Judge Royall Tyler, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon
In his notebook for Friday, July 13, 1838, Nathaniel Hawthorne recorded his notion to create a fiction about the destructive Judge Royall Tyler and his victim, Elizabeth Hunt Palmer:
"A political or other satire might be made by describing a show of wax-figures of the prominent public men; and, by the remarks of the showman and the spectators, their characters and public standing might be expressed. And the incident of Judge Tyler as related by E--- might be introduced."
In The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne creates the criminal and lascivious Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. The real-life model for this fiction was the Brattleboro resident Chief Justice Royall Tyler. Judge Tyler died in August 1826 in the house at Park Place and Putney Road, after a twelve-year wasting away of his face beginning in 1814-- first the nose, then the jaw, and the eye.
Knowing that Royall Tyler was gruesomely forced to swallow his own sloughing tissues, and that another relation had died from a "lingering cancer of the eyes", Hawthorne made Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon the victim of an heriditary family curse---
Nathaniel Hawthorne's mother-in-law Elizabeth Palmer, Mrs. Nathaniel Peabody, wrote about Royall Tyler and his relations with her sister Mary Palmer, in the November 1833 Christian Examiner article entitled "Seduction":
"We hope we deserve to be called pure, in some good degree; but to us it did not seem to be pure for a polished man of literary eminence, to enter the sanctuary of sleeping innocence, of absolute childhood, for the basest purpose. We did see it, however, and though more than forty years have since passed by, we recollect with almost incredible vividness the shudder of terror and disgust which then shook our infant frame. We have traced the career of that man. He seduced the woman, whose children he would have corrupted, caused the self-murder of a wife and mother, and afterwards married the daughter of that victim. He is dead, and the horrors of his mind, during a lingering disease, were the dreadful fruits of sin; but not of disgrace, for this man had a good standing in society.".
Royall Tyler admitted to his youthfully arrogant and dissolute life, but only regretted the limitations which his seedy past placed upon his career and later ambitions. The basic allegations, never disputed or denied, include his declaring his marital intentions upon Mary first when he was twenty and she was two years old, and repeating these intentions when she was eleven, calling her then "my little wife". These intentions Tyler carried out with an aggressively connived and secret marriage in 1794, designed to avoid the personal and political embarrassment of their child conceived out of wedlock.
Before this final marriage to his "bird in a cage"---as he referred to Mary---Tyler committed repeated "youthful indiscretions". His illegitimate son Royal Morse was born in 1779 to Katharine Morse, a well-known "character", the sweeper and cleaning woman in the Harvard College buildings, the fact recorded by John Langdon Sibley, the long-time Harvard librarian and historian.
Tyler later fathered at least one daughter, Sophia, born in 1786, and possibly another daughter, Catherine, born in 1791, on Mary Palmer's mother Elizabeth Hunt, Mrs. Joseph Pearse Palmer, when her husband was absent for a considerable time.
The "self-murder" referred to by Elizabeth Palmer (Peabody) may be to an abortion of another child by Tyler. (Her reference to "the dreadful fruits of sin" may be to syphilis). Judge Tyler had excellent reasons to try to discourage biographers, saying, "I do not thank the author who pursues his hero into the recesses of domestic life, and exhibits the disgusting infirmities of our common nature.".
That great friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, fully comprehended the secrets in The House of the Seven Gables, and so he asks in Moby Dick; or, The Whale:
If the central conflict in "The House of the Seven Gables" is between Hepzibah and Jaffrey Pyncheon, and if Royall Tyler is Jaffrey and Elizabeth Hunt Palmer is Hepzibah---then the historic house that inspired Hawthorne is Elizabeth Hunt Palmer's boarding house on Beacon Street in Boston.
Is there evidence for this? Yes. The evidence is in the Boston land records. These land records show that the same man---Capt. John Turner---owned two mansions: the older mansion on Beacon Street in Boston, and the newly-built mansion on what is now Turner Street in Salem.
Nathaniel Hawthorne opens his romance with this description: "Half-way down a by-street of one of our New England towns. . ."
Beacon Street in Boston always was a by-street between even busier thoroughfares. It was formerly called "the highway to John Turner's house" and later "the way between the house of the late John Turner and the almshouse". This passage was called "Beacon Street" as such in 1708 from the corner of Somerset Street. The rest was included in School Street, with the corner of Tremont Street and School called "Faireweather's Corner".
Turner Street in Salem was always a dead-end into the harbor.
The Salem mansion that became known as "The House of the Seven Gables" had lost all but three of its original gables long before the visits by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The first known photograph was taken in 1857, showing these three gables. It is not known if this mansion ever had seven gables at any one particular time.
In order to garner more tourist dollars as a matter of stated policy, the owner Caroline O. Emmerton hired the controversial Boston architect Joseph Everett Chandler in 1909 to add all the "missing" gables---including one which was subsequently built in the wrong place---
with eight gables rather than the planned seven."
The "one story appendage" was added in 1915 to meet the tourists' expectations to find Hepzibah Pyncheon's "cent shop". Historical authenticity was violated in the enlargement of the original east room of the 1668 house, which had also already been divided in 1909.
A "secret staircase" was re-discovered in 1888 when the owner Henry Upton removed the ancient central chimney---Nathaniel Hawthorne had implied the presence of such a staircase in his "The House of the Seven Gables", although he did not describe it.
Architect Joseph E. Chandler left no written or photographic record of the evidence which he found. He simply had little antiquarian interest or concern for evidence. He destroyed historic records for Captain John Turner's mansion in Salem.
In 1907 Chandler destroyed the former living quarters of Paul Revere when he removed the third floor of this silversmith patriot's house in North Boston.
Scholars looked the other way. In any case, Nathaniel Hawthorne had Captain John Turner's Boston mansion in mind for his romance, not the captain's Salem mansion.
Nathaniel Hawthorne visited his second cousin Susannah Ingersoll at this Salem mansion built in 1668 by Captain John Turner.
Susannah Ingersoll's widowed mother Susannah (Hathorne) Ingersoll died in 1811 and Susannah Ingersoll found herself in an inheritance battle with her cousins in the family of her maternal uncle Colonel John Hathorne.
Susannah thought that possession was nine-tenths of the law, and she refused to depart the premises. The subsequent physical altercation at the house attracted the attention of the Rev. William Bentley, who came to Susannah Ingersoll's rescue---
This morning I was with her only daughter who has been beset by the Col's family with the ferocity of tigers. They insisted upon entrance into the house and apartments. The daughter had swooned upon the death of her mother and was very low. I took such charge as she desired me for which I expect their vengeance.
Rev. William Bentley hid the house keys and Susannah's money from "the hungry expectants".
Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon seems finally to be a blend of Judge Royall Tyler, John Hathorne, and the Rev. Charles Upham---the man primarily responsible for Nathaniel Hawthorne losing his Custom House appointment.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's sense of the "moral picturesque" must have been sounded by the notion that Captain John Turner, away for years at sea, still owned two elaborate mansions---in Boston and in Salem as well.
Yet for the purposes of sound scholarship, any connection between Hawthorne's romance and this Salem mansion---as opposed to the Boston mansion---remains unconvincing. A standing academic embarrassment.
1722, 1728, 1769
The Elizabeth Hunt Palmer boardinghouse operated in 1784 on the north side of Beacon Street. This house is pictured on several old Boston maps which were drawn in 1722, 1728, and 1769, engraved for Capt. John Bonner and for William Burgess.
These drawings are shown above, in detail. All three maps show the ancient house's three gables that face to the south---the remaining gables are not represented. The retired ships captain John Bonner would know from experience, the value of accuracy in charts and maps.
Mary Palmer, the widow of Judge Royall Tyler, recalled her grandmother Elizabeth Hunt Palmer's boarding house---"We lived in a house which made the corner of School Street and Beacon Street, opposite the splendid dwellings of Mr. Samuel Phillips and Gov. Bowdoin.".
She points out that School Street "in the eighteenth century, ran as far as the present Somerset St., not laid out until 1801.". Mary also knew that her mother resented Royall Tyler's gaining a financial interest in her boardinghouse by paying her debts when she could not.
Nathaniel Hawthorne also knew that Elizabeth Hunt Palmer had maintained a small shop for English dry goods on the Main Street in Watertown, Massachusetts with her sister Kate. The store was owned by her brother William, and a loan from one Mr. Smith had enabled its opening.
The owner of this Beacon Street land was Robert Turner, innkeeper or innholder of the Blue Anchor Tavern on Washington Street---Robert Turner, the father of that same Captain John Turner who built the Salem mansion in 1668.
The Blue Anchor was the Washington Street haunt for visiting members of the General Court, for country clergy summoned to synod, and to the assembled jurors. Robert Turner had a popular serving which gave its name to a track which lay along the back of his tavern, running from the Exchange in King street, passing by Mrs. Phillips' into Water street. Called thence Pudding Lane, this passage kept its name until 1766, when it was enlarged, following a considerably demoralizing fire, and finally emerged as modern Devonshire Street.
Robert Turner owned a large pasture of eight acres on Beacon Hill, which he eventually divided into three lots willed to his sons, Captain John Turner and Ephraim Turner, and to his son-in-law, John Fayerweather, husband to Sarah Turner---
It extended from five feet west of Somerset Street, around the State House lot to nineteen feet east of Hancock Street, and back to Derne Street and Ashburton Place. The western part was finally acquired by Thomas Hancock. The sons of Turner inherited in 1664, but eventually the greater part came into the hands of his son-in-law John Fairweather. He died in 1712, and part was bought by David Sears and the next lot westerly by Edward Bromfield in 1742.
John Fayerweather was also a substantial landowner in Boston. In 1681, through inheritance from his father-in-law, Robert Turner, and purchase from his brother-in-law, Ephraim Turner, he owned a house on Beacon Hill with a plot of land 260 feet wide fronting on Beacon Street and extending back 490 feet. The inheritance included also a strip of ground three rods in breadth adjoining Mr. Lynde's. He and his wife Sarah also took over from her father's estate another piece of land between the Bowdoin estate and the State House, measuring 190 feet on Beacon Street, 490 feet on the east line, 140 feet in the rear, and westerly 571 feet on the highway leading to the monument, a total of 2¾ acres. He sold some of the land in 1703; and when he died in 1712, the Beacon Street frontage was described as extending back to Freeman Street, about 300 feet deep.
While courting Sophia Amelia Peabody, the granddaughter of Elizabeth Hunt Palmer, Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in two places within one city block of this ancient gabled house---at the Tremont House in the summer of 1838, and at No. 3 Somerset Court from March to the fall of 1839.
Hawthorne walked along Somerset Street and Beacon Street daily on his way to work at the Boston Custom House, and back again to Somerset Court---which now forms the east end of Ashburton Place.
Nathaniel Hawthorne must have been curious about the history of this gabled house. He probably knew that the Turner family had owned the land. Did he learn that Captain John Turner visited his sister Sarah in this house? It is possible that John Turner also had a hand in building this Boston gabled house, before building his own Salem mansion in 1668?
Hawthorne may be describing the specific architectural ornamentation of the first John Turner mansion, and later Palmer boardinghouse, with this description---
Its whole visible exterior was ornamented with quaint figures, conceived in the grotesqueness of a Gothic fancy, and drawn or stamped in the glittering plaster, composed of lime, pebbles, and bits of glass, with which the wood-work of the walls was overspread. . . .On the triangular portion of the gable that fronted next the street, was a dial . . .on which the sun was still marking the passage of the first bright hour. . .
It also seems likely that the Turner family mansion on Beacon Hill had an arched window---to which Hawthorne devotes an entire chapter in his romance. Clifford climbs---
to the second story of the house, where, at the termination of a wide entry, there was an arched window of uncommonly large dimensions, shaded by a pair of curtains. It opened above the porch, where there had formerly been a balcony, the balustrade of which had long since gone to decay, and been removed.
No arched window has ever been located at the Turner mansion in Salem.
Nathaniel Hawthorne also implies the presence of a secret staircase in his romance, which allows Clifford to appear unexpectedly to Hepzibah immediately after Judge Pyncheon's death. There is the possibility that John Turner's mansion on Beacon Hill in Boston had such a concealed staircase.
Elizabeth Hunt Palmer died on January 8, 1838 in Brattleboro, Vermont---only six months before Hawthorne referred in his notebook on July 13, 1838 to the "incident" about "Judge Tyler." Almost certainly Hawthorne heard about the destructive Judge Royall Tyler from his future mother-in-law Elizabeth Palmer, the wife of Dr. Nathaniel Peabody, at this time.
Another source of information for Hawthorne about this Beacon Hill neighborhood was Elizabeth Palmer Peabody---Hawthorne's future sister-in-law. Early in 1822, the Boston activist Eliza Lee Cabot had helped Elizabeth to "gather a school" to serve the social elect. Elizabeth's first school in Boston was located at the corner of Hancock Street and Mount Vernon Street.
Elizabeth resided with the family of Augustus Peabody, Esq., a Boston Counsellor at law, beginning in May 1822, in their five-story townhouse near the copper-plated State House on Beacon Hill, and towering above the old Governor Hancock mansion.
Her room on the east end of the fifth floor commanded an excellent prospect easterly toward "all of Boston. . .a perfect view of the beautiful harbour with its islands and vessels". The Bulfinch estate gardens lay directly below Elizabeth's room. Elizabeth may have seen old John Turner's gabled mansion below also, where her grandmother Elizabeth Hunt Palmer had conducted her School Street boardinghouse.
Elizabeth Hunt Palmer's gravestone in the Prospect Hill Cemetery in Brattleboro has been etched and scoured by acid rain, but the pitted lettering remains---
Joseph P. Palmer
Jan. 8 1838
aged 80 Years.
This neglected boardinghouse keeper's more fitting memorial is as Hepzibah Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables, in the Beacon Street, "Half-way down a by-street in one of our New England towns. . ."
The Hepzibah Pyncheon character is also based, in a minor way, on another Hawthorne kinswoman named Hepzibah Clarke, Mrs. James Swan. James Swan had spent twenty-two years in a Paris prison for debt, and when he was finally released, he died shortly therafter. With his penchant for the "moral picturesque," Hawthorne may have associated Swan with his Clifford Pyncheon.
Hepzibah Clarke---the granddaughter and daughter of Hepzibah Williams and Hepzibah Barrett, and the mother of Hepzibah Swan---was noted for her distinctive black lace-trimmed turban. The outdated turban is characteristic of the proprietress of the Seven Gables. Both Hepzibah Clark and Hawthorne's mother, Elizabeth Clarke Manning, shared the common ancestor Thomas Clarke of Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Drawn By John Graves Hale
Engraved By T. Wightman
No. 3 Somerset Court
Near The Elizabeth Hunt Palmer Boarding House Site
Hawthorne's landlady at the boarding house---known widely as Clarke's Place at No. 3 Somerset Court, was Rebecca Parker Hull, the widow of Samuel Clarke, Junior. Rebecca's deceased husband was the nephew of Hepzibah Clarke (The Clarke family chart below is helpful).
Hawthorne almost certainly first heard about Hepzibah Clarke from the notoriously gossip-loving raconteur Rebecca. As a youngster Samuel Clarke, Junior, with his widowed mother, visited the Palmer family in Germantown, and later boarded with them in Boston.
Rebecca Parker Hull (Clarke) had accepted Nathaniel Hawthorne as her boarder, although it had been several years since she had closed regular business operations. Her Clarke's Place was famous as the major Boston Transcendentalist meeting place which hosted the "Conversations" of Margaret Fuller. Amongst her former tenants had been two of the future sisters-in-law for Nathaniel---Elizabeth Peabody and Mary Peabody, later Mrs. Horace Mann.
Mrs. Samuel Clarke, Junior
Rebecca Parker Hull was the daughter of Gen. William Hull, the Revolutionary War hero who had narrowly escaped hanging for the "treason" of surrendering the fort at Detroit during the War of 1812. Rebecca's children were the Rev. James Freeman Clarke and the artist Sarah Freeman Clarke.
Rev. James Clarke married Nathaniel and Sophia in 1842, and delivered Hawthorne's funeral tribute in Concord in 1864. When James Freeman Clarke built a new chapel for his Church of the Disciples on Freeman Place in 1848, it was on land formerly owned by Robert Turner.
Corner With Somerset Street At Right
Edward Bromfield Mansion At Left
Greater Boston Real Estate Board
Robert Turner.---The Last Will and Testament of Robert Turner, taken as hee spake it, 9th 5mo: 1664. I giue to my Eldest sonne, Ephraim Turner, my new Built house, a part wherof he now Dwelleth in, Reseruing to my Deare wife one roome to herselfe During her life time, either in the new end or the old, at her Owne choyce. Also unto my Sonne, Ephraim, my Garden runninge from the House Downe to the Lane, running upon a straight Line home to Joh. Toppins Fence. I giue unto my sonne, John Turner, all the other part of my now Dwelling house & the Ground below it, Bounded by Mr Coles Fence, the other side to bee so lefte as my sonne Ephraim may haue passage by the yeard and garden as they two may agree, by aduice of my Freinds heerafter named. Out of this part of my house Bequeathed to my sonne John, my will is, that my sonne Fairweather, & my Daughter, shall remayne in the Roomes they now Dwell in, for the time of four yeares next ensuing. To my sonne, Joseph, I give my barne beyond Dauid Titchburnes house; also, a parcell of Ground upon the Hill, to be in breadth at the Front [ ] 3 rods and Lye next to my sonne Johns Diuision, and to Runne through up to Mr Houchyes. Also I Confirme & Bequeathe unto my sonne, Faireweather, the house and land upon the Hill Formerlye Deliuered into his possession. I doe adde unto my sd sonne, Faireweather, a strippe of Ground about 3 Rod in breadth adjoyning unto Mr Lynes; also my will is, my sonne, Ephraim, shall haue a share of Land upon Center hill next my sonne Fairweather, to be four Rod Broade at the grout & Runne through with the other Diusions. Also to my sonne, John Turner, a portion of the sd land next to my sonne, Ephraim, to be three rods Broad Equall with my sonne, Joseph. To my Dear wife, I Bequeathe the thirds of all my houses, Lands and mooueables, and after Debts & Legacyes paid all the Lands abroade, the thirds to my said wife, who I make the sole Executrix of this my Last will and testament. I Giue to the Church of Boston, wherof through Mercy I haue so Long remained a member,
L20, to be paid in such pay as my Estate produceth; to the New Church, L5; L5 to ye Church of Cambridg; L10 to Mr Stalham, of Tarling, in Essex; L10 to Capt Oliuers Company; L5 to the other three Companyes, to each 50s; all which Legacyes I will to be paid out of the rents or sales of my Lands at Centrye hill or Muddy riuer, & to bee paid by my Dear wife, with the aduice & assistance of my Ouerseers, within Foure yeares next insuing the Date heerof, at the Discretion of my wife & Ouerseers, whose assistance, aduice & Counsell to my wife & Children I Earnestly Intreate, whose names Follow:---Elder James Penn, Thomas Grubb, William Bartholmew.
Test. John Alcocke.
24th Aug. 1664. Elder James Penn and Thomas Grubb deposed.
An Inventory of the Estate and Goods of Robert Turner, deceased, apprised Dec. 16th 1664, by Edward Fletcher, John Hull. Amt.
L1221.17s. Mentions, the Dwelling House and Land thereto belonging, the House Confirmed to Mr Fairweather & Land belonging, the New Frame and all the Land at Centry Hill, the Farme House & Lott at Muddye riuer, & other Land there, Interest in Land & Mineralls at Chelmsford, 1/32 part of the Shippe Supplye, &c. Penelope Turner deposed to this Inventory of the estate of her late husband, Jan 31st 1664.
William B. Trask, "Abstracts From the Earliest Wills on Record in the County of Suffolk, Mass.". The New England Historical and Genealogical Register For the Year 1859, Volume XIII. (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, Publisher, 13 Bromfield Street, 1859), pages 9-15.
Muddy River refers to Brookline, Massachusetts.
There is an invaluable exposition of Nathaniel Cranch Peabody's attempts, after his elder sister Sophia's death in London, to bring some light to these family concerns in Elizabeth Palmer Peabody; A Reformer on Her Own Terms by Bruce A. Ronda. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Harvard University Press, 1999), pages 11-29. Admirable research.
Engraving By John J. Harley
Royall Tyler's political fame rests on his persecution of the ruined, fugitive farmers of Daniel Shay's Rebellion. Tyler's literary fame rests on "The Contrast" (1787), sometimes said to be "the first American play"---influenced by Richard Sheridan's The School for Scandal, and by the repulsive ideas and specious arguments of Bernard de Mandeville, especially in "The Fable of the Bees; or Private Vices, Publick Benefits".
Royall Tyler's social fame rests on his failed and eccentric courtship of Abigail "Nabby" Adams, the daughter of the then-future President John Adams and his wife Abigail. Adams family biographers detail Tyler's emotional excesses and his manipulative, hypocritical, and ugly temper tantrums.
Following the same pattern of courting both mother and daughter with the husband/father absent, that he would use later with more success against the Palmer family, Royall Tyler aroused John Adams' resentment. The future President wrote to his wife Abigail, "I don't like this method of courting Mothers. There is something too fantastical and affected in this Business for me. It is not nature, modest virtuous noble nature.". Nabby escaped.
Royall Tyler's father was Royall "Pug Sly" Tyler, Sr., a successful politician well acquainted with the hypocrisies needed to gain public acclaim. Pug Sly had sent John Adams a copy of Mandeville's "The Fable of the Bees", with the comment that Mandeville "understood human nature and mankind better than any man that ever lived. . .Every man in public life ought to read that book to make him jealous and suspicious, &c.".
The Royall Tyler house still stands at 10 Park Place, Brattleboro, Vermont. Sophia Peabody visited this house in 1828, long before her marriage. Her sister Elizabeth Palmer Peabody visited during the week of July 14, 1854.
Henry David Thoreau likely met Mary Palmer Tyler here in 1856, along with her neighbor Mrs. Rev. Addison Brown. Mary Palmer Tyler lived in the house until her death in 1866. Una Hawthorne saw this house in May 1868. Una had heard the story about the drowning of her kinsman Edward Palmer in 1797.
her last boarding house on Prospect Hill?
Struggling in a narrow literary field, Nathaniel Hawthorne carefully considered the successful career of Washington Irving. In terms of pure imagination, The House of the Seven Gables was born from the tales by Irving called "The House of the Four Chimneys" and "The Haunted House".
There are deep and major parallels in themes, characters, names, and buildings in these two tales, which Hawthorne lifted from Washington Irving in his deliberate effort to absorb and to promote the Massachusetts legendry in the manner in which Irving approached New Amsterdam history.
Thomas St. John graduated from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey and lived in Boston and Cambridge. He has published in the University of Utah's Western Humanities Review, the Ball State University Forum, and Counterpunch.
Robert Havell 1841