"such other wharf-rats as haunt the Wapping of a seaport"


London's West India Docks at Wapping (1810)
Public DomainLondon's West India Docks at Wapping (1810) - Credit: Thomas Rowlandson & Charles Pugin

Wapping is the part of London that houses the dockside area. It has a long seafaring history: Sir Walter Raleigh equipped his ship there for his voyage to Guyana and James Cook lived there as a young boy. By Hawthorne’s time, it enjoyed a monopoly, being the place at which ships carrying imports from abroad were obliged to unload by the East India Company.

Though Hawthorne uses Wapping generically to refer to any dockside area, it is interesting to note that it, like the port of Salem, was a major site of public punishment. Execution Dock was the stage where assorted buccaneers, mutineers and smugglers were hung for over 400 years up until 1830. The scaffold was positioned right above the water, and the bodies weren’t cut down until three tides had washed over them.