The author wrote this novel, his first successful one, by building on his personal experiences in a customs house. His novel was America's first ever blockbuster novel with the public, generating desperately needed income for himself. He's related to one of the judges who tried the Salem witches two centuries earlier.
Need more clues? Here's an excerpt from the famed Customs House introduction:
But the object that most drew my attention, in the mysterious package, was a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn and faded. There were traces about it of gold embroidery, which, however, was greatly frayed and defaced; so that none, or very little, of the glitter was left. It had been wrought, as was easy to perceive, with wonderful skill of needlework; and the stitch (as I am assured by ladies conversant with such mysteries) gives evidence of a now forgotten art, not to be recovered even by the process of picking out the threads. This rag of scarlet cloth,--for time, and wear, and a sacrilegious moth, had reduced it to little other than a rag,--on careful examination, assumed the shape of a letter. It was the capital letter A. By an accurate measurement, each limb proved to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length. It had been intended, there could be no doubt, as an ornamental article of dress; but how it was to be worn, or what rank, honor, and dignity, in by-past times, were signified by it, was a riddle which (so evanescent are the fashions of the world in these particulars) I saw little hope of solving. And yet it strangely interested me. My eyes fastened themselves upon the old scarlet letter, and would not be turned aside. Certainly, there was some deep meaning in it, most worthy of interpretation, and which, as it were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol, subtly communicating itself to my sensibilities, but evading the analysis of my mind.
If you're still lost, Demi Moore starred in the much-panned 1995 movie version of the novel, a novel about a young woman who has an adulterous affair with Salem's minister. With the minister serving as inquisitor, the town tries the woman, finds here guilty, and forces her to wear a red letter "A". The woman accepts the town's and her secret lover's punishment, even as the minister descends into his private hell of shame.
The Answer: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.