Deliberate Evil: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Daniel Webster, and the 1830 Murder of a Salem Slave Trader

Chicago Review. Dec. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9781641603386. $28.99. CRIME
Renehan’s (The Kennedys at War) meticulously researched book details the 1830 murder of Captain Joseph White in Salem, MA. White was found in his bed, bludgeoned and stabbed; the only thing missing from his house was his will, and with so little evidence and so many suspects, the city was left reeling. White’s killing also shocked Salem because he was part of a wealthy enslaver family renowned for its influence in the shipping industry, with family members serving in Congress and as cabinet secretaries. Four men were eventually charged with the murder—Joe and Frank Knapp and Richard and George Crowninshield. The prosecution was led by Senator Daniel Webster, which brought a great deal of attention to the case. Salem resident Nathaniel Hawthorne observed and wrote about the trial, and his later novels were influenced by the events he witnessed. Renehan’s narrative is gripping; perhaps most interesting is that he uncovers related documents that were buried for centuries in local archives, —evidence of the ways in which wealth and influence can result in a selective history.
VERDICT Readers of Nathaniel Hawthorne, lovers of history, and anyone who enjoys a good mystery will be absorbed by this bizarre true crime tale.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing