as well as Condit's imagination: the fragments of cloth of Jonathan Pue, the silver-plated coffin handles, and the ornamented plate that could have been Philip English's. In fact, Hawthorne reported a newspaper account of the digging up of Pue in 'The Custom-House' (CE 1:30). Many of Hawthorne's best legends sprang from the town he so loved and hated, for the Salem world to the past was essential to his literary imagination" (26-27).
On Major William Hathorne:
"[Hawthorne] speculated most about his paternal Hathorne ancestors, and they were a fascinating lot. In 'The Custom-House' he said of Major William Hathorne (c. 1606/7-1681): 'The figure of that first ancestor, invested by family tradition with a dim and dusky grandeur, was present to my boyish imagination as far back as I can remember. It still haunts me and induces a sort of home-feeling with the past' (CE 1:0). What Hawthorne recounts is the New England experience, as he knew it, of this 'grave, bearded, sable-cloaked and steeple-browned progenitor' who 'trode the unworn street' of Salem with his 'Bible and his sword' (CE 1:9)" (28-29).

"…William Hathorne was 'a bitter persecutor' who ordered the whipping of Quaker Ann Coleman through Salem and two other towns. Nathaniel Hawthorne seemed haunted by his ancestor's association with the punishment of the Quakers, the 'strange people' who had the 'gift of a new idea.' In 'The Custom-House' and in 'Main Street,' Major Hathorne or 'the earliest emigrant of my name' is seen as an instigator of the persecution of Quakers (CE 1:9; 11:68-69)" (31).

Portrait of Simon Forrester, eighteenth-century Salem merchant
Portrait of Simon Forrester, eighteenth-century Salem merchant (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
On Simon Forrester:
"Hawthorne referred to [Forrester] as 'old man Simon Forrester' in 'The Custom-House' (CE 1:28). Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne said that Hawthorne did not like Forrester because the old man had once offered him five dollars, and he refused to take it. This may well have been Elizabeth's opinion of him rather than her brother's. Nathaniel wrote Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard later about a portrayal of Forrester in her book, The Morgesons (1862), that 'as an old man…he had a very stately and high bred aspect. I can just remember him" (CE 18:524)" (52-53).
Salem Custom House Receipt, September 13, 1847
Salem Custom House Receipt, September 13, 1847
On Zachariah Burchmore Jr. (1809-1884), chief officer of the Salem Custom House:
"Burchmore may well have been called a 'defiant democrat.' Grandson of a privateer in the Revolution and son of a Custom House inspector, he was a product of the Salem Custom House. When Hawthorne knew him, he was nominally the clerk, but in reality he was the chief officer. Almost of an age with Hawthorne, he was one of the most highly praised persons in the writer's 'The Custom -House' as 'the main-spring' that kept the custom house going and 'the man of business' (CE 1:24). Though not named, Burchmore was described as giving a 'new idea of talent,' of being 'prompt, acute, clear-minded; with an eye that saw through all the perplexities.' He was, in short, 'the ideal of this class' (CE 1:24). One wonders if Hawthorne spent so many words on Burchmore and none on Pike in the sketch because Burchmore was fired and Pike was not. Certainly the description contrasts strangely with Burchmore's later alcoholism and Hawthorne's description of him to Pike as a 'poor miserable, broken, drunken, disagreeable loafer, contemptible as an enemy, and only troublesom to his friends' (CE 16:690)" (185). [William Baker Pike, served as a weigher and gauger at the Salem Custom House while Hawthorne worked there as surveyor; later, from 1857-1861, Pike became collector.]
On New Guinea:
"During Hawthorne's lifetime a sizable colony of blacks inhabited Salem. They lived in the 'Huts' on the turnpike near Buffum's Corner, in the rear of High Street, on the lower part of St. Peter's Street, or on the Neck Lands, according to Oliver Thayer. The High Street area was what Hawthorne later called New Guinea in 'The Custom-House.' Dr. Bentley indicated that the blacks lived on what was 'vulgarly called Roast Meat Hill' between Mill Street, High Street, and Pickering Hill burying grounds (Broad Street Cemetery). He said that there were about one hundred huts or houses there" (137).

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