This brick house at the end of Essex Street is the Gardner-Pingree House. Once home to some of Salem’s social elite, the Gardner-Pingree House also happened to be the location of a sensational murder in the mid 19th century. Built in 1804 by famed Salem architect, Samuel McIntire, the house was first owned by John Gardner, and his wife Sarah. By 1814, the house had been sold to a Captain Joseph White; a former merchant and slave trader. Captain White would live the rest of his life in the house, until he was found murdered in his bed, on the morning of April 7th, 1830.
The investigation, the trial, and its figures – including legendary attorney and statesman, Daniel Webster – captivated the city and its region for the better part of a year. Captain White’s murder inspired many writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, is in fact believed to be greatly inspired by Webster’s summation, which is a piece of rhetoric famous in its own right. This was a case that relied on a very dubious confession drawn out of the alleged perpetrator, Joseph Knapp, though Webster would frame it as the result of Knapp’s overwhelming guilt.
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote for The Salem Gazette at the time of the trial, an event which the paper documented thoroughly. It is said that his own fascination with the trial would go on to inform his work, inspiring The Scarlet Letter’s character, Dimmesdale, as well as the tone and narration throughout his book, The House of the Seven Gables. We will learn more about Nathaniel Hawthorne as we continue our tour.
To continue to our next stop, please take a right down Hawthorne Blvd. Cross to the median island, and proceed to our next stop -- the Nathaniel Hawthorne statue.