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The Chamber Over The Little Parlor

June 30, 2017 Published By Guest Author

by Alyssa Conary

On July 4, 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in the house at 27 Union Street in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1958, the house was saved from destruction and moved to the campus of The House of the Seven Gables, where it is visited daily by our guests. Visitors often want to know which room of the house Hawthorne was actually born in. Fortunately, there are two convincing pieces of evidence that enable us to answer that question with a fair degree of certainty. The first is a letter written by Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne, the author’s sister, to Una Hawthorne, his daughter, on November 12, 1865:

“I can tell you when your father was born,­—on the fourth of July, 1804, in the chamber over that little parlor into which we looked, in that house on Union St. It then belonged to my grandmother Hawthorne, who lived in one part of it. There we lived until 1808, when my father died, at Surinam.”   

From Elizabeth’s description, it’s clear that Hawthorne was born on the second floor of the house, and on the left side, the parlor side (the right side of the first floor is a kitchen).

The second piece of evidence is a late nineteenth-century photograph taken by Salem architecture enthusiast Frank Cousins, documented as an “interior view of the Northwest chamber where Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804.” This is consistent with Elizabeth’s description of the room being on the left side of the second floor.

So the next time you are visiting the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace, pause inside of the room where we display the first editions of Hawthorne’s novels. It’s likely the room where Salem’s most famous son drew his first breath.

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