The following are historical and Biblical references that appear in The Scarlet Letter.
- Anne Hutchinson, mentioned in Chapter 1, The Prison Door, was a religious dissenter (1591–1643). In the 1630s she was excommunicated by the Puritans and exiled from Boston and moved to Rhode Island.
- Ann Hibbins, who historically was executed for witchcraft in Boston in 1656, is depicted in The Scarlet Letter as a witch who tries to tempt Prynne to the practice of witchcraft.
- Richard Bellingham, who historically was the governor of Massachusetts and deputy governor at the time of Hibbins's execution, was depicted in The Scarlet Letter as the brother of Ann Hibbins.
- Martin Luther (1483–1545) was a leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.
- Sir Thomas Overbury and Dr. Forman were the subjects of an adultery scandal in 1615 in England. Dr. Forman was charged with trying to poison his adulterous wife and her lover. Overbury was a friend of the lover and was perhaps poisoned.
- John Winthrop (1588–1649), second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
- King's Chapel Burying Ground, mentioned in the final paragraph, exists; the Elizabeth Pain gravestone is traditionally considered an inspiration for the protagonists' grave.
- The story of King David and Bathsheba is depicted in the tapestry in Mr. Dimmesdale's room (chapter 9). (See II Samuel 11-12 for the Biblical story.)
- John Eliot, (c. 1604–1690) was a Puritan missionary to the American Indians whom some called “the apostle to the Indians." He is referred to as "the Apostle Eliot" at the beginning of Chapter 16, A Forest Walk, whom Dimmesdale has gone to visit.