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Boston

The Scarlet Letter is set in 1640s Boston, the present-day capital of Massachusetts. A decade on from its initial settlement by Puritan colonists, it bore little resemblance to the metropolis of today.

Located on the Shawmut Peninsula, the town was surrounded by dense forest, above which rose three tall hills. The inhabitable areas were hemmed in by marshes and mudflats. In 1640, Boston was home to 1,200 colonists who clustered about the southern shores in simple wooden houses. Their lives were structured on the Puritan ideals that had informed their migration, and all strived to make the “City upon a Hill” the model of the perfect communion with God that its founder, John Winthrop, had envisioned. Though this led to an efficient, well-regulated society, citizens were subject to harsh laws covering the minutest details of their moral and social activities. Failure to abide by Puritan mores met with severe punishment, and Boston was the scene of the Antinomian Controversy and the persecution of Quakers.

First Settlement of Boston
Public DomainFirst Settlement of Boston - Credit: Robert Sears
View of Boston Common (c.1750)
Public DomainView of Boston Common (c.1750) - Credit: Hannah Otis