Nathaniel Hawthorne, born in Salem, Massachusetts, is best known for his novels The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851). In 1842, he married Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, an accomplished painter. 

For a more detailed biography, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, the son of Captain Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning Hathorne. Nathaniel’s Puritan ancestors were among the first white settlers in Massachusetts, and one ancestor, John Hathorne, was one of the judges who presided over the Salem witch trials. In an effort to disassociate himself from this ancester, Nathaniel added a "w" to his name to make "Hawthorne." 

Nathaniel attended Bowdoin College, graduating in 1825. At Bowdoin, he developed friendships with the future naval reformer Horatio Bridge, future president Franklin Pierce, and future poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After graduating from Bowdoin, Nathaniel published his first novel Fanshawe in 1828 and several short stories, which were collected in 1837 as Twice-Told Tales

By 1839, Nathaniel Hawthorne was engaged to Sophia Peabody. Also born in Salem, Sophia was the daughter of Nathaniel Peabody and Elizabeth Palmer. She had three brothers and two sisters, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and Mary Tyler Peabody. Sophia received a wide-ranging education, and she became an accomplished artist and writer. She suffered with poor health throughout her life.

The couple was married in 1842. In an effort to save money for their marriage, Nathaniel worked during 1839 and 1840 at the Boston Custom House and in 1841 lived in the transcendentalist utopian community Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. After the couple’s wedding, they moved to the “Old Manse” in Concord, Massachusetts, and became acquainted with the literary community members there, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Their daughter Una was born in 1844, and their son Julian was born in 1846. 

Needing money after Julian’s birth, the Hawthornes moved back to Salem in 1846, where Nathaniel worked at the Salem Custom House and began work on The Scarlet Letter. The novel makes reference in its preface to the Salem Custom House and its politics, which upset local politicians. Partly to escape their ire, the Hawthornes moved to Lenox, Massachusetts, after the novel’s 1850 publication. In Lenox, Nathaniel developed a relationship with Herman Melville and wrote The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, numerous short stories, and a biography of Franklin Pierce. Another Hawthorne daughter, Rose, was born in 1851. The family then moved back to Concord in 1852 and purchased a home there from the Alcott family that the Hawthornes renamed “The Wayside.”

When Franklin Pierce was elected president in 1853, he appointed Hawthorne to the lucrative post of consul in Liverpool, England. The Hawthornes lived in Liverpool throughout the duration of Pierce’s presidency, until 1857. They then traveled in France and Italy until 1860, when they returned to The Wayside. Nathaniel Hawthorne died in his sleep in 1864 while in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Banner Images:

Sophia Amelia Peabody
American, 1809-1871
Isola San Giovanni, 1839-40 (detail)
Oil on canvas
Gift of Joan D. Ensor, in memory of her mother, Imogen Hawthorne, granddaughter of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne, 2004
Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum, Photography by Walter Silver

Detail of photograph of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Brady of New York, circa 1834-1864, Nathaniel Hawthorne papers, MSS 68, Box 1, Folder 8. Courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Rowley, MA.