Thomas Morton of Merry Mount
Puritan William Bradford's vs. Pagan Thomas Morton's
Morton's poem and song
The Maypole of Merry Mount
Many may be familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne's (1804-1864)
well-known short story 'The May-Pole of Merry Mount'. This story
has its basis in actual events. In seventeenth-century Massachusetts,
the English settler Thomas Morton scandalized his Puritan contemporaries
with the erection of a maypole and the celebration of May Day
festivities. In 1625, a settlement had been established by a Captain
Wollaston around what is now the city of Quincy, Massachusetts.
Thomas Morton (c1579-1647) assumed leadership of this colony after
Wollaston's departure. 'Mount Wollaston' was renamed 'Merry Mount,'
or more accurately, 'Ma-re Mount,' as Morton spelled it, intending
both 'merry' and a pun on the Latin word for the sea, this being
a coastal settlement (Beston 1925). Morton, who took to calling
himself 'mine Hoste of Ma-re Mount,' was fond of merriment, drinking
alcohol, and fraternizing & trading with the local Native
Americans -- all of which were looked down upon by the neighboring
Plymouth colony. Plymouth did not agree with the way Morton ran
his colony, or his political & religious sentiments -- though
Morton's book New English Canaan is filled with expressions of
Christian faith, Morton was not a Puritan 'Seperatist.' His maypole
of 1627 was the last straw, and Morton was arrested and deported.
William Bradford (1588-1657), governor of Plymouth colony, includes an account of Merry Mount in the History of Plimoth Plantation, 1620-1647:
After this they fell to great licenciousnes, and led a dissolute life, powering out them selves into all profanenes. And Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a schoole of Athisme [Atheism]. And after they had gott some good into their hands, and gott much by trading with ye Indeans, they spent it as vainly, in quaffing & drinking both wine & strong waters in great exsess, and, as some reported, £10 worth in a morning. They allso set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days togeather, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddes Flora, or ye beasly practieses of ye madd Bacchinalians. Morton likewise (to shew his poetrie) composed sundry rimes & verses, some tending to lasciviousnes, and others to ye detraction & scandall of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idoll May-polle. They chainged also the name of their place, and in stead of calling it Mounte Wollaston, they call it Merie-mounte, as if this joylity would have lasted ever. But this continued not long, for after Morton was sent for England, (as follows to be declared,) shortly after came over that worthy gentleman, Mr. John Indecott, who brought over a patent under ye broad seall, for ye govermente of ye Massachusets, who visiting those parts caused yt May-polle to be cutt downe, and rebuked them for their profannes, and admonishe them to looke ther should be better walking; so they now, or others, changed ye name of their place againe, and called it Mounte-Dagon.
Thomas Morton's own account can be found in his book New English
Canaan (1637), in Book III, Chapter XIV, 'Of the Revells of New Canaan':
<< Read Part 1, the full story of Thomas Morton's Merry Mount
The Inhabitants of Pasonagessit, (having translated the name of their habitation from that ancient Salvage 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 solemne manner, with Revels and merriment after the old English custome; [they] prepared to sett up a Maypole upon the festivall day of Philip and Iacob, and therefore brewed a barrelll of excellent beare and provided a case of bottles, to be spent, with other good cheare, for all commers of that day. And because they would have it in a compleat forme, they had prepared a song fitting to the time and present occasion. And upon Mayday they brought the Maypole to the place appointed, with drumes, gunnes, pistols and other fitting instruments, for that purpose; and there eredted it with the help of Salvages, that came thether of purpose to see the manner of our Revels. A goodly pine tree of 80. foote longe was reared up, with a peare of buckshorns nayle one somewhat neare unto the top of it: where it stood, as a faire sea marke for directions how to finde out the way to mine Hoste of Ma-re Mount.
And because it should more fully appeare to what end it was placed there, they had a poem in readines made, which was fixed to the Maypole, to shew the new name confirmed upon that plantation; which, allthough it were made according to occurrents of the time, it, being Enigmattically composed, pusselled the Seperatists most pittifully to expound it, which, (for the better information of the reader,) I have here inserted.
Rise, Oedipus, and, if thou canst, unfould
What meanes Caribdis underneath the mould,
When Scilla sollitary on the ground
(Sitting in forme of Niobe,) was found,
Till Amphitrites Darling did acquaint
Grim Neptune with the Tenor of her plaint,
And causd him send forth Triton with the sound
Of Trumpet lowd, at which the Seas were found
So full of Protean formes that the bold shore
Prsented Scilla a new parramore
So stronge as Sampson and so patient
As Job himselfe, directed thus, by fate,
To comfort Scilla so unfortunate.
I doe professe, by Cupids beautious mother,
Heres Scogans choise for Scilla, and none other;
Though Scilla's sick with griefe, because so signe
Can there be found of vertue masculine.
Esculapius come; I know right well
His laboure's lost when you may ring her Knell.
The fatall sisters doome none can withstand,
Nor Cithareas powre, who poynts to land
With proclamation that the first of May
At Ma-re Mount shall be kept hollyday.
The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise seperatists, that lived at new Plimmouth. They termed it an Idoll; yea, they called it the Calfe of Horeb, and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon; threatening to make it a woefull mount and not a merry mount.
The Riddle, for want of Oedipus, they could not expound; onely they made some explication of part of it, and sayd it was meant by Sampson Iob, the carpenter of the shipp that brought over a woman to her husband, that had bin there longe before and thrive so well that hee sent for her and her children to come to him; where shortly after hee died: having no reason, but because of the sound of those two words; when as, (the truth is,) the man they applyed it to was altogether unknowne to the Author.
There was likewise a merry song made, which, (to make their Revells more fashionable,) was sung with a Corus, every man bearing his part; which they performed in a daunce, hand in hand about the Maypole, whiles one of the Company sung and filled out the good liquor, like gammedes and Iupiter.
Drinke and be merry, merry, merry boyes;
Let all your delight be in the Hymens ioyes;
Jô to Hymen, now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take a Roome.
Make greene garlons, bring bottles out
And fill sweet Nectar freely about.
Vncover thy head and feare no harme,
For hers good liquor to keepe it warme.
Then drinke and be merry, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Nectar is a thing assign'd
By the Deities owne minde
To cure the hart opprest with greife,
And of good liquors is the cheife.
Then drinke, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Mellancolly man
A cup or two of 't now and than;
This physick will soone revive his bloud,
And make him be of a merrier moode.
Then drinke, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Nymphe thats free from scorne
No Irish stuff nor Scotch over worne.
Lasses in beaver coats come away,
Yee shall be welcome to us night and day.
To drinke and be merry &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
This harmless mirth made by younge men, (that lived in hope to have wifes brought over to them, that would save them a laboure to make a voyage to fetch any over,) was much distated to the prcise Seperatists, that keepe much a doe about the tyth of Muit and Cummin, troubling their braines more then 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 ondertakings and to destroy his plantation quite and cleane. But because they presumed with their imaginary gifts, (which they have out of Phaos box,) they could expound hidden misteries, to convince them of blindnes, as well in this as in other matters of more consequence, I will illustrate the poem, according to the true intent of the authors of these Revells, so much distasted by those Moles.
Oedipus is generally receaved for the absolute reader of riddles, who is invoaked: Silla and Caribdis are two dangerous places for seamen to incounter, neere unto Vennice; and have bin by poets formerly resembled to man and wife. The like licence the author challenged for a paire of his nomination, the one lamenting for the loffe of the other as Niobe for her children. Amphitrite is an arme of the Sea, by which the newes was carried up and downe of a rich widow, now to be tane up or laid downe. By Triton is the fame spread that caused the Suters to muster, (as it had bin to Penellope of Greece;) and, the Coast lying circular, all our passage to and froe is made more convenient by Sea then Land. Many aimed at this marke; but hee that played Proteus best and could comply with her humor must be the man that would carry her; and hee had need have Sampsons strenght to deale with a Dallila, and as much patience as Iob that should come there, for a thing that I did observe in the life-time of the former.
But marriage and hanging, (they say,) comes by desteny and Scogans choise tis better [than] none at all. Hee that playd Proteus, (with the helpe of Priapus,) put their noses out of joynt, as the Proverbe is.
And this the whole company of the Revellers at Ma-re Mount knew to be the true sence and exposition of the riddle that was fixed to the Maypole, which the Seperatists wer at defiance with. Some of them affirmed that the first institution thereof was in memory of a whore; not knowing that it was a Trophe erected at first in honor of Maja, the Lady of learning which they despise, vilifying the two universities with uncivile termes, accounting what is there obtained by studdy is but unnecessary learning; not considering that learninge does inable mens mindes to converse with eliments of a higher nature then is to be found within the habitation of the Mole.
Beston, Henry. The Book of Gallant Vagabonds. (1925) Contains a section on Morton.
Bradford, William. History of Plimoth Plantation, 1620-1647.
Morton, Thomas. New English Canaan.
Return to top of page.
Latest update: 08 Feb. 2003 (reformatted 29 Jan. 2011)