Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne Childhood

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Nathaniel Hathorne (he added the "w" later) was born 4 July 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. He was the second of three children born to Navy Captain Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Manning Hathorne. The Hathorne and Manning families were descended from a long line of proud Puritan stock that had lived in Salem for generations. Hawthorne's great-great-great-grandfather, Major William Hathorne, viciously persecuted Quakers during the seventeenth century, and his great-great-grandfather, Justice John Hathorne, was a judge at the Salem witch trials. There's no proof for the apocryphal tale that Hawthorne changed his last name specifically to distance himself from his family's associations with the witch trials. It is clear, however, that he was haunted all of his life by his ancestors' role in some of America's most chilling episodes.

In 1808, just months after the birth of Hawthorne's youngest sister, his father died of yellow fever on a voyage to Suriname. His mother was devastated. The family moved to a home in Salem that Hawthorne always referred to as "Castle Dismal." He was educated under the supervision of his uncle and demonstrated an early flair for writing. For three months in 1820, when he was sixteen years old, he published and distributed a hand-written newspaper entitled The Spectator, which contained essays, poems, fiction, and advertisements.

In 1821, Hawthorne set off by train to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He befriended fellow students Franklin Pierce, who grew up to be president, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the future poet. At their graduation in 1825, Longfellow read a speech on the need for a new American literature. Hawthorne moved back to Salem that summer and begin his contributions to it.

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