Hawthorne and the Salem trials

Hawthorne was deeply affected by the legacy of his ancestors and the shameful association of his family with the Salem witch trials. He was especially troubled by the deeds of John Hathorne. Hawthorne reportedly added a "w" to the fam-

The Legacy of John Hathorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne's first Puritan ancestor was major William Hathorne, who settled in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1630s before moving on to Salem as one of the founders of the town. In the introduction to The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne described his ancestor as "a grave, bearded, sable-cloaked and steeple-crowned progenitor—who came so early with his Bible and sword . . . and had all the Puritanical traits, both good and evil." William expressed his Puritan fervor by persecuting Quakers (members of the Society of Friends). His son John earned an even more infamous reputation for persecution as an unrepentant magistrate during the Salem witch trials of 1692-93.

Born in 1641, John inherited the privileges of an elite Salem family. During his lifetime he was a prosperous landowner, merchant, and judge. In 1684 he was appointed chief magistrate of the local court system, a position that gave him the principal role in questioning defendants during the witch trials eight years later. Transcriptions of the trials show that

Hathorne presumed all accused persons to be guilty until proven innocent, so he used aggressive tactics to force them into making confessions. As an advocate of spectral (spirit) evidence, he accepted fantastical testimony as fact; therefore, the only way a suspect could avoid execution was to confess to the crime of witchcraft. Hathorne exploited the theatrical nature of the trials by calling upon supposedly bewitched (cast under a spell) girls as witnesses to confront accused witches in court, a move that doomed several people when the girls fell into fits. His bullying led many innocent people to Gallows Hill. Despite his role in the ordeal, Hathorne never expressed any remorse. Unlike his colleague Samuel Sewall (see biography and primary source entries), for instance, Hathorne did not make a public apology. Hathorne lived to an advanced age, enjoying great wealth and the respect of the community. This contradiction and Hathorne's involvement in the trials later haunted Nathaniel Hawthorne, providing the reason for the theme of inherited guilt in the author's works.

ily name in order to distinguish it from the Hathornes. This was not the only way he was affected, as his life in Salem also profoundly haunted him. Hawthorne's main literary theme was the inheritance of guilt. He felt strongly that the sins of one generation were passed on to the next generation and would play themselves out in a cycle of mischief and tragedy in small ways. From the actions of his ancestors Hawthorne thus developed the concept of an ancestral curse. In his tales he sought to emphasize the importance of the heart and the potential calamity of over-reliance on rational thinking (ideas based on reason), which leads to destructive intellectual pride.

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