• Salem Maritime National Historic Site

    Salem Maritime

    National Historic Site Massachusetts

Nathaniel Hawthorne

a portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne worked at the U.S. Custom House in Salem for three years.

NPS collections

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in a small house three blocks from the Custom House. By the 1840s, he was a well known author, but he found it difficult to support his family on his writing. Fortunately, his best friend was Franklin Pierce, who later became President of the United States. Pierce and other friends in the Democratic Party got the job of Surveyor for Hawthorne (who had worked for the Customs Service in Boston a few years earlier) in 1846. With the change in administration from the Democratic to the Whig Party in 1848, however, Hawthorne lost his job after a painful and prolonged fight to continue as Surveyor.

He turned the pain, anger, and betrayal he felt into his first great novel, The Scarlet Letter. In the introduction to the novel, he describes the Salem Custom House and pretends to find the story among the papers of a previous surveyor.


For More Information:

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Salem: A Walking Tour of Literary Salem
Download Text (291 KB pdf file)
Download Map (539 KB pdf file)

The Custom House

The U.S. Custom Service in Salem

Did You Know?

The octant is a navigational tool based on the curve of one eighth of a circle. It measures angles for solar and celestial navigation.

In 1799, Salem native Nathaniel Bowditch revised John H. Moore's New Practical Navigator, the standard navigation manual of the 18th century. Bowditch discovered and corrected over 8,000 errors in Moore's manual! In 1802, Bowditch published the New American Practical Navigator.