This map plots the settings and references in The Scarlet Letter

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View of Salem from Gallows Hill (1818)
Public DomainView of Salem from Gallows Hill (1818) - Credit: Alvan Fisher

The introductory essay, ‘The Custom-House,’ is set in mid-nineteenth century Salem.

Salem lies on America’s east coast in Essex County, Massachusetts, bordered to the north by the Danvers River and to the south by Marblehead and the Forest River area. First colonized by Europeans in 1626, Salem's seaboard location made it an ideal center for maritime activity, and by the end of the eighteenth century it had become the richest port in America. Political machinations and military clashes, however, brought an abrupt halt to this prosperity, and by Hawthorne's time Salem was in a state of flux. While the past successes of its sea merchants had bequeathed it a good deal of fine architecture, the wharves and harbors were slipping into forlorn disuse; the manufacturing industries that would bring future wealth to the city had not yet been fully established. Mid-nineteenth Salem teetered between nostalgic pride and uncomfortable self-doubt, further colored by the historic atrocities — particularly the witch trials of 1692  — that still loomed large in the consciousness of its inhabitants.