I wanted to start my Salem Suffrage Saturday posts with a focus on two lesser-known members of one of Salem’s most conspicuous families: the Ha(w)thornes. Generally we hear about either the Witch Trial Judge, John Hathorne, of the seventeenth century or the famed author (who added the w) of the nineteenth, but I’m going to look at two women who lived in between these towering figures: Mary (1742-1802) and Sarah (1750-1804) Hathorne. Nathaniel had multiple familial connections to the Salem Witch Trials on his paternal side: besides the infamous judge, both of his great uncles married granddaughters of Philip English, who was accused in 1692 along with his wife Mary but managed to flee to New York. Captain William Hawthorne married Mary Touzel, the daughter of Philip’s and Mary’s daughter Susannah Touzel, in 1741 and they had seven children, among them Mary and Sarah. I do believe that the girls and their siblings grew up in—and likely resided later—in what is generally referred to as the Benjamin Marston House on the corner of Cambridge and Essex Streets, which was passed down to their parents by Philip English: this was a very old house with a “modern” addition grafted onto the front in their time, when it was generally referred to as the Hathorne House.
The Marston/Hathorne House on Essex & Cambridge Streets, drawn by John Robinson in 1870, just before its demolition.
I don’t think their father made much money: the fact that both they—and their Hathorne-Touzel cousins—are living and working in this old “mansion house” over much of their lives gives one that impression, as does the fact that their mother, Mrs. Mary Hathorne, kept by all accounts a well-stocked shop. As neither Mary or Sarah married, they had to fend for themselves to a certain extent–albeit in the midst of family, connections, and what remained of the English inheritance. I’m starting my year of Salem women by looking at Mary and Sarah because they were working women: the hardest nut to crack. It’s really hard to get a window into the lives of women in general before the twentieth century, but single working women are particularly elusive though much more representative of the population at large than many of their more well-documented peers. Generally there has to be some conspicuous event, some legal procedure, something that happens to them—to give us insights. I was able to learn something about the life—or should I say death—of a Salem mill girl much later in the nineteenth century only because she suffered a severe workplace injury. But there are some Salem sources which can illuminate a bit of the working lives of Mary and Sarah Hathorne at the turn of the nineteenth century: a conspicuous “eulogy” by the every-chatty Reverend William Bentley following the death of the former, and an account book of the latter, preserved in the collection of the PEM’s Phillips Library.
Entry for March 25, 1802 in the Reverend William Bentley’s Diary; Phillips Library MS 1577.
I am sure you can understand why I could not ignore that Bentley statement! Wow–a lot to unpack there. Bentley has a lot to say about everyone, of course, but he devoted quite a bit of space to Miss Hathorne (and her mother as well). The $40,000—which is repeated by others, including Sidney Perley. I don’t know how to verify, but there are other contemporary statements attesting to Mary (often referred to as Molly) Hathorne’s wealth, enterprise, crudeness, intemperance, and lack of femininity. I’d like to know more about the precise nature of conducting business as a “pedestrian trader”, but we have evidence of Mary’s shop (at the corner of Cambridge and Essex, of course) and considerable property investment via outstanding mortgages. From the deed research that I’ve engaged in, I know that real estate was a popular enterprise for those Salem women who had the means and the opportunity in the nineteenth century; apparently the eighteenth as well. Dr. Bentley informs us that Mary’s mother (also named Mary) who died at the venerable age of 80 three years after her daughter acquired property in peddling from Salem in the neighboring towns, by a parsimony almost unexampled among us and was also characterized by the family “intemperance”.
I wish I could get inside the “shop of Miss Mary Hathorne” to gain some insights into her business as a “pedestrian trader”, but so far, no luck. However, her younger sister Sarah did leave us an account book which sheds some light on the nature of her more feminine occupation: that of a seamstress. The day book, covering transactions from 1794-96, is literally covered in computations—not an inch of paper is wasted, inside or outside. Within we can see all of Sarah’s suppliers and the materials she purchased for her work: a lot of cotton and buckram, linen, silk, gauze, cambric, calico, chintz, baize, flannel, “nancain” (nankeen). We see some familiar Salem names with whom she is doing business: Bott, Symonds, even a man named “Samuel Mackentier”! Of course I’d like to see more details about her commissions and the general management of her business, but I love this inventory of eighteenth-century fabrics—and her apparent preoccupation to get the numbers right.
Pages from Sarah Hathorne’s Day Book, Phillips Library MS 1577
Sadly there are no portraits of these two: unlike the Hathorne males in their line and the well-heeled merchant’s wives of their time. European artists had been interested in anonymous working women for some time, however, so I’m including two of my favorite portraits of a shopkeeper and a seamstress, just because they are period-perfect, and the anonymous shopkeeper’s small smile reminds me of Molly Hathorne’s characterization.
Anonymous, A Woman Shopkeeper, c. 1790-1810, Glasgow Museums; Wybrand Hendricks, Interior with Woman, c. 1800-1810, Rijksmuseum Twenthe.
January 18th, 2020 at 1:08 pm
I’ll look forward
To those that will Follow. Loved the portraits.
January 18th, 2020 at 6:26 pm
What an interesting post. Even though we know quite a lot I’m hoping something new pops up about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sister, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, who founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne and became Mother Mary Alphonsa. Years ago when I found out about her and the suspected abuse by her husband it made me realized that becoming a nun was one of the few escapes for abused women throughout the ages.
January 19th, 2020 at 10:29 am
Rose was Nathaniel’s and Sophia’s daughter.
January 19th, 2020 at 6:29 pm
Right! I knew that. Not sure why I wrote sister. Thanks for the correction.
January 18th, 2020 at 6:33 pm
Love this, Donna! I can’t help but think how recognition of the latest movie version of Little Women, as beautiful as it is, will get swept under the rug. Why is it that the world adores the male sentiment in art…but the female sentiment is so often dismissed…Precisely one of the reasons I required the reading of Jane Eyre in my classes.
Then again, in the long run, perhaps flying under the radar has its benefits.
January 19th, 2020 at 12:29 am
Awesome! I will think of Sarah and Mary now when I walk by Essex and Cambridge streets now, which is quite often.