For generations, the Hawthorne family retained a belief that a curse had been visited upon them because of the actions of John Hathorne. Moncure D. Conway traces this back to the testimony of the husband of one of the accused, which he quotes in his Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1890). Having watched his wife treated with such severity during her trial that she is on the verge of fainting, the unnamed man is reported to have “repeat[ed] something against their cruel proceedings,” an ejaculation which was presumably something to the effect that “God would avenge his wife’s sufferings” (p. 15).
With such tales circulating about his own ancestors, the idea of hereditary sin provided fertile ground for Hawthorne’s literary imagination. The theme finds its ultimate expression in The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which the Pyncheon family are cursed after Colonel Pyncheon engineers for the man who owns the land he covets to be executed for witchcraft, thereby allowing him to claim it for himself.