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Writer Nathaniel Hawthorne turns Marine Cargo Surveyor to Make ends Meet A Fantastic document from his time in the Salem Customs House which set the preface to his next Novel the Scarlet Letter and his sketch "The Custom House" A Destitute Nathaniel Hawthorne accepts a political patronage job from  President James Polk and signs a Port of Salem Customs Receipt  while working as a Marine Cargo Surveyor. Non-Literary examples  of Hawthorne’s signature are scarce.

Included Engraving


Nathaniel Hawthorne

Noted American author of The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables and Twice Told Tales, Hawthorne is known for his literary connections with the American Transcendentalist Movement including Thoreau, Emerson and his neighbors, the Alcott’s, all living in Concord, Massachusetts. A growing family and mounting debts necessitated Hawthorne’s move back to Salem in 1846 where he worked as a Surveyor for the Port of Salem for three years, an set the scene for his preface to the Scarlet Letter.

Photo Hawthorne circa
1846 as a Customs Clerk

Hawthorne by Leuze

Young Hawthorne

Hawthorne Portrait

Historical Note

Born in Salem to a wealthy Puritan family, Hawthorne’s father was a sea Captain and descendent of Major William Hathorne (1606-1681), known for his persecution of Quakers, and John Hathorne (1641-1717), a magistrate of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, who was the stern interrogator of the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. The family name was later changed in spelling to Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne was intrigued, even haunted, by his paternal ancestors. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine (1821-24) where he met Franklin Pierce (later 14th President of the US) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He returned to Salem (1825-36) where he worked as a writer and contributor to periodicals. He published his first novel Fanshawe at his own expense in 1828 but it failed to excite any public excitement and he burned the unsold copies. In 1836 he moved to Boston to edit a magazine and compiled several books for children. Several of his short stories were published as Twice Told Tales in 1837 and he had his first public success as a writer. In 1841 Hawthorne invested $1500 and joined the communal society at Brook Farm near Boston. Hawthorne pursued the Utopian dream of writing while living in communal support, however, the realities and demands of a working farm interfered with his ability to write and after less than a year he withdrew from the community. Hawthorne became friends with the Transcendentalists in Concord, Massachusetts – Emerson, Thoreau and the Alcott’s. He also met and married Sophia Peabody, an ardent Transcendentalist and in 1842 they moved to Concord to live at The Manse. But unable to earn a living as a writer, his growing debts and family necessitated a move back to Salem where in 1846 he was appointed Surveyor for the Port of Salem by President Polk. This receipt acknowledges the payment of proper duties on “Thirty-nine cords Wood” imported by the schooner “Les Exile” probably from Annapolis, Nova Scotia, and is signed in red by Hawthorne.

1 page Document – Signed and Dated: September 1, 1847
Text as Follows:

District of Salem & Beverly
To the Inspectors of the Port of Salem: September 1, 1847
We Certify, that J. Johnson has secured the Duties on Merchandize[sic] contained in the following packages, in conformity to the entry thereof on this date, which merchandize was imported in the "Les Exile", Johnson Master, from Annapolis [Nova Scotia]. Permission is accordingly given to land the same, viz:

 Thirty nine cords Wood

[signed] Nath'l Hawthorne, Revenue - Ephr'm F. Miller, Dep Collector - John D. Howard, Naval Officer

A change in political parties cost Hawthorne his port job and he moved to Lenox Massachusetts. In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville purchased an 18th century farmhouse in the community of Pittsfield in Berkshire County. Berkshire was then home to a number of prominent literary figures such as Fanny Kemble, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and, in Lenox, less than six miles away was Hawthorne. Hawthorne and Melville met for the first time in Stockbridge on August 5, 1850, on a picnic excursion hosted by David Dudley Field. Hawthorne was forty-six and familiar with at least a portion of Melville's work, having favorably reviewed Typee in the Salem Advertiser (March 25, 1846); Melville was thirty-one and had just written or was about to write an exceedingly warm and enthusiastic piece on Hawthorne's Mosses From an Old Manse, a copy of which had been given to him by an aunt a few weeks before. Here was the heart of American Literature. The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, was based partly on Hawthorne's family experiences in Salem. The novel is about the earliest victims of Puritan obsession and spiritual ferocity. The central theme is the effect of guilt, anxiety and sorrow. The House of the Seven Gables was published next year while in Lenox. It focused on a family legacy, which operates as an inherited curse by one of the victims of the 17th-century Salem witchcraft trials. The story was based on the legend of a curse, which was pronounced on Hawthorne's own family by a woman who was condemned to death during the Salem witchcraft trials. The curse mirrors the decay of the Pyncheon family's seven-gabled mansion. Finally a descendant of the killed woman marries a young niece of the family and the hereditary sin ends. In 1852 Hawthorne returned to Concord, where he wrote a campaign biography of his college friend Franklin Pierce. When Pierce was elected President in 1853, Hawthorne was rewarded with an appointment to a consulship in Liverpool, England. He lived there for four years and then spent a year and half in Italy writing The Marble Faun (1860). It was his last completed novel. He returned again to Concord to live at "The Wayside", adjacent to the Alcott family, where he wrote the essays contained in Our Old Home (1863). After suffering from severe bouts of dementia (possibly caused by arsenic poisoning) and acute depression over the Civil War, Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, on a trip to the mountains with his friend Franklin Pierce.

Document Specifications: Very Good one page wove paper, unwatermarked. Signed “Nath. Hawthorne” in reddish ink, and dated "September 1, 1847". Measuring approximately 8w x 7h inches (212 x 193 mm). 2 vertical file folds, small tear Lower Left corner, staple holes along top, all away from signature, some paper toning. Includes a lovely black and white engraving by T. Cole after a photo by Mayall.  This page measures 7.5" x 10" overall while the engraved image is 5" x 6.25" and it includes an example of Hawthorne's signature.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

End of Item - BSL - Hawthorne Cargo Survey

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