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Hawthorne on the Isles of Shoals

Isles of Shoals
September 1852

We knew that American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne had stayed at the Isles of Shoals. But we had no idea he left a 10,000 word journal of his visit. Plymouth State College student Craig Brown suggested we take a deeper look. So we added Hawthorne's compelte 1852 journal with unique tales of ghosts, buried treasure, Shoalers and the Appledore Hotel.



Introduction by Craig Brown

READ: WHo Saved the Scarlet Letter?
JUMP to the original Hawthorne Journal
He remains one of New England’s favorite sons. More than a century after his death Nathaniel Hawthorne is among America’s best known and most read authors. Born in Salem, Mass. on July 4th, 1804 and schooled in Maine, he developed a love and passion for writing. But in September of 1852 the author of The Scarlet Letter and House of Seven Gables was a tourist on the Isles of Shoals.

Hawthorne recorded his initial impressions in his notebooks, published after his death by his wife Sophia.

"The Isles of Shoals, Monday, August 30th.— Left Concord at a quarter of nine A.M. Friday, September 3, set sail at about half past ten to the Isles of Shoals. The passengers were an old master of a vessel; a young, rather genteel man from Greenland, N. H.; two Yankees from Hamilton and Danvers; and a country trader (I should judge) from some inland town of New Hampshire. The old sea-captain, preparatory to sailing, bought a bunch of cigars (they cost ten cents), and occasionally puffed one. The two Yankees had brought guns on board, and asked questions about the fishing of the Shoals. They were young men, brothers, the youngest a shopkeeper in Danvers, the other a farmer, I imagine, at Hamilton, and both specimens of the least polished kind of Yankee, and therefore proper to those localities. They were at first full of questions, and greatly interested in whatever was going forward; but anon the shopkeeper began to grow, first a little, then very sick, till he lay along the boat, longing, as he afterwards said, for a little fresh water to be drowned in. His brother attended him in a very kindly way, but became sick himself before he reached the end of the voyage."

Hawthorne Hawthorne was an avid journal writer, capturing his journeys, first in America and then in Europe, with a writer’s eye to detail. His Passages from the American Note-Books, excerpted here, were written between 1835 and 1853. The largest portion of his 1852 journal is devoted to time spent on the Isles of Shoals. That entire section, about 10,000 words, follows this introduction.

Upon his arrival to the Isles of Shoals Hawthorne stopped at the hotel on Appledore Island where he was shown his room and unloaded his belongings. Hawthorne offers us a rare glimpse at the Appledore Hotel, managed at the time by young Celia Laighton Thaxter’s father Thomas, whom Hawthorne appears to admire.

"We landed at Appledore, on which is Laighton's Hotel,--a large building with a piazza or promenade before it, about an hundred and twenty feet in length, or more,--yes, it must be more. It is an edifice with a centre and two wings, the central part upwards of seventy feet. At one end of the promenade is a covered veranda, thirty or forty feet square, so situated that the breeze draws across it from the sea on one side of the island to the sea on the other, and it is the breeziest and comfortablest place in the world on a hot day. There are two swings beneath it, and here one may sit or walk, and enjoy life, while all other mortals are suffering."

After dinner Hawthorne was introduced to Mr. Laighton and Mr. Thaxter who showed the author around the Islands. Here Hawthorne encounters the John Smith monument and meets locals from Portsmouth. He also describes the terrain and people of Star Island.

Appledore Hotel"On the highest point of Star Island stands the church,--a small, wooden structure; and, sitting in its shadow, I found a red-baize-shirted fisherman, who seemed quite willing to converse. He said that there was a minister here, who was also the schoolmaster; but that he did not keep school just now, because his wife was very much out of health. The school-house stood but a little way from the meeting-house, and near it was the minister's dwelling; and by and by I had a glimpse of the good man himself, in his suit of black, which looked in very decent condition at the distance from which I viewed it. His clerical air was quite distinguishable, and it was rather curious to see it, when everybody else wore red-baize shirts and fishing-boots, and looked of the scaly genus. He did not approach me, and I saw him no nearer. I soon grew weary of Gosport, and was glad to reëmbark, although I intend to revisit the island with Mr. Thaxter, and see more of its peculiarities and inhabitants. I saw one old witch-looking woman creeping about with a cane, and stooping down, seemingly to gather herbs. On mentioning her to Mr. Thaxter, after my return, he said that it was probably "the bearded woman." I did not observe her beard; but very likely she may have had one."

Later accounts tell of a meeting with young Celia, more lazy days on the Isles, tales of the shipwrecked Spaniards, the annoyance of tourists, longing for letters from home, the arrival of his Bowdoin classmate Franklin Pierce -- soon to become Presidnet of the United States. Hawthorne tours Star, White, Lunging and Smuttynose and offers fascinating accounts of the islands and the people he meets.

Hawthorne offers one of the least read, yet rich descriptions of life at the Appledore in its early days and life in Gosport Harbor. For fans of Hawthorne and fans of the Isles of Shoals, his journals a unique, highly personal bit of history -- memoirs that are well worth the read. Hawthorne was 48 years old when he visited the Isles of Shoals. He passed away at the age of 60 in Plymouth, New Hampshire in1864 while visiting the mountains for his health.

Edited by Sophia Hawthorne,
Copyright 1883 by Houghton, Mifflin & Co, Boston, MA.
Vol. IX of the Riverside Edition
For the complete PASSAGES, go here.

By Nathaniel Hawthorne
(Click each summary to read entire day's journal)

Friday, September 3:
Voyage from Seacoast, NH to Appledore Hotel. Hawthorne meets Thomas Laighton and Levi Thaxter, takes a short tour and plays whist with a woman from Portsmouth.

Saturday, September 4
Hawthorne visits Star Island and observes the native Shoalers. He talks with Levi Thaxter and meets his wife Celia. They drink hot toddies and have a sing-along.

Sunday, September 5
Hawthorne lazes about the island waiting for the arrival of Franklin Pierce, attempts fishing. Laighton says Phillip Bab haunts the island and talks more about the Shoalers on Star.

Monday, September 6
Pierce arrives and they again tour Star Island, including the grave of Rev. Tucke. They meet Joe Caswell and look at the Gosport Records, visit Betty Moody’s Cave and learn about Miss Underhill. Hawthorne learns about local superstitions among those who dig for buried treasure in the Seacoast.

Tuesday, September 7
The author hangs around the hotel, walks on Appledore, discusses the appearance of the island and grabs a green snake.

Wednesday. September 8
Hawthorne describes the Isles in detail, and visits the John Smith cairn. Oscar fires at a shark in the cove and a few unwelcome guests arrive at the hotel. Mr. Laighton tells of a huge wave that hit the island years before. Hot weather continues.

Thursday, September 9
Levi rows Hawthorne to White Island where the lighthouse keeper is harvesting his garden. They stop briefly at Lunging. Hawthorne discusses the poor manners of the other guests and one sickly woman.

Friday, September 10
Levi and Hawthorne talk about birds, ghosts and shipwrecks. A thick fog rolls in. A number of guests come and go and the author receives a shipment of pears from the mainland.

Saturday, September 11
Rainy weather and mosquitoes. Hawthorne and Levi Thaxter visit Smuttynose. They see the Spaniards and Haley graves and wander to the end of the island in bad weather. Hawthorne offers character sketches of a Prussian man running the small island hotel and of a visiting sea captain. Hawthorne is getting homesick.

Sunday, September 12
Hawthorne waxes poetic in a powerful description of the Shoals as he waits in bad weather to view a rising storm that does not arrive.

Monday, September 13
The author enjoys time with Levi and Celia Thaxter discussing ghosts, then talks again with Thomas Laighton on the piazza. He again describes the Shoals, visits a fresh water spring and offers descriptions of the rocky view.

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