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Nathaniel Hawthorne claims, in his brief preface to "The May-pole of Merry Mount," that "the facts, recorded on the grave pages of our New England annalists, have wrought themselves, almost spontaneously," into a "philosophical romance" and "a sort of allegory." He later refers to these "true" and "authentic passages from history" as "a poet's tale." Yet to anyone familiar with the sources available to Hawthorne,1 nothing is more striking than how much authentic history he has left out - most notably Thomas Morton himself, whose version of what transpired at his fur-trading post on Massachusetts Bay (New English Canaan) is indeed a tale told by a poet, albeit a minor one. What do we know about the man who put up the maypole that so outraged his pious neighbors? Who was Thomas Morton and why were the Puritans so offended by him? If his maypole symbolized the festive culture of Merry Old England, Morton epitomized its spirit. No wonder he was a persona non grata among the Puritans of New England, although Falstaff would have welcomed him to the Boar's Head Tavern. Like many a man of the Elizabethan Renaissance, he was enamored of classical learning and the New World; three times he abandoned London's Bankside to seek his fortune in Massachusetts Bay, at the risk of his life.
Thomas Morton: From Merry Old England to New England
Author(s): William Heath
Journal of American Studies
, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Apr., 2007), pp. 135-168
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the British Association for
American Studies
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Journal of American Studies, 41 (2007), 1, 135?168 ? 2006 Cambridge University Press
doi-.10.1017/S0021875 806002787 Printed in the United Kingdom
Thomas Morton: From Merry
Old England to New England
Nathaniel Hawthorne claims, in his brief preface to "The May-pole of Merry
Mount," that "the facts, recorded on the grave pages of our New England
annalists, have wrought themselves, almost spontaneously," into a "philo
sophical romance" and "a sort of allegory." He later refers to these "true"
and "authentic passages from history" as "a poet's tale." Yet to anyone
familiar with the sources available to Hawthorne,1 nothing is more striking
than how much authentic history he has left out ? most notably Thomas
Morton himself, whose version of what transpired at his fur-trading post on
Massachusetts Bay (New English Canaan) is indeed a tale told by a poet, albeit
a minor one. What do we know about the man who put up the maypole that
so outraged his pious neighbors ? Who was Thomas Morton and why were
the Puritans so offended by him? If his maypole symbolized the festive
culture of Merry Old England, Morton epitomized its spirit. No wonder he
was a persona non grata among the Puritans of New England, although Falstaff
would have welcomed him to the Boar's Head Tavern. Like many a man of
the Elizabethan Renaissance, he was enamored of classical learning and the
William Heath, Professor of English at Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland, is the
author of a novel about the civil rights movement, The Children Bob Moses Ted; at present he is
writing a critical study, Hawthorne and Merry Old England.
1 The first systematic search for Hawthorne's sources was G. Harrison Orians in
"Hawthorne and the Maypole of Merrymount," Modern Fanguage Notes, 53 (1938), 159?67 ;
his findings were reviewed and revised byj. Gary Williams, "History in Hawthorne's 'The
Maypole of Merry Mount," Essex Institute Historical Collections, 108 (1972), 173?89. Both
critics agree that Hawthorne's most important source was an 1826 edition of Nathaniel
Morton's New England's Memorial (Cambridge, 1669), based on the manuscript of William
Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, first published in Boston in 1856. Hawthorne also made
use of Governor Bradford's Fetter Book (1794), Felt's Annals ofSalem (1827), William Hubbard's
General History of New England (1814), Thomas Hutchinson's The History of Massachusetts
(1795), Daniel Neal's History of'New England (17 47), John Winthrop's History of New England
(1826?27), James Thacher's History of the Town of Plymouth (1823), and Jeremy Belknap's
American Biography (1794?98). Where the two critics differ is on the interesting question of
whether or not Hawthorne read Thomas Morton's own account, New English Canaan
(1637), which was extremely rare until it was reprinted in Peter Force's Tracts in 1838.
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i 3 6 William Heath
New World; three times he abandoned London's Bankside to seek his for
tune in Massachusetts Bay, at the risk of his life.
Thomas Dudley termed Morton "a proud insolent man"; to Edward
Winslow he was "an arrant knave" and a "serpent" in the New England
garden. "2 For Governor William Bradford he was a man of "more craft then
honestie, (who had been a kind of petie-fogger ...) " and an "instrumente of
mischeefe. "3 Puritan aplogists Edward Johnson and Cotton Mather labeled
him a "malignant adversary" and a "malicious calumniator."4 Charles
Francis Adams, his first biographer, judged him in his final years "a broken
down, disreputable sot,"5 an interpretation that many historians have fol
lowed. In New English Canaan (1637) the author referred to himself as
"Thomas Morton of Clifford's Inn, Gent.," "Mine Host," and "the Sonne
of a Souldier," and, in more recent times, he has had his share of defenders.
An aristocrat by birth and a bon vivant by inclination, Morton was educated
for the law at the Inns of Court; he was fond of falconry and foppery, bawdy
puns and esoteric poetry; in London he might well have devoted his time to
finding patrons to further his ambitions and imbibing with Ben Jonson's
roisterous tribe at the Mermaid Tavern. He was, in sum, an Elizabethan
dandy, a man of the Renaissance, with a smattering of high culture and a
hankering for low adventure.
In spite of diligent searches by several scholars, details of Morton's life in
England are scanty, but what is clear is that he came by his festive spirit
naturally. Possibly he was from Devon, a region famed for its adherence to
old English folk customs, Anglo-Catholic ritual, and "good hospitality,"6
as well as for its swashbuckling, sea-faring sons, including Sir Francis Drake,
2 Thomas Dudley, in Fetters from New England, ed. Everett Emerson (Amherst, MA:
University of Massachusetts Press, 1976), 74; Edward Winslow, in Winthrop's Papers, Volume
4: 1638?1644 (The Massachusetts Historical Society, 1944), 428.
3 William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-164J, ed. Samuel Eliot Morison (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), 205, 216.
4 Edward Johnson, fohnson's Wonder-Working Providence, 1628?16ji, ed. J. Franklin Jameson
(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910), 154; Mather, quoted in James Phinney Baxter,
George Cleeve of Casco Bay (Portland, ME: The Gorges Society, 1885), 59
5 Charles F. Adams, Three Episodes of Massachusetts History (Boston: Hough ton, Mifflin and
Co., 1893), 350.
6 Thomas Morton, New English Canaan, ed. Jack Dempsey (Digital Scanning, Inc., 2000), 22.
This is the most recent edition, available on the Internet, which has been " collated with all
16 known original copies," xxii. All subsequent citations will be given in the text, by page
number in parentheses, and refer to this edition, which includes many helpful, and some
obscure, footnotes, as well as Dempsey's biography of Morton, the most complete to date.
Although he is not always as clear and cogent as he might have been, Dempsey's work
deserves to be better known; a modernized, annotated edition of New English Canaan,
published by a university press, is long overdue.
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Thomas Morton i 3 7
Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and Sir Walter Ralegh ; one court record of 1619 places
Morton, when he was a lawyer, at Axbridge, in Somerset County, to which
location he "repaired" after his second banishment from New England.7
When Morton married in 1621 his wife was approximately forty years of age;
since men tended to be several years older than their wives, scholars have
estimated that Morton was forty-five at the time, which would suggest he was
born about 157o.8 Given a scenario in which a lonely widow meets an op
portunistic lawyer, however, Morton may have been younger than his bride.
Morton obviously styled himself a cavalier; his family could afford to send
him to the Inns of Court, so we can assume he was an aristocrat of sorts, and
his preparatory schooling was probably similar, if not superior, to that of
Shakespeare, who certainly made the most of what Ben Jonson termed his
"small Latine and lesse Greeke." Elizabethan education was based on the
medieval trivium and quadrivium, with an emphasis on rhetoric; British
schoolboys were expected to read the classics "whereby the fulness and
fineness of the Latine & Greeke toung may be learned. " Young Thomas
Morton would have memorized passages from Cicero, Caesar, Ovid, Livy,
Virgil, Catullus, Terence, and Plautus; studied their tropes and schemes
until he could imitate their styles ; and mastered the art of disputation, or
controversiae, so that he could take any side of an argument with equal felicity.9
The Inns of Court were more than a place to study law; part finishing school
for gendemen of leisure, part proving ground for men on the make, and part
den of iniquity for madcaps and malcontents, the Inns were at the very
center of London social life and culture.
At some time during the last decade of Queen Elizabeth's reign
(1593?1603), Thomas Morton attended Clifford's Inn, located at Fleet Street
and Fetter Lane, part of the Inner Temple; the oldest Inn of Chancery,
dating from 1345, since 1505 Clifford's had selected a Master of Revels
(magisterJocorum) to organize the festive calendar, especially the twelve days
of Christmas, with its feasts, masques, and dances. The Inns of Court
are especially celebrated for fostering Elizabethan drama. In addition to
many amateur productions, Shakespeare's early play The Comedy oj Errors was
performed at Gray's Inn Hall in 15 94 and his masterpiece of festive comedy,
7 Jack Dempsey, Thomas Morton: The Fife and Renaissance of an Early American Poet (Digital
Scanning Inc., 2000), 5?6. Charles Edwards Banks found seven Morton families with a
goat's head in their coat of arms, matching Morton's sealing ring, most from the West
Country. One promising lead suggests he might have been from Croydon, Surrey.
"Thomas Morton of Merrymount," Massachusetts Historical Society Publications, 58 (1925?26),
8 Banks, 165.
9 Paul Honan, Shakespeare: A Fife (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 48-56.
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i 3 8 William Heath
Twelfth Night, at Middle Temple Hall in 1602. Ben Jonson dedicated Every
Man out ojHis Humor to "the noblest nurseries of humanity and liberty, the
INNS OF COURT, "10 but it was no doubt his elaborate masques that most
impressed and influenced Morton. Although Kit Marlowe had been slain in
his prime in 1593, his plays were popular with students, who admired his
rebel stance. Also attending the Inns of Court were noted Jacobean drama
tists, such as Francis Beaumont and Thomas Middleton, each writing an
Inner Temple masque; major poets like John Donne; founders of modern
science, including Francis Bacon; and, oh yes, even distinguished lawyers
Edward Coke and William Blackstone ? not to mention that notorious
Puritan killjoy William Prynne, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, whose dirge of
disapproval provides a counterpoint to the dominant festive tone.
Morton learned enough law at Clifford's Inn to go into practice in the
West Country, but given what we know of his character, during his London
years it is safe to assume that he was, like young John Donne, once selected
Master of Revels at Lincoln's Inn, "a great visitor of Ladies, a great fre
quenter of Playes, a great writer of conceited Verses,"11 with, in Morton's
case, the stress on "conceited." Many of the Inns of Court poets and poet
asters of the period were known for bawdy verses and biting satires, so
much so that in 15 99 the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of
London "issued a list of scurrilous books to be burned by the common
hangman and decreed 'that no satires or epigrams be printed hereafter.'"12
Although books by Marston, Davies, and Marlowe were burnt at Stationer's
Hall,13 burlesque and invective continued to thrive, at least for a time;
nevertheless, this edict reminds us that the astonishingly wide range of lit
erary expression in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period was accomplished
in spite of constant censorship.
Even Sir John Falstaff, according to Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part II, was
once a student at Clement's Inn, where he engaged in fisticuffs with a man
named Shogan and broke his head "at the court gate." Sir John, for his part,
recalls that his former classmate Robert Shallow, now a justice of the peace,
was as "lecherous as a monkey" back then and that all "the whores called
him mandrake," a charge that Shallow fondly acknowledges: "you had not
such swinge-bucklers in all the inns o ' court ... we knew where the bona-robas
10 A. Wigfall Green, The Inns of Court and Early English Drama (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1931), 6-12.
11 Sir Richard Baker, Chronicles, quoted in R. C. V>??,John Donne: A Life (Oxford University
Press, 1970), 72.
12 David Riggs, BenJonson: A Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 56.
13 Bald, 122.
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Thomas Morton i 3 9
were, and had the best of them all at commandment, " mentioning the aptly
named "Jane Nightwork" for one. No doubt Thomas Morton tossed more
than a few tankards at the famed London taverns ? the Boar's Head, the
Mitre, the Swan ? and he may well have joined in the legendary "wit com
bats" at the Mermaid on Bread Street, memorialized in a verse Beaumont
sent to Jonson: "What things have we seen/Down at the Mermaid; heard
words that have been/So nimble and so full of subtle flame. "14 But then again,
maybe not; the Mermaid was pricey and Jonson preferred the "canarie" at
the Swan. Like Shakespeare's Robert Shallow, Morton could hardly have
avoided the strumpets and stews of London, or perhaps he ferried across the
Thames to sample the doxies and drabs at the Bankside brothels of
Southwark, near the Globe, constructed in 1599, and other theaters as well as
the bearbaiting at Paris Gardens. In sum, when Morton attended the Inns of
Court they served as a rendezvous for writers, a center of festivity, and a
gateway to the best and worst that London had to offer. Elizabethan to the
core, his education had shaped him as a man of classical learning and literary
aspirations on the one hand, and a quick-witted, hot-tempered, high-hearted,
adventure-seeking, enterprising rogue and rakehell on the other; later, after
the Puritans turned this fun-loving scapegrace into their scapegoat, he would
assert with pride that he was both a "Gent." and a "carnal man."
In 1621 Morton was in Swallowfield, Berkshire, where we find him doing a
very Elizabethan thing: marrying a widow of means. Morton had known
Alice Miller and her husband for several years, and, when he died, Morton
was quick to propose. Alice's son, George, saw in this a threat to his patri
mony and warned his mother against the "turbulent and troublesome"
Morton, "a person ... of noe worth." He suggested, as a "triall of the af
fection" of Morton, that Alice lease her farm to him for fifty years. As soon
as she did so, George proceeded to turn "her haye grasse corne cattell
chattels goods howsehold stuff and implements " to his own profit. After
Morton and Alice were married in November of 1621, Morton and some
friends broke into the house to retrieve George's lease ; then George and his
friends showed up to drive out Morton. During these encounters Morton
brandished a pistol while George and company flashed "nyked knyves and
other unlawfull weapons," and "did teare the Clothes from your said subject
Thomas Mortons back and the hayre from his head." Alice was subjected to
"scurrilous obscene and lascivious speeches," as well as "divers blowes
strypes and bruses upon diverse partes of her body soe as shee beinge then
with Child did shortly after ... miscarry thereof. " In the battle of affidavits
14 Peter Ackroyd, Fond?n: A Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 342.
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140 William Heath
that followed, George accused Morton of showing "his owne cuninge ... to
gaine the whole estate to himself," and Morton retorted that Alice's "most
unnaturall sonne" was guilty of "lascivious and lewd behaviour" and desired
his mother's death and ruin. The Chancery Court on 8 June 1623 settled the
matter by awarding both George and Alice separate farms. Morton, for his
part, having lost access to Alice's estate, and presumably her affections,
"sould all her goode even to her wearing apparel and ... fledd," showing up
the next year in New England. George, who later turned Puritan, was the one
who initiated the change of" murther " against Morton. After a thorough search
of the court records in the 1920s, Charles Banks concluded that the accusation
was a figment of George's "vicious mind,"15 most likely designed to ensure
that the hapless Alice, who died a few years later, stayed under his thumb.
Morton may have then gone to Plymouth, in Devon, the port of departure
for many a ship bound for the New World, including, of course, the Mayflower
in 1620. "The sea-dogs of Devon," Charles Banks stated, "were discovering
and annexing to the kingdom of Britain the vast unknown continent of
North America, while the fustian weavers and chapmen of East Anglia were
busily engaged in discussing the wearing of surplices or theological tar
adiddles. "16 No person played a more prominent role in Devon's ascendancy
than Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the founder of Maine and a leading figure in
English colonization. From a noble Somersetshire family, Gorges was a
professional soldier ?in 1588 he was captured by the Spanish; in 1591 he
was knighted in Normandy by Robert, Earl of Essex; and from 1595 to 1629
he served as commander at Plymouth Fort. As part of the Essex circle,
Gorges was involved in the planned coup of 1601, but, at the last minute, he
saw the handwriting on the wall and backed out; the baffled Earl, whom
Donne described as a man lacking a lock for himself and a key to others, was
beheaded; Gorges, the subject of slander for having betrayed Essex, was
held in the Gatehouse prison until he was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth and
restored to his post at Plymouth Fort by James I in 1603.17 Gorges was a
15 Banks, 157; the legal documents of the case, from which I have been quoting, are re
produced on pages 157-93. In 1620 George disrupted a local church service when he
bodily threw a Mrs. Phipps over the railing from what he claimed was his pew; when she
referred to him as a "boy." He responded, "Dost thou call me boy? God's wounds! If I
were in bed with thee thou should knowe that I were no boye," 192-93 ; see also Dempsey,
16 Charles Edward Banks, History of York Maine (Baltimore : Regional Publishing Company,
1967), 69.
17 Richard Arthur Preston, Gorges of Plymouth Fort (Toronto : University of Toronto Press,
1953), 1?121; Banks, History, 53-55; Robert Lacey, Sir Walter Ralegh (New York:
Atheneum, 1973), 230-40, 263-75; Bald, 80-92, 108-14.
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Thomas Morton 141
vigorous promoter of the Northern Virginia or Plymouth Company. The
first failed attempt at a settlement, "which he stockt or planted out of
the Gaoles of England,"18 was the Popham Colony at the mouth of the
Kennebec in 1607, the same year that a successful foothold was gained at
Jamestown (with a similar cast of characters). Gorges, as head of the Council
for New England, later used the Pilgrims' plantation as a stalking horse for
future ventures of his own; he was a man with imperial ambitions, dreaming
of one day making all New England his manorial estate, which never came to
pass, although he did at one time own much of Maine. "He attempted great
matters, and was at large expense about his province here," John Winthrop
wrote in 1640, "but he lost all."19
How long Morton had known Gorges is unclear; he might have met
him years before through his father, who was also a soldier. Perhaps
Morton's interest in New England was stimulated by talking with one of the
kidnapped Indians Gorges put on display to promote his ventures. Since
Gorges spent a great deal of time in London attending to his council, Morton
may have sought him there and obtained some kind of patent or petty grant
for land; what is almost certain is that on 23 March 1624 he was one of the
adventurers, led by Humphrey Rastall and Captain Richard Wollaston, who
set sail from London on the Unity.2,0
Once in New England they established a colony, "Mount Wollaston"
(Quincy), on the southern side of the Massachusetts Bay. After "neare a
18 Oliver Lawson Dick, ed., Aubrey's Brief Lives (London: Seeker and Warburg, 1950), 246.
Aubrey's phrase is in his biographical sketch of Sir John Popham, "a huge, heavie, ugly
man" who "lived like a hog." Popham was the Lord Chief Justice and presided at the trial
of the Earl of Essex and Ralegh. Gorges was related to Popham and the two men were
partners in their colonial ventures until Popham "died by excess" in 1607.
19 John Winthrop, Winthrop'sJournal, ed. J. K. Hosmer, vol 2 (New York: Barnes and Noble,
Inc., 1966), 2, 11. Gorges has been accused of wanting to turn New England into a
medieval feudal system, but in truth his model was more Elizabethan ? order, authority,
with a place for merriment.
20 During the 1623?24 period Gorges moved back and forth between Devon, where he tried
without success to gain support for a fishing monopoly, and London, where he sought
investors and settlers; on 29 June 1623 he held a lottery at the Royal Palace in Greenwich;
the records of the period when Morton may have attained his patent are missing; Preston,
201?24. On Morton's departure and arrival in New England see Dempsey, 133?34. Both
Wollaston and Rastall were suspect characters who had engaged in piracy; the Unity with its
cargo of indentured servants was originally bound for Virginia, but Rastall diverted it to
New England ; their schemes for making a profit included fishing, fur trading, and selling
their servants. Exactly how Morton figured into these schemes is unclear; apparently he
was seeking his own fortune. See Worthington Chauncy Ford, "Captain Wollaston,
Humphrey Rasdall and Thomas Weston," Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society
(1917-18), 219-32; H. Hobart Holly, "Wollaston of Mount Wollaston," The American
Neptune, 37, 1 (1977), 5?25.
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142 William Heath
yeare," according to Phineas Pratt, "famin was thayr finall aforthrow. "21
Rastall, who had traveled on to Virginia in a smaller craft, sent word for
Captain Wollaston to join him with the Unity, in order to turn their in
dentured servants into a profit there. At this point Morton, according to
Bradford, prepared a feast for the men, and once they were "merie" he
proposed that they should "converse, trad, plante, and live together as
equals. "22 Morton states that they changed the name to "Ma-re Mount" (22),
but Bradford insists that it was "Meriemounte" and that they then "fell to
great licensciousness, and led a dissolute life, powering out themselves into
all profanenes. "23 Because of Morton's improvised democracy, the Pilgrims
"saw they should keep no servants ... and all the scume of the coun
trie ... would flock to him. "24 What Morton and his merry men actually
"powered" themselves into was the fur trade, which gravely threatened
Plymouth Plantation's perilous finances.25 The key to their advantage was the
reciprocity they displayed in their working (and playing) relationship with
the local Indians.
Ever since John Cabot's exploratory voyage of 1497, European
fishing vessels had been trading with the natives of New England. The dis
covery of the Grand Banks in the 1530s gave impetus to the European
taste for cod and other cold-water fish. Some ships even brought natives
back with them ? in 1577 an Eskimo could be seen kayaking on the
Avon ? in fact, James Axtell has termed kidnapping "the first extractive
industry in colonial North America. "26 Gorges was convinced that captured
21 Phineas Pratt, " A Declaration of the Affairs of the English People that First Inhabited
New England," Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 4th Series, 4 (1858), 486.
22 Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 205. Thomas Weston was appalled "that servants were
sold here upp and Downe like horses, and therefore held it nott lawfull to carie any,"
quoted in Ford, 227.
23 Bradford, 205. For simplicity's sake I will use Hawthorne's "Merry Mount."
24 Ibid, 208.
25 In 1627 the Pilgrims sent Isaac Allerton, Brewster's son-in-law, to England to refinance the
settlers' obligations to their investors; as a result, the Pilgrims' gained legal possession of
Plymouth Colony, at the price of a substantial mortgage, which twelve "Undertakers" were
designated to pay off. In return they received a monopoly on the fur trade. That the
Pilgrims are deeply in debt, and the fur trade is clearly their best source of cash, is crucial to
understanding that, in their dealings with Thomas Morton, their thoughts were far more on
Mammon than on God. See Bradford, 182?86, and George F. Willison, Saints and Strangers :
The Story of the Mayflower and the Plymouth Colony (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1945),
26 James Axtell, "At the Water's Edge: Trading in the Sixteenth Century," in idem, After
Columbus (Oxford University Press, 1988), 152. Axtell points out (145) that prior to the
Reformation, Catholic England had 57 fast days and 108 days of abstinence from
meat - hence an enormous demand for fish.
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Thomas Morton 143
Indians were "the means under God of putting on foot and giving life to all
our plantations," and soon these Indians were being trained "to say how
good that country is for people to go there and inhabit it. "27 The plan was
that they would serve as guides and interpreters for Gorges's colonizing
ventures. In the well-known case of Squanto, this plan worked ? it is
doubtful that Plymouth plantation would have survived without him ? but
many of the Indians died and only a few returned, often to warn their people
against the English.
Given the Indians' lack of immunity to European microbes, the effect of
contact was catastrophic; from 1616 to 1619 a particularly virulent sickness,
possibly yellow fever, spread from the northern shore of Narragansett Bay to
southern Maine, with Massachusetts Bay at the epicenter, wiping out as many
as 90 percent of the Wampanoags, Massachusetts, and coastal Abenakis.
Plymouth, for example, was founded where Squanto's Wampanoag village,
Patuxet, had stood only a few years before ? he was saved, ironically enough,
by his having been in England; likewise Merry Mount was already cleared of
trees when Morton arrived and nearby was an open area, "Massachusetts
Fields, where the greatest sagamore in the country lived before the plague. "28
One of Morton's earliest observations was that the land was strewn with
"bones and skulls" so that "it seemed to me a new-found Golgotha" (19).
Since the nearby Narragansetts and the ever-dangerous Pequot had been
spared by the disease, and since the Micmacs of Maine were already armed
with French guns, clearly, at least in the short run, it was in the interests of the
decimated tribes to cooperate and ally themselves with the English settlers.
It has become part of the patriotic tradition in American history to praise
the peaceful relations maintained by the Pilgrims and the Indians (this is the
meaning of Thanksgiving) ; Alden T. Vaughan, for example, states that the
Pilgrims' policy was "humane, considerate, and just," that their treaty with
the Wampanoag was "eminently fair," and that when Miles Standish took
"bold action" it was only in the interests of "interracial harmony. "29 The test
27 Gorges and Pedro de Zu?iga, the Spanish ambassador to England, quoted in Alden T.
Vaughan, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620?iyyj (Boston : Little, Brown and
Company, 1965), 9?10.
28 William Wood, New England's Prospect, ed. Alden T. Vaughan (Amherst: University7 of
Massachusetts Press, 1977), 57. The terms "sachem" and "sagamore" are interchangeable;
indeed, the word "massasoit" may refer to a high sachem in general and not be the name
of a particular person.
29 Vaughan, vii, 71, 88. The Pilgrims' treaty with the Wampanoag, for example, implied they
were subjects of the King and that their land was completely under his sovereignty - at
least this is the way the Pilgrims interpreted it: Massasoit "acknowledged himself content
to become the subject of our sovereign Lord the King aforesaid, his heirs and successors;
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144 William Heath
case for these assertions is what transpired at Thomas Weston's colony of
Wessagusset (Weymouth) between 1622 and 1623; analyzing these crucial
events also helps explain why the Pilgrims were so antagonistic towards
Thomas Morton's Merry Mount and his quite different Indian "policy."
Morton himself underscored the significance by devoting the first six chap
ters of the autobiographical third second of New English Canaan to Weston
and Wessagusset. Morton's account is characteristically "enigmatical,"
however, and the Pilgrim versions may well be " fabricated after the event. "30
Thus the truth of this tangled affair remains elusive.
Weston, a London merchant and iron-maker, was an original backer of the
Plymouth adventure, but Bradford saw that he "pursued his own ends and
was an embittered spirit," and so they parted ways. Weston then proceeded
to initiate his own colony, with some "60 lusty men," which arrived at
Plymouth in September of 1622 unannounced and lacking sufficient pro
visions for the coming winter. Anticipating trouble, Robert Cushman told
Bradford to " signify to Squanto that they are a distinct body from us, and we
have nothing to do with them, neither must be blamed for their faults."
Bradford agreed that "they are an unruly company and had no good
government over them."31 After they settled at Wessagusset, he was not
surprised that they soon ran out of corn and some starved to death : " One in
gathering shellfish was so weak as he stuck fast in the mud and was found
dead in the place. "32 The nominal leader of the colony, John Sanders, an
gered by the Indians' refusal to supply them with corn, wanted to take some
by force, but he was blocked by Bradford. Under these desperate circum
stances, the colony dispersed ? a few living with the Indians, others stealing
from them, and the rest scrounging for groundnuts and shellfish. One of the
thieves was tracked back to Wessagusset, leading to a confrontation between
the settlers and the Massachusetts sachem, Chickatabut (also known as
Obtakiest), and his warriors from the nearby village of Neponset: "Some of
you steele our Corne & I have sent you word times without number & yet
our Corne is stole. I come to see what you will doe. "33 Here Morton adds
some intriguing detail: apparently the settlers agreed that the thief should be
and gave unto them all the lands adjacent, to them and their heirs for ever. " See Nathaniel
Morton, New England's Memorial, in Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers (E. P. Dutton and Co,
1936), 38?39. In terms of Standish's actions at Wessagusset, it might be more accurate to
say that, like the Romans, the Pilgrims "created a desert and called it peace." Another
example of how this crucial episode has been smoothed over by Pilgrim apologists is James
Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz, The Times of Their Lives (New York: W. H. Freeman and
Company, 2000), 75. 30 Willison, 224.
31 Cushman in Bradford, 107?8; Bradford, 109. 32 Bradford, 116.
?A Pratt, "A Declaration," 482.
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Thomas Morton 14 5
hung but debated substituting an old, sick man in his stead, finally deciding
not to because they feared their ruse might be discovered; on the other hand,
they did not know how to deal with the real culprit, a powerful man " that in
his wrath did seem to be a second Sampson." Therefore, Morton relates,
"they called the man and by persuasion, got him fast-bound in jest; and then
hanged him up hard by in good earnest" (109?10).34
The red-haired, fiery tempered Myles Standish, military leader of
Plymouth, enforced his own policy in terms of theft; when some trinkets
were stolen from his shallop during trading expeditions, he threatened two
villages with "revenge" and vowed "to fall upon them" if they were not
returned immediately.35 Although the trinkets were recovered, this dispro
portionate threat of vengeance only aggravated an already volatile situation.
Meanwhile, as thefts continued and starvation increased, Indian relations
worsened at Wessagusset. One warrior named Pecksuot boasted to Phineas
Pratt that in the past he had enslaved or killed the crews of two French ships,
one that was "broken by a storm" and the other lured into an ambush,
mocking his victims because "they died crying, making sour faces, more like
children than men," and, showing him his knife, which "hath killed much,
French men," implied that it might soon "eat" the blood of the English.36
34 Samuel Butler in his Hudibras (1663?64) misread Morton's story and used it to satirize the
Pilgrims: "Our brethren in New England use/Choice malefactors to excuse,/And hang
the guiltless in their stead,/Of whom the churches have less use." Willison, 215, also
incorrectly assumes that "a feeble old man" was hung.
35 John Winslow, Winslow's Relation in Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers (E. P. Dutton and Co.,
1936), 296?301.
36 Pratt, 479?81, Winslow, Relation, 301. Winslow, who was not present at the time, claims
(326) that "Wituwamat bragged about the excellency of his knife" to Standish in very
similar terms; since Pratt states Pecksuot's threats were made personally to him, I have
credited his version. All the accounts - Pratt, Winslow, Bradford, and Morton - leave the
exact sequence of events in doubt. Pratt, for example, says that two Indians told him after
the three settlers were executed at Neponset that "when we killed your men thay cried and
maed 111 favored fases," which calls into doubt when and to whom the "they died crying"
remark was made. An additional source, hitherto overlooked by historians of Standish's
"massacre," further confuses the issue. The Rev. Thomas Cobbett of Lynn, in "New
England's Deliverances," a sermon published in 1677, recounts that a former settler at
Wessagusset, Edward Johnson, told him that he, Johnson, had done what Winslow claims
in his account: he had ministered to "theyr dying Sagamore" (presumably Massasoit) and
"bestowed sundry good things upon that sick Saggamore," who in gratitude informed him,
as did "a squaw, which came the even before to them at Weimouth," that "the treacherous
Indians who had been wont to trade with the English had plotted to cut them all off."
Cobbett added that "some years after" unidentified Indians "did confess" that if
Standish's men had not made his preemptive strike, "they had come and cramb them all."
Thus Cobbett at once confirms that there was an Indian conspiracy while casting doubts
on the various accounts of it. Johnson, by the way, was a friend of Thomas Morton and
probably was his source on the entire episode. Cobbet in Banks, History, 90. Yet another
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146 William Heath
This and similar experiences convinced Pratt that the Massachusetts were
hatching a " plot ... to kill all English people in one day when the snow was
gone. " He determined that "now is the Time to run to Plimoth," some thirty
miles away, to warn them, and began looking for an opportunity to escape
At about the same time Massasoit fell gravely ill at Pokanoket and asked
Winslow to come visit, greeting him with " O Winslow, I shall never see thee
again. " The description of what happened next is backed by credible detail :
Winslow relates that he gave him "a confection of many comfortable con
serves ... on the point of my knife ... which I could scarcely get through his
teeth .... Then I washed his mouth ... and scraped his tongue." Learning
that he "had not had a stool" in five days, he prepared "some English
pottage," which resulted in "three moderate stools," and a marked im
provement in the sachem's condition. Unfortunately, Massasoit proceeded
to make "a gross meal" of a fatty goose which Winslow had prepared,
causing a serious relapse before he recovered. It is at this point that
Winslow's version becomes suspect; apparently in gratitude for his new
found health, the sachem privately told Hobomok, the Pilgrims' interpreter
since the death of Squanto that winter, about a plot to wipe out the English :
"Therefore ... he advised us to kill the men of Massachusetts, who were the
authors of this mischief."38 Given the urgency of this information, it is
curious that Hobomok did not share it with Winslow until the following day,
and Winslow, in turn, made no great haste in returning to Plymouth.
"We knew no means to deliver our countrymen and preserve ourselves,"
Winslow explained in retrospect, "than by returning their malicious and
cruel purposes upon their own heads." Thus the Pilgrims dispatched Myles
Standish, and seven other men, to Wessagusset with secret orders to "pre
tend to trade" in order "more fitly take opportunity to revenge" himself on
the supposed Massachusetts ringleaders and "bring with him" their heads
back to Plymouth, as "a warning and terror to all of that disposition."39
Phineas Pratt staggered into Plymouth with his own suspicions of a plot
against the English a few days later. When Standish arrived at Wessagusset,
he bided his time and suffered in silence the taunts of a few notorious war
riors; Wituwamat, a "bloody and bold villain," "of whom they boasted no
Gun would kill," bragged of his prowess in battle, while Pecksuot, "a suttle
man," told the short, stocky Standish that "though he were a great captain,
account is provided by Emmanuel Altham, in Sudney V. James, Jr. ed., Fhree Visitors to
Early Plymouth (Plymouth, Mass: Plimoth Plantation, iq60, ^^o?\^. 37 Pratt, 48;.
38 Winslow, Relation, 309-13.
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Thomas Morton 147
yet he was but a little man," while he, Pecksuot, was "a man of great strength
and courage. "40 What happened next Bradford covered up in a phrase ?
" Captain Standish ... cut off some few of the chief conspirators "41 - but the
reality was far more gruesome. Promising a feast of roast pork, Standish
lured four of the warriors into a house ; on a prearranged signal the door was
bolted, and three were stabbed to death with their own knives, but not
without a blood-spattered struggle. Winslow said it was "incredible how
many wounds" the warriors "received before they died ... striving to the
last. "42 The one survivor, a young man of eighteen, Standish ordered hung.
"These being slaine," Pratt reported, "they fell upon others wheare thay
could find them,"43 engaging in three subsequent skirmishes in which two
soldiers and at least three more warriors were killed. Wituwamat's head was
brought back to Plymouth and " stuck on a spike on the battlements there for
all to see."44 In retaliation, Chickatabut executed three settlers who had
sought refuge at Neponset. These events apparently caused a general panic
among the tribes in the area: "they forsook their houses, running to and fro
like men distracted, living in swamps and other desert places, and so brought
manifold diseases amongst themselves, whereof many are dead. " As a result,
Winslow noted, "None of them dare come amongst us."45 Thus villages
were abandoned as far away as Cape Cod and Agawam (Ipswich); several
prominent sachems, and an untold number of their people, subsequently
died from the aftershocks of what Morton calls Standish's "massacre."
Morton's version agrees on the basic facts: a thief was hung at
Wessagusset, seven Indians were killed by Standish's men, and three English
at Neponset. He significantly differs, however, on what caused this "mass
acre" and how the Pilgrims made use of it to further their own selfish ends.
Morton admits that many of Weston's men were "lazy persons," who made
an inadequate effort to take care of themselves, and that nine or ten "of them
40 Ibid, 320, 326; Pratt, 485. 41 Bradford, 118. 42 Winslow, Relation, 326.
43 Pratt, 485, 487.
44 Willison, Saints, zi8. Next to Wituwamat's head and in lieu of a flag, Emmanuel Althem
reported, the Pilgrims hung out "a piece of linen cloth dyed in the same Indian's blood";
James, 31.
45 Winslow, Relation, 331-32. Emmanuel Altham also reported that "now the Indians are
most of them fled from us"; James, 31. When the Rev. John Robinson, who had remained
in Europe, heard the news of Standish's actions at Wessagussett, he replied, "Oh! how
happy a thing it had been if you had converted some before you killed any; besides, where
blood is once shed, it is seldome stanched off a long time after. " He also expressed doubts
about Standish's character and conduct: "your Captain ... may be wanting that tenderness
of ye life of man (made after God's image) which is meete ... . It is a thing more glorious in
men's eyes than pleasing in God's, or convenient for Christians, to be a terrour to poore
barbarous people." Robinson quoted in Willison, 230?31.
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148 William Heath
fell sick and died. " W'hat Morton does not grant was that there was a vast
Indian conspiracy afoot that justified the slaughter, nor can he forgive the
fact that Standish executed summary justice before he had provided for the
safety of the three men stranded at Neponset. If the Pilgrims had a case, why
did they not take the warriors into custody and put them on trial?
Afterwards, he said, the Indians began to refer to the English as "Slabbers,"
or "Cutthroats," and the Pilgrims used the episode to reinforce "the new
creed of Canaan," that "the Savages are a dangerous people, subtle, secret,
and mischievous, and that it is dangerous to live separated, but rather
together, and so be under their lee; that none might trade for Beaver but at
their pleasure, as none do or shall do there" (110?13). Placed in an untenable
position, the survivors of Wessagusset abandoned the colony, which Morton
suggests was the objective of the Pilgrims all along.
He may have been right. George F. Willison, I believe, was the first his
torian to cast serious doubt on the Pilgrim version; although it may not have
been completely " fabricated, " he is certainly correct in deciding that " King
Beaver ... had more of a hand in this plot than appears at first sight. "46 Neil
Salisbury, who studied the episode closely, concludes that "it is unlikely there
was a conspiracy directed at all the English," but rather "the appearance of a
conspiracy that Massasoit exploited to regain his position as Plymouth's only
dependable Indian friend. "47 Obviously, the theft of corn was at the heart of
the dispute, and the Neponsets wanted justice, if not revenge; whether
Chickatabut then decided to gather allies and drive all the English back into
the sea is possible, but not likely. Standish's "bold" actions only worsened
the situation. Eight years later Thomas Dudley reported that Chickatabut
"least favored the English of any sagamore we are acquainted with, by
reason of the old quarrel between him and those of Plymouth, where he lost
seven of his best men."48 Under these circumstances, it is all the more
remarkable that two years after the debacle Morton was able to settle only a
few miles away from Wessagusset, close to the Neponsets, and resume
friendly relations with them. What did he do right to erase, at least while he
was there, what both the Pilgrims and Weston's men had done wrong?
46 Willison, 224, 228. Although Pratt was not a Pilgrim, he had become one by the time he
wrote his narrative, and his version basically reinforces those of Bradford and Winslow.
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, "Thomas Morton, Historian," New England Quarterly, 50, 4
(Dec. 1977), 660?64, argues that scholars of early New England history should take
Morton more seriously as a primary source.
47 Neil Salisbury, Manitou and Providence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 131?32;
added/original emphasis.
48 Dudley, quoted in Francis S. Drake, The Town of Roxbury (Roxbury, 1878), 4.
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Thomas Morton 149
When Gorges learned that Weston had abandoned Wessagusset, he sent
his son Robert over to recoup what he could, but after one hard winter he
and most of the men returned to England. A few remained at Wessagusset,
however, while others established homesteads in the area, including Rev.
William Blacks tone, who found a good spring at Shamut (Boston), and
Samuel Maverick, Esq., who built a fortified house at Winnesimmet
(Chelsea).49 None of these men were Separatists ? they did their best to stay
outside of Pilgrim control ? but when the Great Migration began in 1629
they were soon overwhelmed by the Puritan majority and many promptly
moved to Maine. Thomas Morton, then, was hardly the only "stranger"
among a host of "saints." However, upon his arrival in 1624 he quickly
became the most notorious one.
A man of many vices, certainly Morton's most persistent and appealing
virtue was his infatuation with America: "The more I looked the more I
liked," he reported. "If this land be not rich, then is the whole world poor"
(41?42). His enduring love of the natural beauties and abundance of the
land is essential to understanding Morton's subsequent behavior. Even
though he was clearly an agent for empire (noting that, because the recent
plague had reduced the Indian population, "the place is made so much more
fit for the English nation to inhabit it" (20)), Morton's interest in the Indians
is remarkable. He and William Wood remain the two best sources on
New England's native culture and ecology at the time of English settle
ment.50 Not surprisingly, some of his observations are off the mark; he
concludes, for example, that the tribes are remnants of "the scattered
Trojans," and that they have no religion to speak of?the same mistake
made by Columbus on his first day in America. Other observations are quite
acute, noting that the Indians "set fire to the country" periodically, thus
cleaning away underbrush and creating more grasslands for the deer to feed
on (45-46). He is also quick to praise the Indians when he finds their con
duct superior to that of the Separatists: "I have found the Massachusetts
Indians more full of humanity than the Christians, and have had much better
quarter with them" (113).
Morton's love of the land and sympathy for the Indians present a
sharp contrast to Bradford's famous dismissal of the same: "what could
they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beats and wild
49 Salisbury, 152-53.
50 See, for example, William Cronon, Changes in the Land (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983) ;
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Settling with the Indians (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1980);
and Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing off in Early America (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 2000).
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15 o William Heath
men. "51 No doubt the Indians responded favorably to Morton's acceptance
of them, thus enabling him to thrive in the fur trade while the Pilgrims
floundered. For one thing, Morton saw that the Algonquian culture, like the
one he had left behind in Merry Old England, was based around festive
occasions ; he states that " after the manner of the gentry of Civilized na
tions," the Indians "remove for their pleasures ... keeping good hospi
tality... and all manner of Revels," and sharing what they have with
everyone: "so compassionate that rather than one should starve through
want, they would starve all. Thus do they pass away the time merrily" (22, 50).
Early fur traders along the New England coast had already learned that the
natives expected a certain amount of entertainment to accompany any
business transactions. Edward Hayes, on Humphrey Gilbert's 1583 voyage,
reported that " for solace of our people, and allurement of the savages, we
were provided of Musike in good variety: not omitting the least toyes as
Morris-dancers, Hobby-horse, and Maylike conceits, to delight the Savage
people, whom we intended to winne by all faire meanes possible."52 On
Martin Pring's voyage of 1603 a young man of the company played his guitar
while the Indians "danced twentie in a Ringe, and the Gitterne in the
middest of them, using many Savage gestures, singing lo, la, lo, la, la, lo, "53
and Phineas Pratt in 1622, upon arrival at Damariscove Island, off Boothbay
Harbor in Maine, found that the men " that belong to the ship, ther fishing,
had newly set up a may pole & weare very mery."54 Thus when Morton
raised his maypole in May of 1627 it was not only a holiday to celebrate
"good hospitality" but also a workaday to enhance his success in the fur
In New English Canaan Morton explains that he and his men wanted to
commemorate the changing of his settiement's name from Passonagessit to
Ma-re Mount "in a solemn manner, with Revels, and merriment after the old
English custom," and so they "set up a Maypole upon the festival day of
Philip and Jacob," 1 May, "brewed a barrel of excellent beer, and provided a
case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers of that
day," including the nearby Massachusetts and probably some "Old Planters"
from Wessagusset. The maypole itself was "a goodly pine tree of 80 foot
long ... with a pair of buck's horns nailed ... near the top of it; where it
51 Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 62.
52 Master Edward Haies, "A Report of the Voyages of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Knight, 1583,"
in Henry S. Burrage, ed., Early English and French Voyages, 1JJ4-1608 (New York, Charles
Scriber's Sons, 1932), 192.
53 Martin Pring, "A Voyage Set Out from the Citie of Bristoll, 1603," in Burrage, 347.
54 Pratt, "A Declarataion," 478.
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Thomas Morton 151
stood as a fair sea-mark for directions, how to find out the way to Mine Host
of Ma-re Mount" (134-3 5).55 A poem "Enigmatically composed" was at
tached to the maypole, which "puzzled the Separatists most pitifully .... The
Riddle, for want of Oedipus, they could not expound." Furthermore, "a
merry Song" was "sung with a Chorus, every man bearing his part; which
they performed in a dance, hand in hand about the Maypole, whiles one of
the Company sung, and filled out the good liquor like Gammedes and
Jupiter" (i3 5-37):
Give to the Melancholy man
A cup or two of it now and then :
This physic will soon revive his bloud
And make him be of a merrier mood
Lasses in beaver coats come away,
Ye shall be welcome to us night and day.
To drink and be merry, merry boys,
Let all your delight be in Hymen's joys.
Lo to Hymen now the day is come :
About the merry Maypole make a room. (138)
"This harmless mirth," Morton laments,
was much distasted by the precise Separatists," who termed the maypole "the Calf
of Horeb" and troubled "their brains more than reason would require about things
that are indifferent; and from that time sought occasion against my honest Host of
Ma-re Mount, to overthrow his undertakings, and to destroy his plantation quite and
clean. (136-39)66
Bradford's account, not surprisingly, sees nothing "harmless" in such
"mirth." Morton, he says, "became a lord of misrule, and maintained (as it
were) a schoole of Athisme." He and his men "gott much by trading with
the Indeans " then " spent it as vainly, in quaffing and drinking both wine and
strong waters in great excess." In addition,
They ... set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days together,
inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so
many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived and
55 Morton "hung out his shingle" as a fur trader in the form of a towering maypole that could
be seen for miles around and far out to sea.
56 Jack Dempsey argues that Morton is our first genuine poet; Dempsey, Thomas Morton,
83?125 ; the New England phase of his life is a kind of parable of how America, all too
often, treats its "nonconforming " writers. Not surprisingly, William Carlos Williams's In
the American Grain presents Morton as a hero.
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15 2 William Heath
celebrated the feasts of the Roman Goddess Flora, or the beastly practieses of the
madd Bacchinalians.
Morton, "(to shew his poetrie) composed sundry rimes and verses," that
Bradford found to be "tending to lasciviousness ... which he affixed to this
idle or idol May-pole" and named their settlement "Meriemounte, as if this
joylity would have lasted ever."57 Nathaniel Morton's account, which we
know Hawthorne used, for the most part follows Bradford word for word,
but he leaves out " many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their
consorts,"58 suggesting that Thomas Morton's celebration did not include
"frisking" with "lasses in beaver coats" but was only among his own
merry men.
Morton, with his love of word play, deliberately chose a name for his
plantation susceptible to many meanings ? ma-re, mare, Mary, marry, merry
mount: the place could connote a seaside mountain, sodomy in the stable,
honoring or dishonoring the Virgin, marriages of various sorts, and a cor
nucopia of ways to be happy.59 The sexual nature of most of these puns
raises questions about the purpose of the maypole festivities at Merry Mount.
Richard Slotkin has argued that "Morton regarded his own colony ... as the
fountainhead of ... erotic energy" where "passion expressed in openly sex
ual relationships between whites and Indians ... becomes the source of a
renewal of the virility and fertility of both races."60 John Seelye states that
"the Puritans hated him" for similar reasons: "He held out the promise of
America as an earthly paradise, a pagan, not a protestant prospect, a zone of
pleasure, not salvation through suffering."61 Both these interpretations
probably make too much of a little "frisking" with Indian women elsewhere
praised for their modesty (26).62 Seelye, in his brilliantly written study, praises
Morton's "rhapsodic style" for creating an "erotic geography," which
transforms New England into a "Wood of Eros. "63 Although Morton rarely
sustains his eloquence, New English Canaan does express, in places, a belief in
57 Bradford, 204?10. 58 Nathaniel Morton, New England's Memorial, 91.
59 Richard Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press,
1973), 58?65 ; Jack Dempsey in a footnote suggests that ma-re is an "ablative" ofMas maris,
which signifies "the erect phallus"; Morton (1 ^4). Puns, in a sense, are words copulating
with themselves to produce multiple meanings. 60 Slotkin, 58-65.
61 John Seeyle, Prophetic Waters (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 166.
62 Wood, New England's Prospect, 115, mentions the modesty of Indian women, as does
Winslow, who also asserts, 349, that some are "light, lascivious and wanton," no more than
"common strumpets." Isaack de Raisiers finds the Indians "very libidinous" and notes
that the Pilgrims "have made stringent laws ... upon the subject of fornication and adul
tery, which laws they ... enforce very strictly indeed, even among the tribes which live
amongst them". James, Three Voyages, 73, 77. 63 Steeyle, 170-74.
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Thomas Morton 15 3
the erotic powers of this new-found land. In "The Author's Prologue," for
example, Morton likens New England to " a fair virgin ... being most for
tunate/When most enjoyed" (7). He also notes that "the women of this
Country," when they are "ripe" to procreate, wear "a red cap ... for all men
to take notice of them that have any mind to a wife," adding that "it is the
custom of some of their Sachems ... to have the first say or maidenhood of
the females" (26). In two places he notes that the beaver's tail "is of such
masculine virtue for the advancement of Priapus," that "if some of our
Ladies knew the benefit thereof, they would desire to have ships sent of
purpose to trade for the tail alone" (73, 38). He also praises the "virtue"
of the plentiful shellfish, noting that "Venus is said to be borne of the
Sea" (121).
To illustrate his point that the area is "apt and fit for increase of children,"
Morton devotes two chapters to a woman he calls "a Barren Doe of
Virginia," who did not become pregnant "till she came into New Canaan"
(120-22). Bradford identifies her lover as a "Mr. Fells," who claimed that
she was his "maidservant."64 As her belly began to swell, Pilgrim suspicions
grew; to avoid being punished, she and her consort escaped to Merry Mount,
where he left her. In despair, she contemplated suicide, but Morton insists
that the fountain at Merry Mount cured her of her melancholy; then he
composed "a memorial of some mirth" to her faithless "Cony-catcher" who
had absconded: "She was too good for Earth, too bad for Heaven:/Why
then, for Hell the match is somewhat even" (130?33). Samuel Eliot
Morrison speculates that "Slut's Bush," at Nauset Beach on Cape Cod, may
have been named for Morton's "Barren Doe."65 It is significant that
Morton's maypole account immediately follows this incident, suggesting that
this "slut" was the single English woman present for his May Day revels,
which are a kind of mock wedding ceremony. If Hawthorne read both
Nathaniel and Thomas Morton, he would have been aware of these ironies
when he wrote about the newlyweds Edgar and Edith in "The Maypole
of Merry Mount. "
Although Bradford deliberately exaggerates what transpired at Merry
Mount, clearly the Pilgrims saw Morton as a threat on various levels. He had
violated their cherished beliefs while undercutting their economy and
security.66 As an Anglican cavalier with literary pretensions and a hedonistic
64 Bradford, 102. 65 Morrison note, in ibid., 102.
66 Michael Zuckerman, "Pilgrim in the Wilderness: Community, Modernity, and the Maypole
at Merry Mount," New England Quarterly, 50 (1977), 255?77. Although he underplays the
dangers of the gun trade, which Bradford overplays, Zuckerman nicely summarizes the
various ways Morton threatened the Pilgrims.
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15 4 William Heath
bent, Morton epitomized the " eat-drink-and-be-merry " England the
Puritans had hoped to leave behind. His maypole festivities smacked of folk
superstitions, pagan practices, Old Testament precedents, and King James I's
Book oj Sports', his consorting with Indian women violated their sexual and
racial taboos; his hospitality to indentured servants threatened their labor
supply and social order ; and his trading of guns for furs not only stole the
beaver and deerskin trade away but it also armed their deadly enemies, who
became, Bradford claimed, "a terrour unto them, who lived straglingly."6T
Bradford waxes indignant over Morton's supposed exchange of guns for
furs, which gave him a big advantage in trading (trumping the Pilgrims'
recently acquired wampum) and left the Indians "full of peeces all
over ... muskets, pistols, etc .... They are ordinarily better fitted and furn
ished then the English, " and " some of their neighbors and friends are daly
killed by the Indeans, or are in danger thereof .... O the horibleness of this
vilanie ! "68 Nathaniel Morton, aware of Bradford's hyperbole (no settlers had
been shot by the Indians), restated the accusation as a hypothetical: "what
mischief may fall out to the English in those parts thereby, let this pestilent
fellow Morton ... bear a greater part of the blame and guilt of it to future
generations."69 Morton may well have traded a few guns and taught the
Indians to hunt for him, thus contributing to his success over his Pilgrim
rivals ; he was, of course, hardly the first person to do so, and the number of
guns in his possession to trade was very limited. Furthermore, his observance
of reciprocity with the Indians was probably the best way to preserve the
peace. Although the threat of armed Indians was not, as some have argued,70
totally negligible, the Pilgrims' harsh treatment of Morton was, ultimately,
based on selfish motives. The danger of an Indian war was vague at best, but
Morton's superiority over them in the fur trade was palpable and had to be
stopped. The Pilgrims wrote him two letters, citing King James's prohibition
against selling firearms to the natives, to which Morton responded with
" scurillous termes full of disdaine ... and said the king was dead and his
displeasure with him. "71
67 Bradford, 208. In Bradford's Fetter Book there is a list of "Old Planters" who apparently
contributed to Morton's capture and deportation; see Morrison note, 208-9. Whether they
initiated the action against Morton or were more or less coerced to participate is an open
68 Bradford, 207. 69 Nathaniel Morton, New England's Memorial, 92.
70 Zuckerman, 258; Salisbury, Manitou and Providence, 162; Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The
Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press,
1080), 12; B. F. De Costa, "Morton of Merrv Mount," Magazine of American History
(February 1882), 87-89. 71 Bradford, 209.
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Thomas Morton 15 5
Ever the lawyer, Morton was legally correct, but that did not prevent
Myles Standish, after a skirmish where more rounds were drunk than fired,
from taking him prisoner in early June of 1628. Both Morton and Bradford,
in their dueling accounts of this fiasco, picture it as a slapstick, Keystone
Kops affair, but they differ over who slipped on which banana peel. In
Bradford's version, Standish's men marched on Morton at Merry Mount and
"summoned him to yield, but he kept his house, and they could get nothing
but scofes and scorns from him." In the ensuing scuffle the only injury
occurred when one of Morton's drunken men "ran his owne nose upon the
pointe of a sword ... but he lost but a little of his hot blood. "72 Morton's
more fulsome version (141?54) claims that "the Separatists ... to gain in the
Beaver trade ... conspired together against Mine Host, " taking him prisoner
while he was at Wessagusset and accusing him of working "to advance the
dignity of the Church of England," a charge Morton welcomes, in his play
ful, punning tone, saying that he used "the sacred Book of Common
Prayer ... in a laudable manner amongst his family, as a practice of piety. "
One wonders just how "laudable" Archbishop Laud would have found
Morton's "piety," and what "family" he is referring to, but he was indeed an
Anglican (in Bradford's eyes the equivalent of "Athisme"). To celebrate their
"great prize," Standish ("Captain Shrimp") and his men "fell to tippling,"
and, once they were drunk, "in the dead of night" Morton made good his
escape back to his house at Merry Mount, where he found two of his men
ready to defend him, but not before they drank "a health in good rosa solis. "
When Standish and his eight men ("the Nine Worthies") appeared before
"the Den of this supposed Monster," Morton, "who was the Son of a
Souldier," refused to surrender, but given the inebriated state of his men, he
was "content to yield upon quarter." Standish's men were so thrilled to
capture " such a carnal man " that " they fell upon him as if they would have
eaten him, " but one of the Queen's old soldiers, who happened to be pres
ent, intervened to prevent further bloodshed. It is easy to hear, as Morton
spins this hilarious yarn of how he was forced to yield "upon compulsion,"
Falstaff, in the Boar's Head Tavern: "These four came all a-front, and mainly
thrust at me. I made me no more ado, but took all their seven points in my
target, thus."
Unfortunately, no Prince Hal was present to provide the "plain tale" or
plain truth of this event; what is certain is that Morton was taken to
72 Ibid., 209-10. As humorous as both Bradford and Morton's accounts are, it is well to
remember, in light of what happened at Wessagusset in 1623, that the hot-tempered
Standish was quite capable of killing Morton (after he was captured he wanted him shot) ;
thus the situation could easily have turned lethal.
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15 6 William Heath
Plymouth where a kind of kangaroo court decided that he be "sent to
England a prisoner." Morton wrote a satiric poem about these pro
ceedings - one of his baroque, overwrought urns - finding particular irony
in the way the grim, fun-starved Pilgrims used his capture as an excuse for
"Revels ... gambols ... and ... Stygean Holiday" (154). Because no ship was
available, Morton was imprisoned on the Isle of Shoals, off the New
Hampshire coast, without "so much as a knife" to procure food "or any
other clothes to shelter him with at winter then a thinne suite" (148). Had
friendly Indians not provided aid, Morton says, he would have perished.73
Apparently to heighten the desperation of his situation, Morton places his
summer imprisonment in the winter; in the fall of 1628 he was picked up by
a Plymouth fishing ship bound for England.
The notorious John Oldham, whose murder several years later helped
trigger the Pequot War, accompanied Morton on this voyage, carrying "let
ters" from the Pilgrims urging Sir Ferdinando Gorges "to prosecute against
him."74 Specifically, Bradford rehashed his old charges, that Plymouth
Plantation was "expecting daily to be overrun and spoiled by the savages,"
because Thomas Morton and his " turbulent and seditious crew ... hath sold
sundry pieces to the natives, who can use them with great dexterity. " They
had also been guilty of "abusing the Indian women most filthily, as is no
torious." Therefore, in order to instill "terror" in "all other delinquents in
the same kind," Morton ought to be severely punished. Only in passing does
Bradford admit that mainly English fishermen, not Morton, had " spoiled the
trade in all other things " by bartering guns for furs with the Indians.75 Since
Gorges was both Morton's patron and an Anglican, it is not surprising that
Bradford was no more successful persuading England to punish him than
Claudius had been in the case of Hamlet; Morton "fooled the messen
ger ... nothing was done to him, not so much as rebukte, "76 and the next
year he came sailing into Plymouth as Isaac Allerton's secretary and, quite
possibly, a secret agent for Gorges.
On 6 September 1628, while Morton was on the Isle of Shoals, John
Endecott, "a narrow, rigid, and choleric Puritan," known to his admirers as
"strong, valiant John," arrived in Naumkeag (Salem) with the vanguard of
73 A list of expenses incurred by Edward Gibbons, an erstwhile member of the Merry Mount
community, has been published; it appears that several of the Old Planters, including
Samuel Maverick and William Blackstone, paid for Morton's care while he was on the Isle
of Shoals. Worthington Chauncy Ford, "Morton of Merry Mount," Collections of the
Massachusetts Historical Society, 45 ( 1911?12), 641 ?43. 74 Bradford, 210.
75 Bradford to Gorges, Letter Book, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, ist series, 3
(i794), 62-64. 76 Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 210.
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Thomas Morton 15 7
what would in two years become the Great Migration.77 Although he had no
legal jurisdiction to do so, at some point he went to Merry Mount, "caused
that May-polle to be cutt downe, and rebuked" the remnant of Morton's
men "for their profaneness, and admonished them to looke there should be
better walking."78 The place was renamed Mount Dagon, after the god to
whom the Philistines made sacrifices, just before Sampson, in the midst of
their "sport" and when "their hearts were merry," pulled the pillars of their
temple down, slaying himself and many of his enemies.79 No one died when
Endecott cut down Morton's maypole, and, contrary to Hawthorne's story,
apparently no one was compelled to leave or convert to Puritanism.
For a while Morton lived with Allerton in Plymouth and served as his
" scribe ... till he was caused to pack him away. So he went to his old nest in
the Massachusetts."80 Thus some time in 1629 he rejoined the remainder of
his Merry Mount partners and was soon up to his old tricks, employing his
Indian friends to hunt for him and beating his competitors to the best furs at
the Kennebec, in Maine. His renewed success in the fur trade brought him
into conflict with Endecott ("Captain Littleworth"), who, envious of his
prosperity, tried to draw him into a trading partnership. Morton suspected
this offer "would prove a very mousetrap" and refused on the grounds that
he would do nothing "contrary or repugnant to the Eaws of the Kingdom of
England." Meanwhile, as winter approached, the food situation in Salem
became so desperate that indentured servants were set free to fend for
themselves; peeved at Morton's rejection of his offer and covetous of his
provisions, Endecott led a raid on Merry Mount: "After they had feasted
their bodies with what they found there, they carried all his corn away, with
some other of his goods, contrary to the laws of hospitality; a small parcel of
refuse-corn only excepted, which they left Mine Host to keep Christmas
with. " Undaunted, the self-reliant Morton cached the rest of his supplies in
the woods, used his hunting rifle to good effect, "and feasted his body ...
with fowl, and venison" (164?70).81 He probably could have survived quite
well in this way for some time, but in the summer of 1630 some two hundred
Puritans arrived at Massachusetts Bay, with several thousand more to follow,
77 Johnson, Wonder-Working Providence, note i, p. 44; James Duncan Phillips, Salem in the
Seventeenth Century (Boston: Houghton MifBin Company, 1933), 39. Hawthorne spelled his
name "Endicott. " 78 Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 206. 79 Judges 16:23.
80 Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 216.
81 Morton is at his wicked best when highlighting the hypocrisy of the Puritans. Had
Endecott allowed him to hunt, instead of pursuing him, Morton asserts (180?81), he could
have "preserved such poor helpless wretches as were neglected by those that brought them
over" from starving to death.
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15 8 William Heath
permanently shifting the balance of power and making Morton a marked
man. One of Governor John Winthrop's first official acts was to call for
Morton's apprehension.
At the first Court of Assistants, 23 August 1630, Thomas Dudley says
that Morton was accused of "shootinge hail shott at a troope of Indians, for
not bringing a Cannowe unto him to cross a river ... whereby he hurt one,
and shott through the garments of another."82 The court found Morton
guilty of stealing a canoe from the Indians, and in punishment it was ordered
that he be
sett into the bilbowes, & after sent prisoner into England ... that all his goods
shalbe seazed upon to defray the charge of his transportacon, pay ... his debts,
& ... that his howse, after the goods are taken out, shalbe burnt downe to the
ground in the sight of the Indians, for their satisfaction, for many wrongs hee hath
done them from tyme to tyme.83
In addition, Bradford states that Morton "was vehemently suspected for the
murther of a man that had adventured moneys with him when he came first
into New England. And a warrant was sent from the Lord Chief Justice to
apprehend him."84 The exact nature of this "warrant" remains mysterious;
on 21 November 1627, well before Winthrop came to New England, and
probably before he had previously heard of Thomas Morton, an entry was
made in his journal alleging that " Wm. Stuart of Stratfield ... Informed that
one Tho:Moreton late of Swallowfield ... did combine with one
Tho :Wigge ... and after about a yeare the said Wigge dyed, supposed to be
made awaye by the said Moret?n, and one Edwardes who was layd in prison
for it, but Moret?n fledd. "85 Why Winthrop would remember this entry, and
whether he was the person who suggested the murder charge, is unknown.
As mentioned above, this charge has never been substantiated. It is also
interesting to note that no mention was made, this time around, of Morton
trading guns for furs to the Indians, and any "wrongs" he had done to them,
82 Dudley, Letters from New England, 74.
83 Quoted in Dempsey, Thomas Morton, 254. This same court sent John and Samuel Browne,
who objected to the Puritans' separatist tendencies and preferred worship based on the
Book of Common Prayer, back to England at the specific urging of Endecott. "Here began
the policy of intolerance," James Hosmer notes, that became "so marked a feature of early
New England .... Theocracy asserted itself at once." Hosmer, "Introduction," to
Winthrop, Journal, 1, 12, and note 4, 51?52. An inventory of Morton's possessions at the
time reveals that he had only one "fowling peece" but "21 hatchetts" and "21 lb. of
pewter," suggesting that he no longer was trading guns for furs, although he also had "9 lb.
of powther" and "30 lb. of shott." Ford, "Morton of Merry Mount," 643.
84 Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 216.
85 Winthrop, Winthrop's Papers, Volume 2: 1623?1630 (Allyn Bailey Forbes, ed. (Boston:
Massachusetts Historical Society, 1931), 44.
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Thomas Morton 15 9
other than the alleged stealing of a canoe, were unspecified and hard to
When the captain of The Gift refused to transport Morton, he was kept in
the Boston jail until a second ship, The Handmaid, agreed to take him in
December. During this interim, Morton suggests that the Puritans had se
cond thoughts about their trumped-up charges ? " they stood betwixt hawk
and buzzard" (190) ?and debated whether to set him free. When The
Handmaidwas ready to sail, Morton was "ignominiously hoisted by a tackle"
on board, and from the deck "he saw the flames that destroyed his dwell
ing."86 Upon his arrival in England, Gorges dismissed the "murther" charge
out of hand; instead he gave a sympathetic ear to Morton's complaints
against the Puritans and employed him as one of his lawyers. In addition to
having his house burned down and his possessions confiscated, Morton
claims that he was deprived of "a writeing."87 Perhaps at Gorges's urging,
Morton put pen to paper and began to reconstruct this lost manuscript. "He
got free again," Bradford recalled in dismay, "and writ an infamous and
scurrilous book against many godly and chief men of the country, full of lies
and slanders and fraught with profane calumnies against their names and
persons and the ways of God. "88
For the next thirteen years Morton remained in England, probably
spending most of his time in London, but all that we know of his life during
this period suggests that his thoughts and energies were focussed on New
England. He wanted revenge on the "cruell Schismaticks " in Boston Bay
and Plymouth and to return to his own plantation, now preferably situated in
Gorges's province of Maine. During this period the validity of the Puritans'
patent was in dispute, and Gorges wanted to use Morton's complaints
against them to strengthen his own title to New England. For all of 1631,
however, the Privy Council showed little interest. Meanwhile, the Puritan
saints found that banishing Morton did not cause their problems with un
regenerate strangers to disappear. Edward Ashley, one of their fur traders in
Maine, began to exhibit Morton-like characteristics: he was "a very profane
young man, and had for some time lived among the Indians as a savage and
went naked amongst them and used their manners"; he had also "commit
ted uncleanness with Indian women." Finally he was arrested for "trading
powder and shot with the Indians " and " sent home a prisoner. "89
86 Samuel Maverick, quoted in Winthrop's Papers, 2, z6<), note 2.
87 Morton to Court of Requests (1636), reproduced in Charles Banks, "Thomas Morton of
Merry Mount," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 59 (1926), 94. Morton also
refers to "writeings"; ibid., 95. 88 Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 217.
89 Ibid., 219-33.
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16o William Heath
Even more blatant and obstreperous was Sir Christopher Gardiner ?
Knight of the Sepulcher, secret agent for Gorges, and a well-traveled miles
gloriosus ? who arrived in Massachusetts Bay with "a servant or two and a
comely young woman whom he called his cousin ; but it was suspected she,
after the Indian manner, was his concubine."90 When word came that
Gardiner already had wives in Paris and London, the Puritans sought him at
his house, near Merry Mount, and, finding him gone, "they fired the place,
and carried away the persons, and goods" (193).91 Gardiner had escaped
alone into the forest, but, after a month or so, some Indians brought him to
Boston. William Wood's lively depiction of Gardiner's capture provides a
rare close-up of the times and of a man very much in the Elizabethan mode
of Thomas Morton:
he lived for a time undiscovered till the Indians, who leave no place unsearched
for deer, found out his haunt ... but being double-pistoled and well-sworded,
they feared to approach so near him as to grapple with him. Wherefore they let
him alone till his own necessary business cast him upon them; for having occasion
to cross a river, he came to the side thereof where was an Indian canoe in which
the Indians were to cross the river themselves. He vauntingly commanded waftage,
which they willingly granted but withal plotting how they might take him prisoner,
which they thus effected : having placed him in the midship of their ticklish wherry,
they launched forth into the deep, causing the capering canoe to cast out her cum
bersome ballast into the liquid water, which swam like a stone. And now the water
having danked his pistols and lost his Spanish prog in the bottom, the Indians swam
him out by the chin to the shore, where having dropped himself a little dry, he
began to bluster out a storm of rebellious resistance till they becalmed his pelting
chafe with the pelting of pebbles at him, afterwards leading him as they list to the
This op?ra bouffe scene, with a few revisions, might well have described how
Morton himself got into a dispute with the Indians over a canoe and was
captured. While Gardiner was being held prisoner, a shallop arrived with
letters from England. As was their custom with suspected enemies, the
Pilgrim Fathers opened those addressed to Morton, who was already in
England, and Gardiner, learning that the latter was working for Gorges.
Reluctant to prosecute him, the Puritans allowed Gardiner to winter in
90 Ibid, 247.
91 Morton makes no mention of Gardiner's "cousin," claiming instead (192) that the
Separatists had a Machiavellian gift for tainting those "without" their Church with scandal,
which they knew would never be "wiped clean: the stained mark remains." The indelible
stain is, of course, one of Hawthorne's trademark themes.
92 Wood, New England's Prospect, 91.
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Thomas Morton 161
Maine with "a planter named Thomas Purchase who had, in the meantime,
married Mary Groves," Gardiner's erstwhile "cousin."93
Simultaneous with these events a mentally disturbed servant, Philip
Ratcliffe, in what one historian has called "the worst act of brutality recorded
in early Salem," was put on trial for "uttering malicious & slanderous spee
ches against the govmt & the church. " As punishment it was ordered that he
"shal be whipped, have his eares cutt of, fyned ?40, &c banished out of
ye lymitts of this jurisdiction."94 In Morton's account, Ratcliffe is
"Mr. Innocence Fairecloath," Endecott ("Captain Littleworth") is his most
outspoken persecutor, and the punishment includes "to have his tongue
bored through, his nose slit, his face branded ... his body to be whipped in
every several plantation of their Jurisdiction. " Gardiner, who witnessed the
whipping, probably provided Morton with the grisly details that afterwards
Ratcliffe's back was "like the picture of Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones, and his
shirt like a pudding-wife's apron" (178?79).95
Once Gardiner and Ratcliffe arrived in England, their testimonies about
flagrant abuse collaborated Morton's, enabling Gorges to pursue a legal case
against the Puritans. Their petition of December 1632 resulted in the Privy
Council appointing a committee to investigate the Puritans' patent and the
conduct of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Morton and the others must
have had high hopes, once their complaints were on the record, that the
court would find in their favor, but the New Englanders had sent Edward
Winslow and Captain Thomas Wiggin, an independent planter at Pascataque,
to counter their charges. Winslow's brother-in-law, Emanuel Downing,
wrote to remind the committee that the new, rapidly growing colony had vast
economic potential as a ship-building center and a source of raw materials
for the homeland. The preliminary report of 19 January 1633 basically sided
in favor of the Puritans and admonished Gorges for the company he kept.96
Events soon took a favorable turn for Morton, however, in August of
1633, when William Laud became archbishop of Canterbury. A vigorous
proponent of conformity, Laud was the avowed enemy of Puritanism. In
1634 the "Laud Commission for Foreign Plantations" reopened the ques
tion of the Massachusetts patent and Morton, as one of Gorges's legal
advisers, helped formulate the indictment and testified again. With his eye
93 Preston, Gorges, 289. Winthrop, Journal, 1, 63?64. 94 Phillips, Salem, 78.
95 Edward Howes wrote to John Winthrop, in June of 1632, "I have heard diverse complaints
against the severitie of your Government especially mr. Indicutts and that he shalbe sent
over, about the cuttinge off the Lunatick mans eares, and other grievances ..." Winthrop's
Papers, Volume y : 1631?1637 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1943), 76.
96 Winthrop to Bradford, Winthrop's Papers, y, 132; Preston, 291?92.
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16 2 William Heath
on impressing Laud, Morton stressed that the Puritans had become "wholly
separate from the church and laws of England. "97 Having had, once more,
his day in court, on i May 1634, Morton wrote with spiteful glee to his friend
William Jeffries in New England that he would soon receive his pound of
The Massachusetts Patent, by order of the council, was brought in view; the privi
leges there granted well scanned upon, and at the council board in public and in the
presence of Sir Richard Saltonstall and the rest, it was declared, for manifest abuses
there discovered, to be void .... I now stay to return with the governor, by whom all
complaints shall have relief: So that now Jonas being set ashore may safely cry,
repent you cruel Separatists repent, there are as yet but forty days. If Jove vouchsafe
to thunder, the charter and kingdom of the Separatists will fall asunder. Repent you
cruel Schismatics, repent. These things have happened, and I shall see (notwith
standing their boasting and false alarms in the Massachusetts, with feigned cause of
thanksgiving) their merciless cruelty rewarded, according to the merits of the fact,
with condign punishment for coming into those parts, like Sampson's foxes with
firebrands at their tails.98
Morton went so far as to envision Governor Winthrop's ears being
cropped for "his Amsterdam fantastical ordinances."99 When word reached
New England that their patent had been revoked, that a royal governor was
coming to replace their magistrates, that Winslow was in prison (for per
forming civil marriages), and that Thomas Morton had triumphed, they
made plans to resist. In September the Puritans set to work fortifying Castle
Island, Dorchester, and Charleston, and in November of 1634 Endecott, in
a bravado act of defiance, cut the cross of St. George out of the King's
flag.100 In January of 1635 the Massachusetts clergy met to debate "What we
ought to do, if a general governor should be sent out from England ? " Their
decision: "We ought to accept him, but defend our lawful possessions, (if we
were able ;) otherwise to avoid or protract. "101 Morton, meanwhile, deployed
his legal and literary talents to gain the King's Great Seal as final confir
mation of the repeal of the Massachusetts Bay Company charter.
97 Winthrop,Journal, i, 101. 98 Ibid, 2, 194-96.
99 Ibid, 2, 196. In Judges, Sampson sets fire to the foxes' tails to destroy the Philistine
harvest; here Morton uses the metaphor to turn the tables on the self-proclaimed saints.
100 Winslow, Relation, 132, 149-50. Roger Williams, then in his intolerant phase, was probably
the person who convinced Endecott that the cross was a sinful popish sign and idolatrous.
The court found Endecott's "offense to be great, viz, rash and without discretion," and
sentenced him "to be disabled one year from bearing any public office. " Critics have failed
to note that Morton is a key person behind the scenes in another Hawthorne story,
"Endicott and the Red Cross."
101 Quoted in Richard S. Dunn, Puritans and Yankees: The Winthrop Dynasty of New England,
i6yo?iyiy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1962), 33-34.
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Thomas Morton 163
These must have been heady days for Thomas Morton, as he worked on
obtaining a quo warranto against the Massachusetts Bay Company and wrote
New English Canaan, but time was not on his side and days would became
years. John Mason, vice-admiral for New England, died in 1635; the ship
built to bring Governor Gorges to his dominion shattered into pieces upon
being launched ; and Charles I and Archbishop Laud did not make their royal
control of New England official until 1637. A year later the situation in
Massachusetts Bay remained unchanged, and the Privy Council, on 4 April
1638, ordered Winthrop to return the charter on the next ship. The Puritans,
however, knowing that the tide was turning in their favor and that the king
was in no position to enforce his decrees, continued to "protract" and play a
delaying game. Meanwhile, Gorges and Laud could not agree on what policy
to adopt toward the New Englanders, Gorges urging leniency and Laud
wanting to crack the whip.102 When a desperate Charles I finally called the
Long Parliament in 1640 the game was up; by 1642 Laud was in the Tower,
the executioner was sharpening his axe, and Morton was still stranded in
Although Charles Greene, a printer, had registered New English Canaan in
1633, Morton's book was not published until 1637, apparently from a press
in Holland.103 Morton no doubt had worked on his book for several years,
pouring his rancor into a vitriolic account of the "cruell Schismaticks " at
Boston Bay. New English Canaan mocks captains Shrimpe and Littleworth
(Standish and Endecott), scorns the self-righteousness of the purer-than
thou saints, and celebrates the merry exploits of "mine Host of Ma-re
Mount, " but the chief merit of the book, as Samuel Maverick first perceived
in 1659, is tnat i* provides "the truest description of New England as then it
was that ever I saw. "104 Unlike the Puritans, Morton was at home with the
Indians and his firsthand observations were filled with wonder at the natu
ralistic bounty of the New World, delighting in naming its species, including
" Hathorn, of ... two sorts " (59). He wanted to know the land itself, the trees
and flowers, the rocks and streams, the fish, birds, and animals, and above all
the native peoples ; remarkably for his time, he recorded with some accuracy
102 Preston, 299?320.
103 Jack Dempsey argues that Morton and his English printer "tried to create the appearance
that New English Canaan was published in Holland. " His case is too circumstantial to be
completely convincing; FhomasMorton, 286?89. Donald F. Connors points out that the last
contemporary reference in New English Canaan dates to 1634, suggesting that Morton
mainly composed the book in the early 1630s. Donald F. Connors, Fhomas Morton (New
York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1969), 34.
104 Maverick, qtd. in Adams, Three Episodes, 351.
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164 William Heath
where he was and what was here. Although it is the work of a dabbler and
dilettante - marred by slap-dash composition, convoluted argumentation,
and a plethora of classical allusions ? as natural history, anthropology, comic
romp, pastoral interlude, and expos? of hypocritical bigotry, New English
Canaan is a step in the right direction. Even modern scholars unsympathetic
to Morton find his book a breath of fresh air. He has a claim to being the first
American poet,105 our first dramatist (in the sense that what was enacted
around the maypole was a kind of Elizabethan masque106), our first mixed
genre "experimental" writer, and our first satirist. Unfortunately, with the
exception of Maverick, Morton's only seventeenth-century readers appear to
have been the subjects of his satire.
One of the more curious chapters in New English Canaan celebrates the
mythic allure and economic advantages of "the Great Lake of Erocoise in
New England." Morton, apparently, had heard rumors about how crucial
Lake Champlain was to the fur trade with the powerful Iroquois confeder
acy, but his fabulous description also suggests Lake Ontario and the Saint
Lawrence River, if not the ever-elusive Northwest Passage. Morton as a
dreamer of empire is never more apparent than here as he foresees "many
brave Towns and Cities " around this lake which is destined to become " the
prime seat for the Metropolis of New Canaan" (95).107 This vision of an
inland lake at the center of a fur-trading empire was shared by Gorges at least
as early as the Popham colony of 1607; in 1629, upon retiring from his post
at Plymouth Fort, Gorges devoted himself to the Laconia (Lygonia)
Company, whose territory was to surround the "Lake of the Iroquoi,"
which, it was naively assumed, could be easily accessed by a river in Maine.
Only later would it be learned that formidable mountains in the back country
stood steadfastly in the way.
Morton, from the first, had shown an interest in Maine; on both of his
previous stays he had traded for his best furs on the Kennebec. One wonders
if Morton's enthusiasm for the lake of the Iroquois served as a catalyst for
Gorges's energetic involvement in the Laconia Company. From the mid
16 30s on, as he waited in vain for the Massachusetts Bay charter to be
returned, Morton backed various schemes to colonize Maine. Using his re
lationship with Gorges to his advantage, he became the London agent of
105 Dempsey, 83-125.
106 Daniel B. Shea makes a case for the masque-like qualities of New English Canaan:
"Professed Old Adversary: Thomas Morton and the Naming of New England," Early
American Literature, 23, 1 (1988), 52?69.
107 John Seeyle, calling this lake "the mystic diadem of seventeenth-century New England,"
has eloquently elaborated on its significance, in Prophetic Waters, 161?85.
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Thomas Morton 16 5
George Cleeve (the father of Portland, Maine), helping him obtain a patent
to a valuable neck of land at Casco Bay and permission to explore Lake
Champlain. Cleeve, however, was a lightning rod in his own right ? Winslow
called him and Morton "two of the arrantest known knaves that ever trod on
New English shore "108 - and Gorges, at that time, did not want to offend the
people of Massachusetts Bay, whose governor he still hoped to become.
Therefore, when Winthrop and others in 1637 complained of Cleeve's con
duct, Gorges saw fit to put the blame on Morton: "it might bee he was soe
perswaded upon such promises as Moorton his agent assured him, who since
is wholely cashiered from intermedlinge with anie our affaires hereafter. "109
Whether Morton was fired and ceased to be an intermediary in Gorges's
affairs is doubtful, since he later did more legal work for him, but from this
time forth Morton began to pursue alternative ways to gain for himself a
plantation in Maine.
After 1640, as the sands shifted under his feet and the English Puritans
gained ascendancy, Morton must have realized that Gorges's sun was setting
and that he needed a friend in Parliament. Somehow this self-professed
Anglican, the man Bradford suspected of atheism, gained the good graces of
Alexander Rigby, a colonel in Cromwell's Model Army and a powerful
member of Parliament. Gorges became swept up in the Civil War (in his
seventies he fought for the royalist cause and died a house prisoner in 1647),
and his cousin Thomas Gorges proved to be an ineffectual governor of the
largely lawless province of Maine. Meanwhile, Morton and Cleeve induced
Rigby to purchase the old Laconia patent (also known as "the Plough
patent," because a group of Familist husbandmen, with Gorges's consent,
had earlier tried unsuccessfully to establish a colony there). This land,
stretching along the coast from Cape Porpoise River almost to the Kennebec,
cut directly into the heart of Gorges's province; it did not extend inland all
the way to Lake Champlain, of course, but it did include Sebago Lake, the
area where Hawthorne spent the happiest days of his boyhood. Cleeve's
plan, apparently, was to establish Rigby as governor and his people in a
colony at Casco Bay, and then use them as a wedge to break what was left of
Gorges's power in Maine. He would succeed in 1652 when Massachusetts
annexed the province against the will of many of its residents. Morton, I
108 Winslow, Winthrop's Papers, 4, 428; James Phinney Baxter [George Cleeve, 210) declares that
"the character of Cleeve appears exceptionally clean," but most historians would beg to
differ; Banks, for example, refers to him {History of York, 174) as "the arch-troublemaker
of the Province," and Richard Vines reported to Winthrop on 29 January 1643, "This I
know to be Cleeves his plot to bring us all into distraction," quoted in Baxter, 241, also
Winthrop's Papers, 4, 436. 109 Gorges, quoted in Baxter, 226.
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166 William Heath
assume, was playing both sides against the middle; in the absence of Gorges,
Morton wanted to return to Maine with a patent the Puritans might respect.
In the summer of 1643 Morton, like the proverbial bad penny, returned to
Plymouth claiming to be Rigby's agent and Bradford gave him permission to
"winter heer, but begon as soon as winter breaks up."110 A born sports
man ? " probably the only man who ever flew bird at quarry in
Massachusetts" ?Morton once again aroused "the fierce wrath of Myles
Standish by wandering gun in hand over the Duxbury marshes."111 Winslow
noted that while in Plymouth Morton "liveth meanley at 4s per week and
content to drinke water so he may dyet at that price .... And for my
part ... would not have this serpent stay amongst us."112 Endecott also had
old scores to settle ; he " collected intelligences " as to Morton's whereabouts
that summer, sent a warrant to arrest him at Gloucester, warned Winthrop
that Morton was allied with royalists in Maine, and, with a conspiratorial
flourish, added that "most likely the Jesuits ... have sent him over to doe us
mischief to raise our enemies round about us both English and Indean. "113
Other spies reported that Morton was rallying New England cavaliers,
promising them land, and complaining of the past wrongs the Bay Puritans
had inflicted on him, but vowing that he would "let it rest till the Governor
came over to right him," since he, Morton, "knew whose roste his spits and
Jackes turned."114 A more sympathetic and credible Samuel Maverick says
that Morton had come back to New England "to looke after his land for
which he had a patent many yeares before, he found his land disposed of and
made a township, and himself shortly after apprehended. "115
How Morton allowed himself to be captured by the Puritans is not known,
but in September of 1644 he once more stood before the Court of
Assistants: "There was laid to his charge his complaint against us at the
council board, which he denied, " Morton stating that he had only been called
as a witness. Even more damning in the eyes of the Puritans, "Morton had
set forth a book against us, and had threatened us, and had prosecuted a quo
warranto against us, which he did not deny. " Finally, "His letter was produced
written after to Mr. Jeffrey."116 Needless to say, the Puritans considered
110 Winslow, Winthrop's Papers, 4, 428. 111 Adams, Three Episodes^ 17s. ;as.
112 Winslow, Winthrop 's Papers, 4, 428.
113 Endecott, Winthrop's Papers, 4, 464; see also John P. McWilliams, Jr., "Fictions of Merry
Mount," American Quarterly, 29, 1 (Spring, 1977), 3?30, 10.
114 Wrm. Coddington, Winthrop's Papers, 4, 490?91.
115 Maverick, quoted in De Costa, "Thomas Morton," 92.
116 Winthrop, Journal, 2, 194. John Browne, one of Endecott's spies, stated that he thought
"that vyle person Morton" ought to be punished because "he hath in my Judment
Abused the Cuntry very much and that In print." Winthrop's Papers, 4, 465.
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Thomas Morton 167
Morton guilty, although he never had an official trial; the court thought it "fit
that further evidence be sent for into England, " while Morton was " to lye in
prison in ye mean time, unlesse hee find sufficient bayle."117 Thus he was
"put into the gaole without fire or beddinge, no bayle to be taken, where he
remained a very cold winter, nothing laid to his charge but the writing of this
booke, which he confessed not nor could they prove."118 In the midst of
suffering his summary punishment, Morton, referring to himself as " such a
poore worme as I," sent a "humble petition" to the court, asking for mercy:
"the petitioner coming into these parts, which he loveth, on godly gentle
men's employments, and your worships having a former jelosy of him, and a
late untrue intelligence of him, your petitioner has been imprisoned manie
Moneths and laid in Irons to the decaying of his Limbs. "119 Morton's pleas
fell on deaf ears ; Winthrop stolidly recounts that
having been kept in prison about a year, in expectation of further evidence out of
England, he was again called before the court, and after some debate what to do
with him, he was fined 100 pounds, and set at liberty. He was a charge to the
country, for he had nothing, and we thought not fit to inflict corporal punishment
upon him, being old and crazy.120
Banished to Maine, Morton moved to Agamenticus (York), where a small
colony of Anglicans and others had gathered, including fellow "Old
Planters " Samuel Maverick, William Jeffries, and Edward Johnson. Back in
England Morton had helped to draft the town's charter, one of whose pro
visions mandated that "there shalbe twoe Fayers held and kepte there every
yeare for herafter (Viz) upon the Feaste daies of St. James and St. Paul. "m
By 1645 Morton must have realized that the king's cause in England was
doomed, but, ironically enough, the Warwick Commission, which replaced
Gorges's council, gave patents to such New England "rebels" as Roger
Williams and Samuel Gorton, and the victorious English Roundheads began
to admonish their Massachusetts brethren for their lack of toleration.
117 Quoted in Dempsey, Thomas Morton, 311. The treatment of Morton shows just how much
he was hated; at the same time (1643) me Puritans also put on trial another "rebel,"
Samuel Gorton, and eight of his followers, who were "charged to be blasphemous en
emies of the true religion of our Lord Jesus Christ." Although all the magistrates, "save
three," thought Gorton ought to die, he and his followers were "dispersed into seven
several towns, and there kept to work for their living," but soon afterwards they were
released. Winthrop, Journal, 2, 143-49.
118 Maverick, in De Costa, "Thomas Morton," 92.
119 Morton, quoted in Dempsey, Thomas Morton, 313.
120 Winthrop, Journal, 2, 196. "In that period the word 'crazy' ... referred to bodily in
firmities, not mental aberration. Testators frequently used the term, 'crazy in body, but of
sound mind.'" Banks, History of York, 159.
121 Quoted in Banks, History of York, 444.
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168 William Heath
Unfortunately these changes were of small consolation to Thomas Morton,
who never recovered from his year in prison. In his will, written on 23
August 1643, when he was still "in perfect health of body," he had be
queathed his soul to God and his "body to the earth from whence it came,"
and, still dreaming of his personal plantation, he specified thousands of acres
of land in his beloved New England to which he laid claim, from Martha's
Vineyard to Casco Bay.122 In 1647 he died in Agamenticus "poor and de
spised" in Winthrop's estimation.123 But Maverick's more sympathetic ac
count of this "gentleman of good qualitie" suggests that he spent his last
years among friends. Morton knew that his "offense" was that he had
touched the Puritans "too neare," and he knew he was dying, "having as
he said and most believed received his bane by hard lodging and fare in
prison. "124 "He died," Maverick repeated in another context, "as he said and
many well supposed, of his hard usage in prison. "125 Thus was this man of
wanton summers broken at last by adamant Puritans, and rough winter
weather. The old graveyard along the banks of the Agamenticus where
Morton was buried has long since vanished.126 In my view, Stephen Vincent
Benet has written the best epitaph :
Oh, it's easy to see why they hated you, Thomas Morton,
And yet, they would have hated without the guns.
It was the tongue in your cheek that they hated most,
The last flare of Old England, the reckless mirth.127
122 Morton's will, in Banks, "Thomas Morton," 163-64.
123 Winthrop, Journal, 2, 196.
124 Maverick, quoted in Dempsey, Thomas Morton, 315.
125 Maverick, quoted in De Costa, "Thomas Morton," 82, 92.
126 Banks, History of York, 160.
127 Stephen Vincent Benet, Western Star (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1943), 166-67.
For Morton's influence on Hawthorne, see my forthcoming Merry Old England and
Hawthorne's The May-Pole of Merry Mount Nathaniel Hawthorne Review (Spring 2007).
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This dissertation examines women’s talk in seventeenth-century Massachusetts through the lens of holy watchfulness, investigating the gendered politics of speech by focusing on gossip—the oral exchange of information that was personal rather than political and concerned affairs of the household and neighborhood rather than the state. It considers when and why women’s speech crossed the line from authorized watchfulness to stigmatized gossip and argues that women’s lives in early Massachusetts can be better understood by examining their participation in holy watching. Focusing on women’s authorized speech and examining the talk of goodwives and servants rather than Antinomians and witches reveals women’s words being heard and accepted in public forums. Breaking down distinctions not only between speech and writing but also between sight and sound shows that a material and spatial history of women’s lives, work, and speech expands our understanding of how watchfulness operated and of who was actively participating in the transmission of information. Rather than focusing on illicit speech, this dissertation approaches gossip as a form of information to show that women’s talk was instrumental in the formation, adaptation, and maintenance of early New England’s religious culture. In a face-to-face culture that prioritized community watchfulness, women’s words were vital to the maintenance of order but could easily be viewed as disorderly when deployed in ways considered inappropriate. Authorities tried to rein in threatening aspects of women’s speech not just by limiting it but also by putting it in the service of social order, moral policing, and surveillance. Watchfulness harnessed what would otherwise have been illicit speech in the service of church and state as a way of containing disorder. This dissertation first surveys the ways that surveillance was embedded in church and state efforts to contain disorder. Puritan ideas combined with older structures to make family government and moral enforcement reliant on ordinary people’s observations. It then examines how community surveillance functioned in the daily lives of women in Boston and how gossip helped shape the patriarchal family and household. Focusing on female domestic servants, wives, and neighbors, it shows how official surveillance could be inoperative or ineffective when disorder took place behind closed doors, how women’s access to intimate spaces countered hierarchical relationships, and the contradictory messages women received about keeping and revealing men’s secrets. It then considers the consequences of gossip for ministers who were accused of sexual indiscretions, showing how political considerations and the historical record have determined whether women’s words have been remembered or forgotten. A short epilogue describes the conditions at the turn of the eighteenth century when prominent men formed associations for overseeing the morals of their neighbors and tried to circumvent the role that women had previously held as carriers of information about order and disorder in their communities. Examining women’s gossip allows a reassessment of women’s roles in New England puritanism and in Protestantism more broadly. Reconceptualizing women’s public roles to include their everyday lives and their conversations restores their significance in early Massachusetts society and the development of American religious practice. Redefining gossip as a form of information not only reveals a range of actors helping shape puritan religious culture but also underscores the importance of historicizing distinctions between public and private in early America in ways that make women’s lives visible.
Two exceptional colonial poems, Thomas Morton’s version of the events around his Maypole at Merrymount and Benjamin Tompson’s epics on King Philip’s War, are heavily classical, especially in their descriptions of Native Americans. The essay examines the advantages that the use of classical comparisons have over the more common tropes of Biblical typology.
North America's Great Lakes country has experienced centuries of upheaval. Its landscapes are utterly changed from what they were five hundred years ago. The region's superabundant fish and wildlife and its magnificent forests and prairies astonished European newcomers who called it an earthly paradise but then ushered in an era of disease, warfare, resource depletion, and land development that transformed it forever. The Once and Future Great Lakes Country is a history of environmental change in the Great Lakes region, looking as far back as the last ice age, and also reflecting on modern trajectories of change, many of them positive. John Riley chronicles how the region serves as a continental crossroads, one that experienced massive declines in its wildlife and native plants in the centuries after European contact, and has begun to see increased nature protection and re-wilding in recent decades. Yet climate change, globalization, invasive species, and urban sprawl are today exerting new pressures on the region's ecology. Covering a vast geography encompassing two Canadian provinces and nine American states, The Once and Future Great Lakes Country provides both a detailed ecological history and a broad panorama of this vast region. It blends the voices of early visitors with the hopes of citizens now.
On May 1, 1627, Thomas Morton and the inhabitants of Ma-re Mount—formerly Mount Wollaston and even more formerly Passonagessit—raised their infamous maypole, which in turn raised the ire of the “precise Separatists” at “New Plimouth.” This maypole has become one of the most enduring icons of early British settlement in Massachusetts, trailing perhaps only the cornucopia that has come to symbolize Plymouth-inspired Thanksgiving tradition, but in its day the Mar-re Mount maypole was for the Plymouth Separatists a tangible symbol of the well-lubricated gaiety that accompanied the celebrations linking the Anglican Church with Britannia’s pagan past. The Bostonian Puritans likewise disapproved of these pagan significances, but also saw in the maypole a reminder of the aristocratic hierarchy that sanctioned and lorded over the May Day bacchanal—a view that prompted John Endicott, during Morton’s first brief exile, to chop down the maypole and rebuke those still living at Ma-re Mount. For later historians of Massachusetts, Morton’s maypole continued to justify an interpretation of Ma-re Mount as a place of drunken licentiousness, a pseudoanarchical foil to the rigid Puritanism of Plymouth and Boston. Likewise New English Canaan, Thomas Morton’s account of Mare Mount, was relegated to the status of a second-class counterhistory to William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation.1 Fiction writers from Lydia Marie Child to Robert Lowell have similarly focused on the jollity represented by Morton’s maypole, for good or ill, as John McWilliams traces in his article, “Fictions of Merry Mount.” Much like the gold coin nailed to the Pequod’s mast in Moby-Dick, the maypole of Ma-re Mount reflects the mind of the observer, unlimited in its significations. The semiotic flexibility of Morton’s maypole is indicative of the wider trouble New English Canaan has posed to the two-pronged view of British colonization in North America, wherein religious “Pilgrims” dominated New England while Virginian settlements were focused on more secular economic interests.2 Morton and his plantation have seemingly always been a problematic reality for the dominant narrative of Anglo-American colonization. Even his plantation’s name, Ma-re Mount, has engendered interpretive controversy. Though Morton never in New English Canaan calls his rechristening of Mount Wollaston anything other than “Ma-re Mount,” the name has come down through popular history as “Merry Mount,” originally a pejorative applied by Bradford and solidified in the American mythos through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The May-Pole of Merry Mount.” As Karen Kupperman points out, the Puritan influence on American history “is again seen in the fact that their construction, Merrymount, stuck” (662). And while Morton surely knew of the possibilities for punning on the name—he does joke that the Separatists threatened “to make it a woeful mount and not a merry mount” (136)—he consistently resists applying the lighthearted appellation himself. As this homonymic struggle indicates, much like the maypole itself, the settlement’s name presents readers with “a compound title of almost unlimited suggestibility”—one that evokes interpretations ranging from a description of physical location to bestiality (McWilliams 7). But amid the myriad possibilities, perhaps the most basic denotational definition offers the best insight into the rhetorical implications of the settlement’s name. In 1892 C. F. Adams maintained that Ma-re Mount was evidence of Morton’s playful linguistic “Latinity,” meaning, as McWilliams notes, “Morton had in mind the ablative of mare and the name meant ‘the hill by the sea’” (6).3 In thus naming his settlement Morton seems to point out its ties to the Atlantic; and indeed, many of the attributes for which Ma-re Mount became infamous have distinct ties to the maritime world. Most critical historical and literary studies of Ma-re Mount and New English Canaan dwell on Morton’s connection to the American interior, usually focusing on his advantageous trade and social relationships with American Indians. Recently, Michelle Burnham has posed a persuasive analysis of New English Canaan that reads Morton’s positive portrayal of the American interior in Canaan’s first two books as a type of New World pastoral ideal, which, combined with the development of such a beneficial...
s Papers, 4, 464Fictions of Merry Mount
  • Winthrop Endecott
  • John P Mcwilliams
Endecott, Winthrop's Papers, 4, 464; see also John P. McWilliams, Jr., "Fictions of Merry Mount," American Quarterly, 29, 1 (Spring, 1977), 3?30, 10.