"there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon"
Elizabeth Pain's grave
Creative Commons AttributionElizabeth Pain's grave - Credit: Boston Public Library

An escutcheon is a shield displaying a coat of arms. There’s a particularly interesting example of a grave bearing such a device in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground which Hawthorne, a regular visitor, would have encountered during one of his many wanders there. It belongs to Elizabeth Pain (1652-1704) and its striking capital A has long been considered an inspiration for The Scarlet Letter. Critics argue about the extent to which Hawthorne drew upon Pain's life for his portrayal of Hester, but it is true that both had illegitimate children (Pain later married her partner) and suffered public humiliation and imprisonment (Pain for the greater crime of infanticide). 

Forms of escutcheon favored in different countries
GNU Free Documentation LicenseForms of escutcheon favored in different countries - Credit: MG