Author of The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist, is best known for his novel The Scarlet Letter. Most of his books take place in New England and are classified as dark romanticism. He also published many short stories and other novels.



On July 4, 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning. Through his father, he was descended from one of the judges from the Salem witch trials. In 1808, Hawthorne’s father, a sea captain and East India Marine Society member, died of yellow fever while he was in Suriname in South America. So, Hawthorne’s mother took their three young children and moved in with her relatives in Salem. In 1813, he had been playing a game and was badly hit and the leg and consequently, stuck in bed for a year. Many physicians came to inspect his leg and found nothing wrong with him, however.

Hawthorne was twelve when his family spent the summer living with farmers in 1816 before moving into a new home his uncles had built them in Raymond, Maine. “Those were delightful days, for that part of the country was wild then, with only scattered clearings, and nine tenths of it primeval woods,” he later recalled fondly of his time in Maine. It wasn’t long before he returned to Salem in 1819 to attend school there. Hawthorne did not like it back in Massachusetts because he missed his mother and two sisters. He hand wrote a newspaper during this time to give to his family when he was them again in the summer of 1820 called The Spectator. There were seven issues, full of news, essays, and poems. When he finished his schooling, his uncle Robert manning insisted that he go to college. Hawthorne, however, did not want to go to college and instead go back home to his family. But his uncle helped him financially and he went to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1821. On his way to school, he met Franklin Pierce, who would go on to become president, and the two quickly became good friends. They kept their friendship for many years.

Thirty-two year old Hawthorne served as the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge’s editor in 1836. He lived in Boston, boarding with Thomas Green Fessenden, a poet. On January 17, 1839, he accepted a position as a weigher and gauger for the Boston Custom House, offering him a considerable salary of $1,500. Hawthorne then went on to rent a room with businessman George Stillman Hillard. During this time, he wrote various short stories for magazines. Some of these include “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

Back in Massachusetts after Bowdoin, Hawthorne had also started flirting with more and more women like Mary Silsbee and Elizabeth Peabody. But after some time, he began to pursue Elizabeth Peabody’s sister, Sophia Peabody, who was an illustrator and transcendentalist. Hawthorne also began looking for a possible home he could live in if he married Peabody, so he joined the transcendentalist Utopian community in Brook Farm because it helped him save money, though he did not really agree with the experiment. After a year, he left. His time at Brook Farm inspired his 1879 novel, The Blithedale Romance.

On July 9, 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody got married at her family’s home home in Boston. They moved into a home called The Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts and stayed there for three years. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American poet, lived near them and invited Hawthorne to join his social circle. Hawthorne, however, was terribly shy, especially at social gatherings.

Hawthorne's wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. Source:

Hawthorne’s wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. Source:

The Hawthornes were very happily married. All her life, Sophia had frequent migraines, but once she was introduced to Hawthorne, they seemed to disappear. He called her his “Dove”. She “is, in the strictest sense, my sole companion; I need no other — there is no vacancy in my mind, any more than in my heart… Thank God that I suffice for her boundless heart!” he once wrote. Sophia said of her husband’s work in one of her journals, “I am always so dazzled and bewildered with the richness, the depth the … jewels of beauty in his productions that I am always looking forward to a second reading where I can ponder and muse and fully take in the miraculous wealth of thoughts.”

On March 3, 1844, their first daughter was born, Una. Her name was a reference to The Faerie Queene, though family members on both sides were against her being given the name. The family moved to Salem in October of 1845, and the following year, they welcomed a second child, a son they named Julian, that June. In May of 1851, their third child, Rose, was born.

Hawthorne was appointed “Surveyor of the District of Salem and Beverly and Inspector of the Revenue for the Port of Salem” in spring of 1846. Though during this time, he had a hard time focusing on writing. After the presidential election of 1848, Democrat Hawthorne lost his job and wrote about the occurrence to the Boston Daily Advertiser. It was much talked about by both parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, the latter of which attacked his piece. That July his mother also passed away, which affected him greatly. He described it as “the darkest hour I ever lived.” Two years later, he was then appointed corresponding secretary of the Salem Lyceum.

By 1850, Hawthorne was back into writing. That march, he published his novel The Scarlet Letter. It was one of the first ever books in the country that was mass-produced, with 2,500 volumes being sold only ten days after it was published and was an instant bestseller. This novel is considered Hawthorne’s “masterwork” by many.

At the end of March that year, the Hawthorne family moved to Lenox, Massachusetts to a small red farmhouse. There, Hawthorne befriended Herman Melville at a picnic for local authors. Shortly before they met, Melville had read Hawthorne’s collection of short stories called Mosses from an Old Manse. At the time, Melville was working on his famous Moby-Dick, a book that he  had dedicated to his new friend. “In token of my admiration for his genius, this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne,” he wrote as the dedication.

Hawthorne wrote many more books while in Lenox, including, The House of the Seven Gables in 1852, The Blithedale Romance published in 1852, and a short story collection in 1852 called A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. The latter had been on his mind since 1846. Though he had done a lot of writing, he “has suffered much living in this place” his friend and poet, Ellery Channing, wrote. His family thought the scenery beautiful, but the winters were not great in the small home. They left in November of 1851.

The following May, the family was back in Concord for the year. They bought a home Amos Bronson Alcott’s (the father of Louisa May Alcott, the future author) family had previously lived in. The Hawthornes renamed it The Wayside. While there, Hawthorne wrote a biography on his good friend Franklin Pierce called The Life of Franklin Pierce. When he won the presidential election, Pierce gave Hawthorne the position of United States consul in Liverpool. The family lived there until Pierce presidency came to an end in 1857 and they then went on to tour France and Italy.

In 1860, the family returned to The Wayside and Hawthorne published his first book since 1853 called The Marble Faun. Though the Civil War soon broke out and Hawthorne and William D. Ticknor traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet Abraham Lincoln and other important figures of the time.

Hawthorne was unable to complete many more of his works due to his poor health. He began suffering from terrible pains in his stomach and insisted on going on a trip with Pierce, despite his illness. Nathaniel Hawthorne was in the White Mountains when he died on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire in his sleep. When Sophia found out, she was too devastated to organize his funeral. Hawthorne was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts near other author friends on “Author’s Ridge”. Though Sophia and his eldest daughter, Una, were buried in England originally, the two were re-interred in 2006 beside Hawthorne.