310 Essex Street’s long forgotten owners Captain Richard Davenport and his wife, Elizabeth Hathorne Davenport (ancestor of acclaimed Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne)
While the Witch House in Salem, Mass. is certainly famous for its connection to Judge Corwin and the witch trials of 1692, it was 310 Essex Street’s long forgotten owners Captain Richard Davenport and his wife, Elizabeth Hathorne Davenport (ancestor of acclaimed Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne), who helped establish the sound moral foundation upon which the New Jerusalem was built. Richard Davenport arrived in Salem in 1628 aboard the English ship Abigail. Already a skilled soldier, he went on to become an important military officer in the developing colony.
Before leaving England, Richard was betrothed to Elizabeth Hathorne, sister of William Hathorne. His duties were to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony and set up house for his new bride. While many settlers perished with a broken spirit from scarcity of food and sickness, Richard endured his first bitter cold New England winter. During the summer of 1630, the Arbella, flagship of Winthrop’s Fleet, brought his new family.
The couple wed and life began in their new Naumkeag home: it was a “roughhewn dirt floor wooden structure with a roof solidly thatched and stone fireplace.” William Hathorne married Anne Smith, and they lived in Dorchester for their first three years in the colony, while he groomed himself for greatness. Meanwhile, Richard was “zealously engaged in agricultural operations,” and like many early Salem planters, he learned from the local Naumkeag tribe that the abundant herring were more useful as corn fertilizer than an evening meal; they called it “fishing the fields.” The problem of light was also solved by their new friends, as Rev. Higginson recorded after a visit to a native wigwam: “the pine trees cloven are so full of moisture of turpentine and pitch they burn as clear as a torch.”
Soon after settlements were established, their names were changed to suit Puritan ideals. Naumkeag was now Salem, Hebrew for peace. In 1636 William Hathorne joined the Davenport clan in Salem. Their wives shared domestic duties and their children played together. Richard and William served jointly in town affairs, tasked with establishing boundary lines and appraising land and properties. William was a magistrate, and court records indicate that Richard benefited handsomely when convicted men were sentenced to serve time on his farms.
Richard Davenport and Thomas Lathrop shared land in the Farms and managed the day-to-day operations of the planters. Chosen as overseer of the herdsmen, Richard noted in town records that he “contracted Keeper of the Cattle for 36 ponds per ann.” Also a member of the “train band,” Richard had strong ties with its captain, John Endicott, a “hothead Puritan” instigating acts with "indiscreet zeal."
During a drill in 1634, Endicott entered the field, grabbed the flag and cut out the patron cross of St. George with his sword. Endicott’s defiant act against “popish relics of superstition” made clear his desire to sever customs and binds to “Episcopacy England.” Endicott’s Separatist vision was clear: “we stand on our own soil... which we have won with our swords, which we have cleared with our axes, which we have tilled with the sweat of our brows, which we have sanctified with our prayers to the God that brought us hither!”
Richard became best known in Salem as Ensign Davenport, and he named his daughter Truecross to honor that which Nathaniel Hawthorne called “the first omen of that deliverance which our fathers consummated.”
This Pious Empire was officially emerging; however, there were a few who did not agree with such purist lifestyles. The Crown-sponsored colony Merrymount (Quincy), ran by Thomas Morton, was far less virtuous. This Pagan paradise, rich in merriment, prosperous in fur trade and swarming with native ladies, was a den of erotic energy. The most famous feature, an 80-foot-tall maypole, drew the attention of the “great swelling fellow Endicott.”
Endicott huddled up his men, headed by Richard, and raided the land of good cheer. He “rebuked them for their profannes,” chopping down the “Calf of Horeb” and renaming the fairy kingdom “Mount Dragon.” In his journal, William Bradford noted there was no bloodshed as the boys were too drunk and Morton, “lord of misrule,” too well connected. He was exiled and eventually escaped back to England.
Richard moved forward into more serious matters threatening the New World — the Native Americans. The friendly relations he had once forged came to an end. The holy war against the Pequots not only involved colonists, but other tribes as well. Richard served as lieutenant and second-in-command to Captain Trask in the campaign. The soldiers "being resolved, by Gods Assistance, to make final Destruction of them," waged a bloody battle, and Richard came close to death: “seventeen arrows were shot into his coat of mail, and he was wounded in unprotected parts of his person.”
In 1638 the colonies and native tribes established a treaty, but peace reigned for only a short while. During this time, Richard was elected to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company.
William was delegated speaker for the New England Confederations, along with Simon Bradstreet, where he served for many years.
Richard, now a “man approved for his faithfulness, courage, and skill,” was appointed to command the colony’s chief fortress, Castle Island, and did so until his tragic death by lightening in June 1665. Elizabeth and the children remained in Boston. “The whole country mourned the loss and Court granted his family favors and lands.”
As it turns out, in 1715, the notorious Judge Jonathan Corwin was succeeded by Addington Davenport, a descendant of the Richard and Elizabeth. While the Davenport-Hawthorne dwelling may be nothing more than a ghostly structure standing in our collective imagination, the lifeblood of their ancestors is alive and well, just like the New Jerusalem they created: “They were soldiers by nature and instinct, and to the end. United in early service, separated by the course of their lives, they were united again in death.”
Salem witch house