Mysteries of the Mercantile

Plantain bark, tortoise shells, sperm oil, and Manilla hats? What exactly is this shipping manifest doing deep in the Mercantile Library archives? Donated by member Martha Seaman, it bears the mark of one Nathaniel Hawthorne, who worked in the Boston Salem Custom house. Perhaps this is one of those rare cases in which “don’t quit your day job” might not be such great advice. Certainly, this glimpse into the mundane work-a-day world of such an imaginative writer is a little thrilling–what that imagination must have done with evidence of distant ships from exotic lands. Unlike Melville, who drew from his experience at sea and as a castaway of sorts, Hawthorne wrote “I have not lived, but only dreamed about living.” The evidence says otherwise. -Ed Scripsi

You can find more Mysteries of the Mercantile here.


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