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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 1607–1650

Thomas Morton

THOMAS MORTON, one of the most interesting, though hardly edifying, personages in New England history, was born in England about 1575 and died at Agamenticus, Maine, 1646. He was a lawyer of Clifford’s Inn, London, and thirty-seven years old, when in 1622 he sought his fortune in New England, with a party of emigrants, who, according to his own account, “were very popular while their liquor lasted, but were afterwards turned adrift.” Many of them found their way home, among them Morton; but he returned in 1625, as head of a body of emigrants who settled at Merry Mount, now Braintree. These settlers, like the former band with whom Morton was associated, caused scandal to the Plymouth colonists. They even set up a may-pole, and sang and danced around it. They fraternized with the Indians more than the other settlers did, and gave them guns that they might hunt more effectively for them. Morton was therefore arrested and sent to England, and the name Merry Mount changed to Dagon. He returned, was again arrested and transported, and then published his satiric account of the Puritan Colonists, The New English Canaan, by no means so lively as the career of its author might lead the reader to hope. This “scandalous book” caused his imprisonment for a year at Boston, on his fourth visit through Massachusetts. On his release, he went to Maine, where he soon after died. Hawthorne’s story, The May-pole of Merry Mount, has given a literary setting to the incident described in one of our extracts, which should be read in connection with Bradford’s account of the same event. The best edition of the New English Canaan was made by Charles Francis Adams for the Prince Society in 1883.

The May-pole Revels at Merry Mount.
[From “New English Canaan” (Amsterdam, 1637), Book III. Chap. XIV.]

THE INHABITANTS of Pasonagessit (having translated the name of their inhabitation from that ancient savage name to Ma-re Mount; and being resolved to have the new name confirmed for a memorial to after ages) did devise amongst themselves to have it performed in a solemn manner with revels and merriment after the old English custom, prepared to set up a May-pole upon the festival day of Philip and Jacob; and therefore 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. And because they would have it in a complete form, they had prepared a song fitting to the time and present occasion. And upon May-day they brought the May-pole to the place appointed, with drums, guns, pistols, and other fitting instruments, for that purpose; and there erected it with the help of savages, that came thither of purpose to see the manner of our revels. A goodly pine tree of eighty foot long, was reared up, with a pair of buck’s horns nailed on, somewhat near unto the top of it: where it stood as a fair sea-mark for directions how to find out the way to mine Host of Ma-re Mount….

The setting up of this May-pole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise Separatists that lived at New Plymouth. They termed it an idol; yea, they called it the Calf of Horeb: and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon; threatening to make it a woful mount, and not a merry mount….

There was likewise a merry song made, which (to make their revels more fashionable) was sung with a chorus, every man bearing his part; which they performed in a dance, hand in hand about the May-pole, whilst one of the company sung, and filled out the good liquor like Gammedes and Jupiter.

  • Drink and be merry, merry, merry, boys;
  • Let all your delight be in Hymen’s joys;
  • Io to Hymen now the day is come,
  • About the merry May-pole take a room.
  • Make green garlons, bring bottles out;
  • And fill sweet Nectar, freely about.
  • Uncover thy head, and fear no harm,
  • For here ’s good liquor to keep it warm.
  • Then drink and be merry, etc.
  • Io to Hymen, etc.
  • Nectar is a thing assign’d,
  • By the Deity’s own mind,
  • To cure the heart opprest with grief,
  • And of good liquors is the chief.
  • Then drink, etc.
  • Io to Hymen, etc.
  • Give to the melancholy man
  • A cup or two of ’t now and then;
  • This physic will soon revive his blood,
  • And make him be of a merrier mood.
  • Then drink, etc.
  • Io to Hymen, etc.
  • Give to the nymph that’s free from scorn,
  • No Irish stuff nor Scotch overworn.
  • Lasses in beaver coats, come away;
  • Ye shall be welcome to us night and day
  • To drink and be merry, etc.
  • Io to Hymen, etc.
  • This harmless mirth made by young men (that lived in hope to have wives brought over to them, that would save them a labor to make a voyage to fetch any over) was much distasted of the precise Separatists that kept much ado, about the tithe of mint and cumin, troubling 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.

    Captain Shrimp (Myles Standish) Captures Mine Host (Morton).
    [From the Same, Book III. Chap. XV.]
    Of a Great Monster supposed to be at Ma-re Mount; and the Preparation made to destroy It.

    THE SEPARATISTS envying the prosperity and hope of the plantation at Ma-re Mount (which they perceived began to come forward, and to be in a good way for gain in the beaver trade), conspired together against mine Host especially, (who was the owner of that plantation) and made up a party against him; and mustered up what aid they could; accounting of him as of a great monster.

    Many threatening speeches were given out both against his person, and his habitation, which they divulged should be consumed with fire. And taking advantage of the time when his company (which seemed little to regard their threats) were gone up into the inlands, to trade with the savages for beaver, they set upon my honest Host at a place, called Wessaguscus, where (by accident) they found him. The inhabitants there were in good hope of the subversion of the plantation at Ma-re Mount (which they principally aimed at), and the rather, because mine Host was a man that endeavored to advance the dignity of the Church of England; which they, on the contrary part, would labor to vilify with uncivil terms, inveighing against the sacred book of common prayer, and mine Host that used it in a laudable manner amongst his family, as a practice of piety.

    There he would be a means to bring sacks to their mill (such is the thirst after beaver), and helped the conspirators to surprise mine Host (who was there all alone) and they charged him (because they would seem to have some reasonable cause against him to set a gloss upon their malice) with criminal things, which indeed had been done by such a person, but was of their conspiracy. Mine Host demanded of the conspirators who it was, that was author of that information, that seemed to be their ground for what they now intended. And because they answered they would not tell him, he as peremptorily replied that he would not say whether he had or he had not done as they had been informed.

    The answer made no matter (as it seemed) whether it had been negatively, or affirmatively made, for they had resolved what he should suffer, because (as they boasted,) they were now become the greater number: they had shaken off their shackles of servitude, and were become masters, and masterless people.

    It appears, they were like bears’ whelps in former time, when mine Host’s plantation was of as much strength as theirs, but now (theirs being stronger,) they (like overgrown bears) seemed monstrous. In brief, mine Host must endure to be their prisoner until they could contrive it so that they might send him for England, (as they said,) there to suffer according to the merit of the fact, which they intended to father upon him; supposing (belike) it would prove a heinous crime.

    Much rejoicing was made that they had gotten their capital enemy (as they concluded him) whom they purposed to hamper in such sort that he should not be able to uphold his plantation at Ma-re Mount.

    The conspirators sported themselves at my honest Host, that meant them no hurt; and were so jocund that they feasted their bodies, and fell to tippling, as if they had obtained a great prize; like the Trojans when they had the custody of Hippeus’ pine-tree horse.

    Mine Host feigned grief, and could not be persuaded either to eat or drink, because he knew emptiness would be a means to make him as watchful as the geese kept in the Roman capitol: whereon, the contrary part, the conspirators would be so drowsy, that he might have an opportunity to give them a slip, instead of a tester. Six persons of the conspiracy were set to watch him at Wessaguscus. But he kept waking; and in the dead of night (one lying on the bed, for further surety,) up gets mine Host and got to the second door that he was to pass, which, notwithstanding the lock, he got open: and shut it after him with such violence, that it affrighted some of the conspirators.

    The word, which was given with an alarm, was, “Oh, he’s gone, he’s gone! What shall we do? He’s gone!” The rest (half asleep) start up in a maze, and like rams, ran their heads one at another full butt in the dark.

    Their grand leader, Captain Shrimp, took on most furiously, and tore his clothes for anger, to see the empty nest, and their bird gone.

    The rest were eager to have torn their hair from their heads, but it was so short that it would give them no hold. Now Captain Shrimp thought in the loss of this prize (which he accounted his masterpiece,) all his honor would be lost forever.

    In the meantime mine Host was got home to Ma-re Mount through the woods, eight miles, round about the head of the river Monatoquit, that parted the two plantations, finding his way by the help of the lightning (for it thundered, as he went, terribly). And there he prepared powder, three pounds dried, for his present employment, and four good guns for him, and the two assistants left at his house, with bullets of several sizes, three hundred or thereabouts, to be used if the conspirators should pursue him thither; and these two persons promised their aids in the quarrel, and confirmed that promise with a health in good rosa solis.

    Now Captain Shrimp, the first captain in the land, (as he supposed,) must do some new act to repair this loss, and to vindicate his reputation, who had sustained blemish, by this oversight. Begins now to study how to repair or survive his honor in this manner; calling of council: they conclude.

    He takes eight persons more to him, and (like the nine worthies of New Canaan) they embark with preparation against Ma-re Mount, where this monster of a man, as their phrase was, had his den; the whole number, had the rest not been from home, being but seven, would have given Captain Shrimp, (a quondam drummer,) such a welcome, as would have made him wish for a drum as big as Diogenes’ tub, that he might have crept into it out of sight.

    Now the nine worthies are approached; and mine Host prepared, having intelligence by a savage, that hastened in love from Wessaguscus, to give him notice of their intent.

    One of mine Host’s men proved a craven; the other had proved his wits to purchase a little valor, before mine Host had observed his posture.

    The nine worthies coming before the den of this supposed monster, (this seven-headed hydra, as they termed him) and began, like Don Quixote against the windmill, to beat a parley, and to offer quarter if mine Host would yield; for they resolved to send him for England, and bade him lay by his arms.

    But he (who was the son of a soldier), having taken up arms in his just defence, replied that he would not lay by those arms, because they were so needful at sea, if he should be sent over. Yet to save the effusion of so much worthy blood, as would have issued out of the veins of these nine worthies of New Canaan, if mine Host should have played upon them out at his port-holes (for they came within danger like a flock of wild geese, as if they had been tailed one to another, as colts to be sold at a fair) mine Host was content to yield upon a quarter; and did capitulate with them in what manner it should be for more certainty, because he knew what Captain Shrimp was.

    He expressed that no violence should be offered to his person, none to his goods, nor any of his household: but that he should have his arms, and what else was requisite for the voyage: which their herald returns, it was agreed upon, and should be performed.

    But mine Host no sooner had set open the door and issued out, but instantly Captain Shrimp and the rest of the worthies stepped to him, laid hold of his arms and had him down; and so eagerly was every man bent against him (not regarding any agreement made with such a carnal man,) that they fell upon him as if they would have eaten him. Some of them were so violent that they would have a slice with scabbard, and all for haste, until an old soldier (of the Queen’s, as the proverb is) that was there by accident, clapped his gun under the weapons, and sharply rebuked these worthies for their unworthy practices. So the matter was taken into more deliberate consideration.

    Captain Shrimp and the rest of the nine worthies made themselves by this outrageous riot masters of mine Host of Ma-re Mount, and disposed of what he had at his plantation.

    This they knew (in the eye of the savages) would add to their glory; and diminish the reputation of mine honest Host, whom they practised to be rid of, upon any terms, as willingly as if it had been the very hydra of time:

    Morton’s Fate.
    [From The Same, Book III., Chap. XVI.]

    A CONCLUSION was made and sentence given that mine Host should be sent to England a prisoner. But when he was brought to the ships for that purpose, no man durst be so foolhardy as to undertake carry him [an error of statement]. So these worthies set mine Host upon an island, without gun, powder, or shot or dog or so much as a knife to get any thing to feed upon, or any other clothes to shelter him with at winter than a thin suit which he had on at that time. Hence he could not get to Ma-re Mount. Upon this island he stayed a month at least, and was relieved by savages that took notice that mine Host was a Sachem of Passonagessit, and would bring bottles of strong liquor to him, and unite themselves into a league of brotherhood with mine Host; so full of humanity are these infidels before those Christians.

    From this place for England sailed mine Host in a Plymouth ship….