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Saturday, November 1, 2014

My 9th Great Grandmother Wore the Scarlet Letter "A" (Part II)

Mary Magdalene Baily Bachiler May Well Be the Inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's Novel, the Scarlet Letter, Published in 1850

I was emotionally captivated in high school with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Never did I realize then that my own 9th Great Grandmother, Mary Bachiler, was likely the source of the novel's protagonist and heroine, Hester Pyrnne. In a book written in 1910 Mary was revealed as the woman inspiring Nathaniel Hawthorne's account of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. She is not the only possible inspiration, but highly possible.

The grave of Hester Pyrnne as described in The Scarlett Letter is that of Mrs. Elizabeth Pain at King's Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, the same cemetery mentioned in the novel. Her grave had a crest upon it which could be perceived as a letter "A", a great scene for a movie. She gave birth to an illegitimate child by Samuel Pain, whom she later did wed. The child died in 1692 and Elizabeth was tried for murder in 1693. She was found not guilty of murder but was guilty of negligence in failing to get help to save the child. She was fined and flogged twenty times. I have found no information that she was charged with adultery and flogged and forced to wear the letter A.

Writer Laurie Rozakis has written that the inspiration, or an additional source of inspiration, for Hester Pyrnne is that of the life of Hester Craford who was flogged for adultery with John Wedg with whom she had a baby. Major John Hathorne was a magistrate in Salem in 1688, knew Hester Craford, and ordered her to be flogged publicly after the birth for her sin against society. I do not know what happened to Wedg for his punishment against society.

So we have two potential people inspiring Nathaniel Hawthorne's book. There is a third, Mary Bachiler, whom I have written about in My 9th Great Grandmother Wore the Scarlet Letter A Part 1. Briefly Mary Magdalene Baily Beedle Bachiler Turner had an affair while married to the excommunicated Rev. Stephen Bachiler, 60 years her senior. The affair was with her next door neighbor, George Rogers; they had a child together. Their relationship did not survive the social mores of the 1600s in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Puritan intolerance. George and Mary were each given 40 lashes and she was forced to wear the Letter A emblazoned upon her clothing.

Eleanor Campbell Schoen in a presentation on the Reverend Stephen Bachiler, stated that "A book written in 1910 states that Mary Magdalene Bailey Beedle Bachiler Turner was the woman upon whom Nathaniel Hawthorne patterned Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter." This book was published at the time of the week-long Town of Eliot's Centennial of Incorporation. Eliot was part of Kittery until 1810. On page 25 of this 1910 book it states"The home of Mary Batchelder, wife of Samuel [Stephen] Batchelder, said to be the original of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter." On page 35 it states that Mary Bachellor, "said to be the original of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, signed the document" in 1652 along with the male landowners of Kittery acknowledging Kittery as subject to Massachusetts and its protections, rather than Maine.

Hawthorne's description of Hester Prynne's cottage was similar to the Staple property, the land and home of my ancestor, Mary's daughter Elizabeth Beadle who married immigrant Peter Staple. Mary is my grandchildren's 11th great grandmother.

The Staples Family History Association wrote in their newsletter volume 3, number 2 in January of 1980 that Nathaniel Hawthorne's ancestor, Captain William Hathorne, a Massachusetts Bay Colony commissioner, owned 870 acres of land just three farmsteads north of Mary's land in Kittery. Nathaniel made many long visits to Kittery and knew of the story of Mary Bachiler. Nathaniel was fascinated with colonial history and journaled the history of Mary, though not by name. He wrote extensive historical notes for his novels, such as The Scarlet Letter. According to the newsletter, Nathaniel wrote in his journal of a young woman "doomed to wear the letter A on the breast of her gown under an old colony law as punishment for adultery." Nathaniel had an very broad knowledge of Kittery and its people. The newsletter declares that the evidence is "strong" that Mary is Hester in the novel.

Significance can also be gained in realizing that Nathaniel knew Thomas Waite and his wife Maria Staples who was a descendant of Mary's. Thomas ran the Province House Tavern in Boston, one of Nathaniel's hangouts before 1838, the year he published Legends of the Province House, later republished as Twice Told Tales. The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. Nathaniel treasured history and used historical accounts in his stories. From the Waites he likely heard of Mary Bachilir.

In the Critical Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Literary Reference to His Life on page 214, there is a section devoted to the possibility of Mary Bachilir being the inspiration for Hester Prynne.

PARALLELS: Hester and Mary were strong women who were too often self-reliant. Both were strong willed. Both overcame public humiliation. Both had missing husbands. Both bear a child of adultery. Both wear the letter A. Mary was one to stand up to a battle, while Hester's acceptance was more low key and calmly reserved. Both accepted their punishments. Both found ways to support themselves; Hester did needlework and Mary did housework. Mary was bold in managing her property. Both were steadfast. Both married again. Both were memorable and even heroic. Both earned community respect.

A QUOTE FROM CHAPTER 2: "On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A."

PROOF: Is the proof unshakable? No, but it definitely bears consideration. At the very least Mary's history is another support of the life of Hester Pyrnne and was known to the Hawthorne family personally. Perhaps Hester Pyrnne may well have been inspired by my intriguing 9th great grandmother. Remarkable.

Book Sources: 
History of the Centennial of the Incorporation of the Town of Eliot, Maine, August 7-13, 1910. Ed. Aaron B. Cole & J. L. M. Willis, (1912), pp 25, 31, 35.
The 'Staples Family History Association Newsletter' (SFHAN), Jan 1980, ed. James C. Staples, with Martha S. Dildilian, Ross P. Staples, and Mrs Burton Murdock 
Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins Victor C Sanborn ; Stephen Bachiler and Unforgiven Puritan; Excerpt from "History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire" page 589-590; Excerpt from the "Press Reference Library, Notables of the Southwest" page 13 
Old Kittery and her Families by Everett S. Stackpole, author. 1903.
Schoen, Eleanor Campbell. Our Fascinating Ancestor, Stephen Bachiler - A Presentation by Eleanor Campbell Schoen, Record Type: Presentation, Location: Solomon and Naom. (May 22, 1999). 
Batchelder, Batcheller Genealogy, Author: Frederick Clifton Pierce Call Number: CS71.B366
Critical Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne: a literary reference to his life and work, by Sarah Bird Wright