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Merrymount Colony (1624-1630 CE) was a settlement first established in New England as Mount Wollaston in 1624 CE but renamed Mount Ma-re (referred to as Merrymount) in 1626 CE by the lawyer, writer, and colonist Thomas Morton (l. c. 1579-1647 CE), best-known, primarily, from his book New English Canaan (a treatise on the Native Americans of the region, natural history, and satiric critique of his colonist neighbors) and the work Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford (l. 1590-1657 CE), second governor of Plymouth Colony, in which he is referred to as the “heathen” who established a “school of Atheism” at Merrymount.
Unlike Plymouth Colony, or the later Massachusetts Bay Colony, Merrymount was more of a trade center than a residential/agricultural community but, owing to Morton's liberal attitude toward religion, and the rapport he developed with the Native Americans, became (according to Morton) more successful and popular than its neighbors. Morton encouraged a celebratory atmosphere and, in 1627 CE, had an 80-foot (24 m) tall Maypole erected in the town square and, declaring himself the community's host, welcomed colonists and Native Americans to a days-long festival.
Bradford sent his militia's commander Myles Standish (l. 1584-1656 CE) to arrest Morton in 1628 CE, and he was deported back to England. He returned in 1629 CE, however, and again took up residence at Merrymount until he was again arrested and deported and Merrymount burned in 1630 CE. The story of the colony is given in a number of 17th-century CE sources, including those by Morton, Bradford, and John Winthrop (l. 1588-1649 CE) of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The site of Merrymount is now a residential development in Quincy, Massachusetts, but the memory of the settlement as a progressive alternative to the Puritan or separatist models is still celebrated there occasionally by admirers of Morton in the present day.
Mount Wollaston Becomes Merrymount
Morton convinced the servants left at Mount Wollaston to rebel & join him in a venture in which they would all share the profits equally.
Morton was employed as a lawyer by the merchant and investor Sir Ferdinando Gorges (l. 1565-1647 CE) in 1622 CE, went on a reconnaissance mission for him to North America, returning in 1623 CE, and was then sent back in 1624 CE on an expedition, led by Captain Richard Wollaston (d. 1626 CE) and comprised of 30 indentured servants, to establish a permanent colony for trade some 40 miles (64 km) away from Plymouth Colony. Plymouth Colony had a profitable fur trade established with the Native Americans of the region by this time and, based on Bradford's work, seem to have taken little notice of the new colony, named Mount Wollaston, at first.
In 1626 CE, according to Bradford, Wollaston took some of the indentured servants to Jamestown and hired them out to others. He died at some point the same year and, also according to Bradford, Morton convinced the servants left at Mount Wollaston to rebel against the second-in-command Wollaston had left there (a man named Fitcher), and join him in a venture in which they would all share the profits equally. Once this was accomplished, Morton renamed the settlement Mount Ma-re (from the French mer for “sea” as it was near the coast but a play on “merry”), later known as Merrymount.
Merrymount & Plymouth Conflict
The Plymouth Colony had been founded in 1620 CE by the passengers of the ship Mayflower, who were both religious separatists and Anglicans. The colony was governed according to the Mayflower Compact, signed by the majority of the men in November 1620 CE, establishing a democratic form of government, elected officials, and rule of law. The separatists and Anglicans lived together peacefully at Plymouth, each respecting the other's rights and beliefs, and worked together in establishing a treaty with the Wampanoag Confederacy under their chief Massasoit (l. 1581-1661 CE) in March of 1621 CE. Once Merrymount came to their attention, Bradford has nothing good to say about the new colony - which departed from his own vision dramatically - devoting a long passage to criticizing Morton and his group. After Morton had removed Fitcher, Bradford writes:
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They then fell to utter licentiousness and led a dissolute and profane life. Morton became lord of misrule and maintained, as it were, a school of Atheism. As soon as they acquired some means by trading with the Indians, they spent it in drinking wine and strong drinks to great excess – as some reported, 10 pounds worth in a morning! They set up a Maypole, drinking and dancing about it for several days at a time, inviting the Indian women for their consorts, dancing and frisking together like so many fairies – or furies, rather – to say nothing of worse practices. It was as if they had revived the celebrated feasts of the Roman goddess Flora, or the beastly practices of the mad Bacchanalians. Morton, to show his poetry, composed sundry verses and rhymes, some tending to lasciviousness and others to the detraction and scandal of some persons, affixing them to his idle, or idol, Maypole. They changed the name of the place and instead of calling it Mount Wollaston, they called it Merry Mount, as if this jollity would last forever…In order to maintain this riotous prodigality and excess, Morton, hearing what profit the French and the fishermen had made by trading guns, powder, and shot to the Indians, began to practice it hereabouts, teaching them how to use them. Having instructed them, he employed some of them to hunt and fowl for him, until they became far more able than the English, owing to their swiftness on foot and nimbleness of body, being quick-sighted, and knowing the haunts of all sorts of game. With the result that, when they saw what execution a gun would do, and the advantage of it, they were mad for them and would pay any price for them, thinking their bows and arrows but baubles in comparison. (Book II. ch. 9.)
Merrymount could not have been more different from Plymouth in every way. Morton abolished any sort of hierarchy or leadership, referring to himself as “Mine Host” and seeming to consider himself as just another among equals. There is no mention made of Merrymount forming a treaty with the Native Americans because Morton would not have thought one necessary as he treated the natives as equals and found them more honorable than the Christian colonists he had engaged with in the region. Although alcohol was certainly used at Plymouth, it was done so in moderation while, at Merrymount, the people seem to have enjoyed strong drink as often as possible.
According to Morton, the Plymouth Colony's leaders (and later those of Massachusetts Bay Colony) objected to his use of the Book of Common Prayer, his “revels” which included natives and colonists, and his success in the fur trade. Morton downplays Bradford's charge of regular “licentiousness”, claiming they only had a celebration of Mayday:
[After re-naming the colony Merrymount], and being resolved to have the new name confirmed for a memorial to after-ages, [the inhabitants] 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 Maypole upon the festival day of [Mayday] and therefore brewed a barrel of excellent beer and provided a case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers 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 Mayday, they brought the Maypole 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 80-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. (Book III. 14.)
Morton himself makes no mention of selling guns and ammunition to natives but, according to Bradford, this was the primary cause of the conflict:
Morton, having taught them [the natives] the use of guns, sold them all he could spare, and he and his associates determined to send for large supplies from England, having already sent for over a score by some of the ships. This being known, several members of the scattered settlements hereabouts agreed to solicit the settlers at [Plymouth Colony], who then outnumbered them all, to join with them to prevent the further growth of this mischief and to suppress Morton and his associates. 9.)
Bradford then wrote to Morton demanding he stop selling guns to the natives but Morton refused, claiming there was no law against it. The later writer Charles Francis Adams, Jr. (l. 1835-1915 CE), who edited and published the 19th-century CE edition of Morton's New English Canaan, notes how the lawyer Morton "at least showed himself in this dispute better versed in the law of England than those who admonished him" as there was no law against selling arms to the natives, only a proclamation against it by King James I (r. 1603-1625 CE) and, since he had recently died, the power of the proclamation – which had never actually been law – died with him (Adams, 26). Morton, Adams points out, may have recognized it would be good policy to abide by his neighbors' request and maintain good relations, but this sort of consideration does not seem to have mattered to him.
Arrest & Deportation
After Morton refused his demands, Bradford sent Myles Standish to arrest him in 1628 CE. Bradford writes:
[Morton] defended himself stiffly, closed his doors, armed his associates, and had dishes of powder and bullets ready on the table; and if they had not been over-armed with drink, more harm might have been done. They summoned him to yield, but they got nothing but scoffs from him. At length, fearing [Standish and his men] would wreck the house, some of his crew came out, intending not to yield but to shoot, but they were so drunk that their guns were too heavy for them. [Morton] himself, with a carbine, overcharged and almost half filled with powder and shot, tried to shoot Captain Standish; but he stepped up to him and put aside his gun and took him. No harm was done on either side. 9.)
Morton gives a different version of events:
The Separatists [of Plymouth Colony], 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. [They found Mine Host at Wessagussett and] 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, [arrested him]…Much rejoicing was made that they had gotten their capital enemy, whom they purposed to hamper in such sort that he should not be able to uphold his plantation at Ma-re Mount. [They began to drink to celebrate, got drunk, and fell asleep, after which Mine Host escaped to Merrymount]. The word which was given with an alarm was O he's gone, He's gone, what shall we do, He's gone? The rest (half asleep) started up in a maze, and like rams, ran their heads one at another full-butt in the dark. Their grand leader Captain Shrimp [Standish] took on most furiously and tore his clothes for anger to see the empty nest and their bird gone. 15.)
Morton goes on to relate how Standish and his men then tracked him to Merrymount where he agreed to surrender on the condition that no one – especially himself – was harmed; after this was agreed to and he had come out of his house, however, he was attacked, bound, and taken away. He was marooned on the Isle of Shoals off the coast without provisions and only survived through the intercession of Native Americans who brought him food and cared for him until he took ship for England.
Morton returned in 1629 CE and was again at Merrymount when he was arrested by the Puritan (and future governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony) John Endicott (l. 1600-1665 CE), who chopped down the Maypole and burned Morton's house and the settlement. Morton and Bradford give vastly different views of this event, as with any other, with Morton claiming innocence on his part, and Bradford triumphing in the destruction of the settlement which had come to be known as Mount Dagon (a reference to the biblical account of the statue of the Canaanite deity Dagon falling before the Ark of the Covenant as told in I Samuel 5:1-5). Morton was deported again after the colonists found a ship that would carry him, and Merrymount Colony was finished.
Morton was not finished with Merrymount, however, and initiated a lawsuit to have the charter of Massachusetts Bay Colony revoked. He eventually turned the briefs from the suit (which came to nothing) into the early drafts of the book that would become New English Canaan (published 1637 CE). Morton returned to New England in 1642 CE and was jailed in Boston by 1644 CE. He was finally released due to poor health (and lack of any evidence of the charge that he was a “Royalist Agitator”) and died in present-day York, Maine in 1647 CE.
New English Canaan, Merrymount, and Morton were more or less vilified for the next century by various authors. Even Adams, who edited and published the book in 1883 CE was not an admirer and only became interested in Morton because he owned the land which included the former site of the settlement. Although a number of 19th-century CE writers took a more positive view of Merrymount and its host, author Nathaniel Hawthorne (l. 1804-1864 CE), in his short story The May-Pole of Merry Mount (published 1832 CE) seems to mark the turning point.
The story is a fictionalized version of Endicott's arrival, the destruction of the Maypole, and the burning of the settlement. Morton does not appear by name but is represented by the figure of the officiant (“the flower-decked priest”) at the wedding ceremony of two young people who, though at first happy, lose their joy at the thought that all could change for them suddenly just before Endicott and his band of Puritans arrive. Endicott cuts down the Maypole, orders the people of Merrymount to be whipped, sparing the couple and priest for the moment, and orders a dancing bear, who was among the group, shot in the head. The young couple is led away by the Puritans in the end and “with the setting sun, the last day of mirth had passed from Merry Mount” (48). The story is regularly viewed as a striking juxtaposition between the “gloom” of the Puritans of New England and the “jollity” of the colonists of Merrymount, but not every 19th-century CE writer followed Hawthorne's lead or agreed with him on this. Morton and his colony continued to be viewed negatively, for the most part, even after Hawthorne's story was republished in his popular Twice-Told Tales and reached a wider audience in 1837 CE.
Making Sense of the Merrymount Debacle
Many of the disputes that the Puritans (including Bradford’s Separatists and Winthrop’s Congregationalists) had with dissenters are buried in court transcripts, as per Anne Hutchinson’s trial at Newton, or have been preserved in texts written by Puritan leaders, who naturally had their own interests in preserving history. If one begins with the assumption that the Puritan leaders were not only interested in defending themselves personally, but were also committed to interpreting history according to Calvinistic theology, then there is a clear basis for reading against the grain of historical documents.
But does this mean that a reader of American literature ought to believe the dissenting viewpoint without question? It is often fashionable to do this, perhaps because rebels are more appealing than those in power, and there is some satisfaction in tearing down figures of authority. However, it is crucial to investigate the claims of those whom the Puritans punished as aggressively as a reader may investigate the logic of the punishment itself.
What reasons, then, might a reader have to believe Thomas Morton over William Bradford, or vice versa, about the events of May 1, 1638?
Bradford’s account is prefaced by a string of slanderous claims about Morton’s character, styling him the “Lord of Misrule” and asserting that Morton sought to inaugurate a “School of Atheism” in his community at Merrymount (334). The bitter personal nature of such remarks, coupled with Bradford’s disapproval of the “dissolute life” (334) led by the inhabitants of Merrymount, cast doubt on the accuracy of the text, suggesting that Bradford’s ideological differences with Morton have begun to cloud his comprehension of the May Pole celebration. Morton explains that this was an “old English custome” affiliated with an Anglican holiday that has a long history (301). Naturally, Morton’s festivities and his association with the Church of England represented the sort of religious and social philosophies that Bradford had attempted to escape by coming to the New World. Morton’s presence in North America was thus a challenge to the utopian visions that Bradford and Winthrop cherished for their communities. In this light, Bradford’s motive for distorting the facts would be clear: to eliminate a rival colonist and purge the new colonies of the “corruption” that he was already facing among servants like Thomas Granger.
What motive would Morton have for slandering Bradford? Revenge might factor into the equation, since both accounts were written after Morton had already been overthrown and sent back to England. Morton points out that the “precise separatists” (301) misunderstood the symbolism of the May Pole, “not knowing that it was a Trophe erected at first in honor of Maja, the Lady of learning,” rather than a “whore,” as the Puritans ostensibly claimed (303). However, he is unable to resist a petty dig at Bradford, painting him and his colony as anti-intellectuals who see university education as “unnecessary learning” and do not realize that “learninge does inable mens mindes to converse with eliments of a higher nature than is to be found within the habitation of the Mole” (303). The exchange of insults like this discredits both figures to some degree.
Morton’s economic interests as a competing colonist also fuel his opposition to Bradford, since the primary disagreement between the two communities (Plymouth and Merrymount) hinges on the question of whether or not to sell guns and ammunition to the Native Americans. Morton would clearly benefit from this, and Bradford’s involvement in the Pequot War would have already placed his colony in jeopardy without additional firepower for neighboring tribes.
So, both figures have a motive to distort the claims of the other. Whom to believe?
1) Morton does not deny Bradford’s most incendiary claims about a “dissolute” lifestyle. Rather, he argues that the Pilgrims were “troubling their braines more than reason would require about things that are indifferent” (303). Since some of Bradford’s chief complaints are drinking and dancing, seemingly harmless occupations by contemporary standards, Morton seems more reasonable on this count.
2) Weapons sales to natives are a more troubling matter. Bradford’s emotional outbursts about the “horribleness of this villainy” seem to undermine his credibility, since Morton was not openly allied with a neighboring tribe against the Plymouth colony (336). Furthermore, Bradford’s decision to take Morton by force on his own property in order to remove the threat of his personal corruption and financial negotiations from the area suggests far more aggressive behavior than Morton’s. However, Morton claims that the Puritans were jealous of the “prosperity and hope of the Plantation at Ma-re Mount,” which implies that he misunderstands the military predicament that Bradford had gotten himself into through the Pequot War (303). Clearly, he brought some of the hostility from Bradford upon himself. As Kenneth Hovey and Thomas Scanlan point out, New English Canaan was meant to be read as a “mock-heroic epic,” where caricatured names might reinforce the satirical themes of the narrative (295). Morton seems to have willfully provoked his neighbors, which reinforces some of Bradford’s claims about his arrogance. However, the fact that he did not explicitly attack them or openly threaten them with an opposing military alliance suggests that Morton’s sense of justice was more consistent than Bradford’s. If justice is any measure of credibility, one might conclude that Morton is the more reliable of the two.
Morton’s project at Merrymount is compelling by contemporary standards for several reasons. He offered servants a much more egalitarian living arrangement than Winthrop’s fixed caste system at Massachusetts Bay. His sympathy for Native Americans obviously positions him well for recognition as a progressive thinker for his time. He seems aware of the difference between metaphor and fact, as per his characterization of Miles Standish as “Captaine Shrimpe” (306) consequently, his purpose in the New World was significantly more modest than that of the Puritans, who frequently equated the metaphors of Old Testament stories with their own experience. This distinction made Morton much less dangerous. He sought economic freedom and social egalitarianism. He might be said to have been the first American capitalist, though he would likely have been horrified if he could have anticipated the rise of institutions like Enron and Wal-Mart that have bullied local economies and short-changed laborers.
Merrymount Colony - History
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M EET T HOMAS M ORTON
of M ERRYMOUNT
&ldquo When they find any man like to prove an enemy to their Church and State&hellipthe first precept in their Politics is to defame the man at whom they aim. And then he is an holy Israelite in their opinion who can spread that fame broadest. Like butter upon a loaf, no matter how thin, it will serve&hellip.&rdquo ( New English Canaan, Book III)
Early Life: 1570s-1624
Thomas Morton (born c. 1576) grew up in England&rsquos wild West Country, most likely in Devonshire during Elizabeth I&rsquos long reign. Devon denotes &ldquopeople of the land&rdquo with life-ways different from those of the urbanized East. Morton grew up a lover of nature, animals and the field sports (fishing, hunting, falconry) enjoyed by middle-class &ldquogentle&rdquo families there. At times families mixed these with raucous &ldquoroving feasts&rdquo across a landscape rich with pre-English ruins, from barrow-tombs to Roman stones. Anglican rites and Maypole Revels hallowed and celebrated people&rsquos relations with nature and each other. &ldquoBrawling Bristol&rdquo had its markets, street-fairs and ship-quays busy with the first English sailors of the Newfoundland. From his youth, then, Morton was immersed in nature and surrounded by many kinds of culture.
Listen to Jessica Lupien sing the old traditionals,
&ldquoNow Is The Month of Maying&rdquo
Devonshire men and women liked their traditional independent ways: they had shared Cornwall&rsquos 1549 Western Rebellion during England&rsquos separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Two of their most important social values were a code of neighborliness that shared hospitality across social and other differences and a code of quietness, which meant that general peace was more important than most reasons for conflict. You might, for example, skip going to church (and not be penalized) if you thought that meeting a certain neighbor there would bring a fist-fight. As time passed, frustrated Protestant &ldquoreformers&rdquo called the West Country a &ldquodark corner of the land,&rdquo but Morton his life-long was for &ldquoOld England&rsquos&rdquo social ways.
Nothing is known of Morton&rsquos mother. If he was son of &ldquoa soldier,&rdquo there were thousands in England&rsquos wars against Spain until the Armada&rsquos defeat in 1588. Morton&rsquos father might also have served in attempts to subjugate Ireland (see Canny), where many future American colonizers inflicted &ldquoprogress&rdquo and won social status at home.
It appears that the family had the resources to make sure Morton received a good education, with schooling from Classical works to The Bible. Ruth Kelso&rsquos Doctrine of the English Gentleman suggests its main points. A youth was raised to be ready for service of king and country in a complicated world. As Stefano Guazzo, author of a &ldquoconduct book&rdquo advised, wise parents &ldquoin their children&rsquos infancy, begin to embolden them before their betters, and to make them talk with them: whereby they come to have a good audacity, and to be resolute in their behavior&rdquo (81).
We might imagine young Morton, fishing with his kinsmen, handed a social guide-book by an uncle:
&ldquoA skillful Angler ought to be a general Scholar, and seen in all the liberal sciences as a Grammarian, to know how to write out discourse of his Art in true terms, without affectation or rudeness. He should have sweetness of speech, to persuade&hellip.He should have strength of arguments, to defend and maintain his profession against envy or slander. He should have knowledge in the Sun, Moon, and Stars&hellip.
He would not be unskillful in Music, that whensoever either Melancholy, heaviness of thought, or the perturbations of his own fancy stirreth up sadness in him, he may remove the same&hellip.He must be full of love, both to his pleasure and to his neighbor&hellip.Then he must be liberal, and not working only for his own belly, as if it could never be satisfied: he must with much cheerfulness bestow the fruits of his skill amongst his honest neighbors, who being partners of his gain, will doubly renown his triumph&hellip.&rdquo
(Gervase Markham, The Pleasure of Princes, or, Good Men&rsquos Recreations, 1613)
Apparently, Thomas had an older brother (his will mentions a &ldquoniece&rdquo). Under laws of primogeniture, family property went to the first-born male. Thomas had to make a living. That is likely part of why he went to &ldquolaw school&rdquo at the Inns of Court in London. The associated Inns and courts made up England&rsquos great &ldquofinishing school&rdquo for all kinds of ambitious men (Prest&rsquos book treats levels of Inns activities and connections). New students usually stayed at an Inn shared by home-county fellows: in Morton&rsquos Devon case, it was Clifford&rsquos Inn. Famous Inns men ranged from Humphrey Gilbert and John Smith to John Donne, Ben Jonson and young Shakespeare.
London in Morton&rsquos times. Overcrowding and appalling sanitation kept bubonic plague sporadically alive, and sent other diseases into North America.
England&rsquos population almost doubled in Morton&rsquos generation. And, while the country still had 100,000 men under arms in its share of The Thirty Years War, the land and cities saw more and more displaced people, in the ongoing transition from Late Medieval to Early Modern economics. The Oxford English Dictionary relates two of the earliest English usages of the word profit: &ldquoA singular profit hurts and harms a commonwealth&rdquo (1466), and &ldquoThey think no sin, where profit comes between [people]&rdquo (1500-1520). See Patricia Fumerton on how a new &ldquoseparation&rdquo informed everything from common meals to the architecture and rituals of power. As early as 1516, Thomas More had written in Book I of Utopia:
&ldquoYour sheep. that used to be so gentle and eat so little. Now they are becoming so greedy and so fierce that they devour the men themselves, so to speak. For. the nobility and gentlemen. are not content with the old rents which their lands yielded. They leave no land for cultivation, they enclose all the land for pastures. As though forests and game preserves were not already taking up too much land. The tenants are turned out, and by trickery or main force. And if they beg, they are thrown into prison as idle vagabonds&hellip.&rdquo
Yet another social and cultural tension informed these times: whether one favored the Renaissance (the revival of ancient &ldquopagan&rdquo learning from the Greeks and Romans, begun in Italy), or the Reformation --- meaning the freedom to read The Bible in English, and the goal of &ldquoreforming&rdquo England, for starters, based upon it. While new King James&rsquo Book of Sports tried to declare what old &ldquopastimes&rdquo were still permissible, most people, &ldquoin-between&rdquo to different degrees, sensed that England&rsquos (and America&rsquos) future depended on what they themselves made of it.
Look at Morton through these lenses, including his Anglican or Church of England sympathies, and we see a man not much-given to literal and legally-binding constructions of &ldquoGod&rsquos Word&rdquo as a basis for community or an answer to &ldquoidleness&rdquo and &ldquodisorder.&rdquo An avid &ldquosportsman&rdquo all his days, Morton stood not for &ldquocounter-culture&rdquo (as he was read in the 1960s), but for England&rsquos oldest traditional ways, both official and non-Christian.
He understood too what &ldquofreedom to read The Bible&rdquo often meant --- very little freedom (or need) to read anything else. When a reformist or then-countercultural Englishman like future nemesis John Winthrop charged that &ldquoThe fountains of learning &hellipare corrupted, perverted and utterly overthrown&rdquo (Reasons, Ford ed. Papers 2: 139), Morton probably laughed, with more in common with a 1623 Wiltshire girl --- who complained that, whenever her new village minister &ldquotakes his green book in hand, we shall have such a deal of bibble-babble that I am weary to hear it&hellipand take a good nap&hellipfor he speaks against us for our dancing&hellip.We had a good parson here before, but now we have a puritan&rdquo (qtd. in Johnson 295).
And that was how Puritan came into Morton&rsquos English --- denoting &ldquoprecise Separatists, that keep much ado about the tithe of mint and cumin, troubling their brains more than reason would require about things that are indifferent&rdquo (i.e., &ldquocontingent&rdquo or &ldquoalterable&rdquo: Canaan 139). The &ldquoBrownists&rdquo or &ldquoPilgrims&rdquo of Plimoth, just coming of age at this time, would become the cutting edge of Separation.
Morton&rsquos satires derided extreme principles. His watchwords: &ldquoModeration, and discretion&rdquo (8). More importantly, his life enacted the Renaissance in England and early America, a new training for the mind impressed on him at the Inns of Court. &ldquoI will go the surest way to work first, and see how others are answered in the like kind.&rdquo
Ancient texts and Early Modern teachers made Morton, first, an observer, rather than a believer. Almost every chapter of Canaan is a kind of experiment into the nature of the New World&rsquos human and natural condition(s). Sir Francis Bacon was then laying bare &ldquothe idols of the tribe&rdquo that stood in the way of new knowledge, following resurrected Aristotle. For Morton there was, third, the all-importance of comparison (as he read of many different ways of life in Greek Herodotus, Roman Tacitus) --- all of these, primary means of gauging fact, truth and morality in an increasingly relative universe. Those were the Renaissance roots of The Enlightenment, the seeds of a secular American order among many peoples, points of views and interests.
Morton&rsquos New English Canaan speaks back to Puritan plans for America based in Exodus and The Old Testament --- with the unblinkable human presence of &ldquoCanaanite&rdquo or Native American civilizations. At the Inns of Court, Thomas Morton grew prepared to become a many-sided man: a &ldquopassionate moderate.&rdquo
The crackling social and cultural atmosphere expanded his being. Students bantered mountains of law-books and literature in legal &ldquomoots&rdquo and on flimsy stages: you learned to write and speak persuasively, wherever you were going. As a group, &ldquocommon lawyers&rdquo stood against the new would-be powers of The Crown, such as The Star Chamber and enforcement of royal proclamation as a statutory law. Their students absorbed the true relevance of learning and created vibrant, liberating 3-D entertainments full of &ldquosolemn foolery&rdquo that camouflaged much mockery of Power. &ldquoPastoral Realism&rdquo was for Morton, its feeling for nature and merciless humor. And he was there when the country Maypole and &ldquoIndians&rdquo shared the court masque stage with &ldquoProteus&rdquo in the greatest of shows for Elizabeth in 1594---Gesta Grayorum. See &ldquoReading the Revels&rdquo for a look at how much Morton learned there.
Without land of his own, Thomas took up horseback-lawyering between West Country circuit-courts and London. One brief later record mentions &ldquoAxbridge&rdquo as some kind of refuge. Morton was angered by the sufferings of displaced countrymen who filled new tent-cities, &ldquofurnished&rdquo prisons and gallows, and learned himself that &ldquoHell is in Westminster under the Exchequer Office.&rdquo
Merchants of the West Country ports like Bristol ran a &ldquopermissive frontier&rdquo (Canny), and kept shipping transatlantic guns into Puritan times. Gosnold (another Inns man) marked a year in New England by 1603. Sir Ferdinando Gorges, governor of nearby Plymouth, was learning to seek out &ldquolandsmen&rdquo to take his business into America in some lasting way, as Morton reached his late thirties.
The rise of the middle-class foreign investor connected Morton&rsquos abilities to American enterprises. Late in life he had the skills to be arguing for Gorges in England&rsquos high courts: evidently early-on he proved himself. By these years he had one eye on an interest recorded, with his name, in a later history of patent-affairs that also lists Gorges&rsquo and Plimoth&rsquos (Gardener 1660). He had also taken up with a widow, Alice Miller, whose home lay between the West and London. After June 1623, when Morton&rsquos chances for a family life were ruined by household conflict with her Puritan stepson, he looked seriously toward America.
What I had resolved on, I have really performed and I have endeavored. to be the means to communicate the knowledge which I have gathered. unto my Countrymen to the end that they may the better perceive their error who cannot imagine that there is any country in the universal world that may be compared unto our native soil&hellip.
Middle Years, 1624-1630
Listen below to Thomas Morton&rsquos words on the beauty he found in New England:
&ldquoThe more I looked, the more I liked it&hellip.&rdquo
Click to read the full text of New English Canaan, Book II ,
which contains Morton&rsquos detailed chapters on every aspect of New England nature. They include:
1) The General Survey of the Country
2) What Trees Are There & How Commodious
3) What Pot-Herbs Are There & for Salads
4) Of the Birds of the Air & Feathered Fowls
5) Of the Beasts of the Forest
6) Of Stones & Minerals
7) Of the Fishes & What Commodity They Prove
8) Of the Goodness of the Country & the Fountains
9) A Perspective to View the Country By
10) Of the Great Lake of Erocoise
Click below to discover how American Poetry began :
Aboard the Unity under Captain Wollaston, &ldquowith 30 servants, and provision of all sorts fit for a plantation,&rdquo Thomas Morton sighted New England on June 25 (then, New Year&rsquos Day) 1624. Thanks to local historian H. Hobart Holly, we have many details on how Unity met her mission to resupply small scattered stations, including Roger Conant&rsquos failing one at Naumkeag/Cape Ann (future Salem). Also aboard were a Lt. Fitcher and Mr. Rastall, the latter a shady Bristol merchant with the usual discretion to &ldquoimprovise&rdquo in order to make the voyage pay --- including where to assign the indentured men. (Examples of their contracts, rights, and hopes in Ford&rsquos &ldquoWollaston,&rdquo and Mass. Historical Society Proceedings XIV [1875-6], 359-381.)
Between Gorges and Morton, who talked whom into putting Thomas&rsquos skills into the mix? Gorges wanted profit --- Morton too --- but at age 38 Morton still had no home. Gorges needed a landsman qualified to site and (by planting) create, with luck, a sustainable fur-trading post for King James I&rsquos Council for New England. The criteria? High dry ground, fresh water, good soil, and easy access between &ldquoup country&rdquo Native inlands and the sea.
In their first weeks they fished and took on stores of processed whale or &ldquotrain&rdquo oil. No detail mentions Native contact or fur-trade. Soon, Rastall hired a boat and took some of the young men south, to be sold to Virginia colony --- where, at the time, it was known that &ldquoat least half died every year&rdquo (Letter of Don Diego de Molina in Tyler ed., Narratives of Early Virginia). For eight more weeks, Morton&rsquos company somehow, somewhere awaited Rastall&rsquos return. But Rastall sent a letter in August instead, demanding that Wollaston bring Unity&rsquos human capital to Jamestown.
Without &ldquovittles&rdquo for that voyage, Wollaston gained some at Monhegan Island --- which may suggest that they still lacked much connection to the land. (Morton had been &ldquocloyed&rdquo with plentiful lobster &ldquothe first day I went ashore,&rdquo 87.) Or, Morton and a smaller group might have encamped to scout the land while waiting on Unity. Whale-bones and hill-sized heaps of clam-shells marked Native presences. Beyond question they were being watched. In any case, Unity tried for Virginia through a month of autumn&rsquos &ldquocontrary winds,&rdquo then turned for home.
Somewhere that summer, Lt. Fitcher, Thomas Morton and his &ldquoconsociates&rdquo disembarked and were set up at &ldquoMount Wollaston,&rdquo on the southerly rim of Massachusetts Bay. He first referred to their household as &ldquonine persons, besides dogs.&rdquo
Though the harbor at the foot of the &ldquomount&rsquos&rdquo rise was shallow for ships, it was protected and serviceable with coastal boats. Fresh brooks and streams bubbled everywhere. The view of the bay showed Brereton&rsquos &ldquowhite sandy and very bold&rdquo island-shores, a little half-moon sand-isle right in front of them (sometimes there, sometimes not) herons and sanderlings, ducks, geese, turkeys and deer plentiful, more than ever. A short walk away was &ldquogreat store of plain ground without trees&rdquo (Wood 57): the Massachusetts&rsquo fields, or what might have remained of their Three Sister gardens, since &ldquoplague&rdquo had swept away nine of out ten Native people (1616-18).
When adventurers &ldquobroke up&rdquo on the land, men had &ldquoliberty to shift for themselves&rdquo until new arrangements. Fitcher, at his duty, must have held to the undesirable hope that next year they&rsquod all be in Virginia. There was no roaring trade here (yet). Morton saw more. As connected with The Council as any man, he easily could have arranged to keep indentured youths here. Had he done less, supply would have ended. Still, William Bradford colorfully recounted Morton&rsquos first set of crimes:
&ldquoThis Morton&helliphaving more craft than honesty&hellipin the others&rsquo absence, watches an opportunity and commons being but hard amongst them, got some strong drink and other junkats, and made them a feast and after they were merry, he began to tell them, he would give them good counsel. You see, saith he, that many of your fellows are carried to Virginia and, if you stay until this Rastall return, you will also be carried away and sold for slaves with the rest. Therefore, I would advise you to thrust out this Lt. Fitcher and I, having a part in the plantation, will receive you as my partners and consociates. So you may be free from service, and we will converse, trade, plant, and live together as equals, and support and protect one another&hellip.&rdquo (History 2: 47-8)
Morton&rsquos words may have reached Bradford through one of the young men, Edward Gibbon (a man with quite a colonial future between Merrymount, Plimoth and Boston). Lt. Fitcher found his way back to England. And so they were on their own.
Soon Morton had two first encounters --- one with Native America, and one with &ldquoPilgrims&rdquo of Plimoth Plantation.
&ldquoReading the Revels&rdquo provides the best clues we have about Morton&rsquos first Massachusetts meeting. His &ldquoPoem&rdquo hints that somewhere along the &ldquobold shore,&rdquo possibly near Squa Rock (above), he met a Massachusett woman sitting &ldquosolitary on the ground,&rdquo &ldquoin form of&rdquo both &ldquoScilla&rdquo and Niobe&rdquo --- that is, a mother grieving her children, whom Morton came to identify with plague-stricken America itself. This was in fact a Native funerary custom at burial sites.
Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit orchestrated his 1621 meeting with Plimoth. Neponset Massachusett Sachem Chikatawbak must have been waiting for his &ldquobold&rdquo Squa Sachem to bring Thomas Morton&rsquos company to a council, trade, and terms.
They had to bring more than trade if they wanted to plant at Passonagessit, the site of Chikatawbak&rsquos mother&rsquos grave. By these times --- only a year since the same Massachusetts had fought and died against Englishmen in March, 1623 --- they had to bring advantage.
Morton knew his several guns, their powers and limitations. He was no &ldquoMartialist&rdquo or man of war, so he had to listen to the Massachusetts, and think on his feet again. Guns, as these Time Lines show, had been spreading into New England. The Massachusett Pecksuot had asked for them a year ago. Of &ldquomiddle&rdquo means, Morton never could have financed firearms for fur-trade by himself. Colonial papers published by Pennington (186) showed high-level endorsement of making Native people &ldquofactors&rdquo in trade partly by giving them guns --- if guns helped to bring in the profits, or assisted the &ldquoconquest&rdquo of hostile tribes. Bristol never could say No.
In the eyes of Chikatawbak&rsquos villages, sore with loss and grievances, guns meant shows of force amongst their cousin Narragansetts and Nipmucs. Rhetoric aside, no record marks a single injury. Chikatawbak&rsquos Neponsets took advantage of a well-connected straggler&rsquos company to hold onto Nittauke: &ldquoMy land.&rdquo Morton, completely vulnerable in their midst, somehow gained the confidence to comply.
Its basis had to be genuine shared time and some common values --- reflected in Canaan&rsquos Book I. He blamed England for &ldquoplague,&rdquo and likened the abandoned villages he saw full of skulls and bones to &ldquoGolgotha,&rdquo the place where Christ was crucified. He got to know their words, their families and ways with their children saw their reverence for elders, their &ldquoperfection in the use of the senses&rdquo ate and slept in their homes, watched duels and funerals, understood their management of the land, some of their religion and pastimes, their trails and their cousins --- their &ldquophilosophical life.&rdquo Summing up Book I, Morton found that ideally at least, both English and Native Americans aspired to &ldquoPlato&rsquos Commonwealth.&rdquo His own Devon ways of hospitality and code of &ldquoquietness&rdquo proved serviceable. It remained to see what more fair means could do.
&ldquoHe that played Proteus best, and could comply with her humor, must be the man that would carry her&rdquo (140).
Listen below to Morton on the &ldquoSubtlety&rdquo of Massachusett Sachem Chikatawbak, in New English Canaan Book I, Chapter XIV ---
&ldquoWhile our houses were building,&rdquo Morton&rsquos second first encounter (likely in 1625) was on a visit to Plimoth Plantation, where he found and praised much &ldquoindustry&rdquo by William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Myles Standish, Isaac Allerton and others of the mixed &ldquoSaints and Strangers.&rdquo He must have seen the Native head(s) atop Plimoth&rsquos fort, for he wrote a Book III chapter on the &ldquoMassacre&rdquo at Weymouth too, criticizing that and treatment of Weymouth investor Thomas Weston. Come over &ldquoin disguise&rdquo to see &ldquohow things were,&rdquo Weston was shipwrecked, stripped to his shirt by Merrimack Natives, and reached Plimoth with &ldquothings boiling in his mind.&rdquo
Here, where Morton&rsquos and Plimoth&rsquos (Time Line 3) stories join, Weston was helped out of town. But Morton, though served &ldquofresh butter and a salad of eggs in dainty wise&rdquo there, made few friends among his fellow but &ldquoSeparatist&rdquo countrymen. He considered their fort and watch-house &ldquoneedless.&rdquo Its effects on trade had made them &ldquoPrinces of Limbo.&rdquo Did he then outwit a Plimoth plot to strand him on an island, using a feast and &ldquoclaret sparkling neat&rdquo to win back fellows tempted by Plimoth&rsquos pious order? Before long the &ldquonotorious gun-runner&rdquo answered back:
&ldquoAnd this, as an article of the new creed of Canaan, would they have received of every newcomer there to inhabit that the Salvages 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&hellip.Nay, they will not be reduced to any other song yet of the Salvages to the southward of Plimoth, because they would have none come there&hellip.
&ldquoBut I have found the Massachusetts Indians more full of humanity than the Christians&hellip.The more Salvages, the better quarter: the more Christians, the worser quarter, I found as all the indifferent-minded planters can testify.&rdquo ( Canaan 113)
Something like an experiment was unfolding. After a time of modest success by fair means in the Northeast, Plimoth&rsquos Christians had tried their &ldquonew creed&rdquo approach. Now it was Thomas Morton&rsquos turn. Hence, his second set of crimes:
&ldquoNow, to maintain this riotous prodigality and profuse excess, Morton, thinking himself lawless, and hearing what gain the French and fishermen made by trading of pieces, powder and shot to the Indians, he, as the head of this consortship, began the practice of the same in these parts. And first he taught them how to use them, to charge and discharge, and what proportion of powder to give the piece&hellipand what shot to use for fowl, and what for deer.
And having thus instructed them, he employed some of them to hunt and fowl for him --- so as they became far more active in that employment than any of the English, by reason of their swiftness of foot, and nimbleness of body, being also quick-sighted, and by continual exercise well-knowing the haunts of all sorts of game. So as when they saw the execution that a piece would do, and the benefit that might come by the same, they became mad, as it were, after them and would not stick to give any price they could attain for them&hellip
Yea, it is well known that they will have powder and shot, when the English want it nor cannot get it&hellip.Yea, some&helliphave told them how gunpowder is made, and all the materials in it, and that they are to be had in their own land&hellip.
O the horribleness of this villainy. Oh! that princes and parliaments would take some timely order to prevent this mischief&hellipby some exemplary punishment&hellip.&rdquo (Bradford History 2: 52-53)
Where not a noble stirred to make James&rsquo Proclamation an actual law, Bradford painted the &ldquocrisis&rdquo without many clues to the game.
Within a year, Mount Wollaston was nearing its peak. From 1625-1627 Morton&rsquos trading-boat, and &ldquohis&rdquo young men guided up-country to trap beaver, &ldquogleaned away all&rdquo that year&rsquos best trade from Maine, to the estimated value of 1000 English pounds. That was the kind of commerce for which Bristol contraband reached out. It helped the Mount Wollaston men to &ldquosail inside&rdquo thick competition, bypassing fishermen, the planters of Piscataqua (who were &ldquothreatening&rdquo to pursue a land-patent, in Bradford&rsquos History 1: 449) and Plimoth, for all its travail of six long years.
Just as &ldquoall planters&rdquo were beginning to taste &ldquothe sweetness of the country&rdquo (Bradford Letters 36), Plimothers reached the Kennebec River in Maine, where Winslow took their first surplus corn to trade with Abenakis, to &ldquogood success.&rdquo At the same time (Bradford 2: 49), &ldquoall the scum of the country&rdquo were gathering at Mount Wollaston. By no means could Plimoth allow a new rival to interfere with their sole profitable enterprise (Willison 229). Morton&rsquos deeds and plans &ldquobred a kind of heart-burning&rdquo in his neighbors (Canaan 155), and they were bound to act.
Listen below to Morton&rsquos description &ldquoOf The Revels of New Canaan&rdquo in May 1627
From the Inns of Court, Morton brought the skill to &ldquomake emblems&rdquo that wove together different realities into a language with effect. He went &ldquothe surest way to work first&rdquo and wove together people&rsquos desires for every kind of human intercourse, for which by tradition a Maypole stood. The Inns had also taught him the immense bonding value of &ldquosolemn foolery,&rdquo from dance and performance to public oratory, and these too were values in common with Native traditions (see Bragdon, &ldquo&rsquoEmphaticall Speech&rsquo&rdquo). Not surprisingly, young men with Morton hoped for wives, but no one wanted to &ldquoship home&rdquo for one. Here, then, came the largest open Native-English intermarriage on any credible early record. Spain&rsquos hildagos were doing it for Native land rights, French men often took Native wives: it became much rarer for the English.
Well, the grandest, most infamous new start in early New England was on.
&ldquoAs if this jollity would have lasted ever,&rdquo Bradford croaked.
We recognize every element of this multicultural event. Indeed, Morton was here &ldquolike the others,&rdquo to colonize. But his &ldquomoderate&rdquo means meant a world of difference. He gave Native people one free item, salt, to encourage food-preservation and &ldquosettling down&rdquo --- because that was the least disruptive way for Englishmen to recognize their presences. Morton let readers think he saw &ldquothe Lord&rsquos Angel&rdquo in New England&rsquos epidemics, but he laced this with irony and pointed The Bible at England. He said Native people had &ldquono religion,&rdquo but showed how it was everywhere in their world.
Morton said one race &ldquomust rule, or no quietness&rdquo but which race really held the power, he revealed as uncertain. And, Morton was laying out America in his day book in terms of commodities---Book II of Canaan. These kinds of imperial assumptions stripped more than fur-bearing animals from the landscape. Morton&rsquos hand was turned to it. But the entire work he also packed with unmatched feeling for nature, and a demand for &ldquorespect&rdquo: he flanked it with Native America&rsquos laudable substance (Book I), and then with a How Not To Colonize manual (Book III), whose round comedies are represented here by the tale of &ldquoMaster Bubble,&rdquo below. It stands among the country&rsquos first multicultural short stories. He was trying to educate a juggernaut.
Minimize Canaan&rsquos impact. Deconstruct Morton&rsquos motives. Even when the long Pious-Imperial Period of American History and Literature quarantined both, they had their effects. Hawthorne, William Carlos Williams and later rogue historians and naturalists deployed the man and his work in defense of the continent and its humanity. See Still Here and Revels At Merrymount Today for more.
So what did the new-christened Ma-Re Mount, or Merrymount have to say? First, a solemn, half-intelligible manifesto: a &ldquoPoem&rdquo proclaiming through a &ldquolove story&rdquo that the future America needed a day, every year, to remember what was sacred --- by coming to terms with terrible events, by confronting death and choosing life. The Revels are the &ldquomedicine&rdquo offered from Ma-Re Mount. Then the drinking- &ldquoSong&rdquo, whose first word in each simple verse spelled out Morton&rsquos formula: Make/Nectar/Give/Give. Sung &ldquowith a Chorus&rdquo of youths with pick-up instruments, the &ldquoSong&rdquo invited (or if you will, half-obliged) everybody to join hands in a great circle around the Maypole.
Scholarship revels in the show of power behind English masques. These Revels showed the power of interdependence, cooperation and tolerance. They happened because Native New England allowed them. Feasting, sports, hunts, music, dance and entertainments, trade, &ldquocohabitations&rdquo --- from there, it was up to these people(s) to make what they would of the world in their midst.
Were Plimothers invited? It seems some attended: Bradford mentioned &ldquoscurrilous&rdquo verses nailed to the Maypole (2: 49) and much &ldquofrisking,&rdquo of &ldquofairies, or Furies, rather.&rdquo Morton&rsquos &ldquoRevels&rdquo chapter says they &ldquocould not expound&rdquo The Poem&rsquos Riddle: it &ldquoput their noses out of joint, as the proverb is.&rdquo Morton imagined the Maypole rearing up over them like a &ldquoseven-headed Hydra&rdquo: a core of six men around him (likely some with families) who had, like a Hydra, too much reach for Plimoth&rsquos liking.
&ldquoAt defiance with&rdquo the Maypole, &ldquoSome of them affirmed that the first institution thereof was in memory of a whore not knowing that it was a trophy erected at first in honor of Maya, the Lady of Learning, which they despise&hellip.&rdquo(140).
Compassion and the courage to try new things were at these Revels&rsquo core. &ldquoReading The Revels&rdquo shows more behind each line of both creations.
Listen below to Morton&rsquos original &ldquoPoem,&rdquo and read along with the &ldquomodernized&rdquo version --- which tries to help us hear it with 1627 English ears. Your reactions are most welcome!
Rise, riddle-reader, and unfold
What meant this whirlpool, Death, beneath the mold
When woman, solitary on the ground
Sitting and weeping her children was found?
Then Deities, love-inspiring, did acquaint
Grim King James with the tenor of her plaint,
and caused him send forth heroes, to the sound
of trumpet loud at which, those seas were found
so full of shifting shapes that this bold shore
presented Woman a new paramour,
as strong as Samson (wasn't) and so patient
As Job himself (at times)---Directed thus, by Fate
To comfort Woman, so unfortunate.
I do profess, by Love&rsquos own beauteous Mother,
That here&rsquos a wise fool&rsquos choice---for her, none other
Though Scilla still is sick, because no sign
Till this our Revels heals her race and mine.
Asklepios, healer, come! We know right well
All our work&rsquos lost, if we should hear her knell---
The great Earth Mother&rsquos call, none ever withstand!
And yet, that same Love points this land,
With Proclamation, friends! The first of May
Shall here at Merrymount be holy day.
Listen below to &ldquoThe Song&rdquo to music by Mark Waterhouse and Jack Dempsey
Drink and be merry, merry, merry boys,
Let all your delights be in Hymen&rsquos joys:
Yo! to Hymen, now the day is come:
About the merry Maypole take a room.
Make green garlands, bring bottles out
And fill sweet Nectar freely about:
Uncover your head, and fear no harm,
For here&rsquos good liquor to keep it warm.
So drink and be merry, merry, merry boys.
Nectar is a thing assigned
To cure the heart oppressed with grief
And of good liquors is the chief.
So drink and be merry, merry, merry boys.
Give to the melancholy man
A cup or two of it now and then:
This physic will soon revive his blood
And make him be of a merrier mood.
To drink and be merry, merry, merry boys.
Give to the Nymph that&rsquos free from scorn
Nor Irish [cloth] nor Scotch o&rsquoer-worn:
Lasses in beaver coats, come away,
Ye shall be welcome to us night and day.
To drink and be merry, merry, merry boys.
Listen below to a ½-hr. radio program on Thomas Morton&rsquos life :
A year after May Day (June 1628), Myles Standish or &ldquoCaptain Shrimp&rdquo sprung his second ambush at Weymouth. But Morton, a guest there, slipped laughing out of Standish&rsquos grasp (and slammed the door behind). He was probably still laughing to think of Plimothers complaining to their nemesis King James&rsquo officials. So he had answered their &ldquofriendly warnings&rdquo: &ldquoThe King is dead, and his displeasure with him.&rdquo Morton was right on legal and real-world grounds. He had to be forced out.
Plimoth commenced the Keystone Cops period of Thomas Morton&rsquos life. They left him to die on a naked rock on the ocean called The Isles of Shoals off New Hampshire, and he was back &ldquonot so much as rebuked&rdquo (Bradford) by Fall 1629. But change had already come. John Endecott, with advance-men of the Massachusetts Bay Company, had chopped down the Maypole at Merrymount, demanding &ldquobetter walking.&rdquo Plimoth sent a boat to Maine and arrested one Edward Ashley, another &ldquonotorious irregular trader&rdquo whose beaver-trade paid Bristol, not Plimothers&rsquo debts.
Listen below toCanaan&rsquos Book III, Ch. 21, on Morton&rsquos 1629 resistance to John Endecott of Salem&rsquos plan --- that all trade and living be &ldquoaccording to the Word of God.&rdquo
Tiny clues suggest that Morton shared out his mock-epic &ldquoBacchanall Triumph&rdquo at this time, on his voyage through The Underworld at Plimoth. That winter 1629, as Merrymount kept Christmas, Endecott&rsquos ice-caked boat arrived from Salem. &ldquoCaptain Littleworth&rdquo had traded away their corn for a boon of beaver. His men took all they could of Merrymount&rsquos supplies. After all, Morton was not of The Congregation.
Morton, a few original fellows, lone planters and/or Massachusett friends, watched from the hills in June 1630 as the Arbella and other ships arrived at future Boston (the original &ldquoBoston Neck&rdquo with its marshes and hills above). Aboard were their governor John Winthrop, a future poet in young Anne Bradstreet, and about 700 Puritan families with a charter acquired from King Charles I. Winthrop&rsquos &ldquoReasons&rdquo (Papers 2: 141) had already decided that Native Americans could have no rights in land because, supposedly, they did nothing to &ldquoimprove&rdquo it --- for Winthrop, nothing to increase its profits by development according to the ways of people with cattle.
A mile from plenitude at Merrymount, sickness and hunger afflicted Boston through Autumn. More planters than Morton told of these new Puritans&rsquo refusals of help, advice, fresh water and game from outsiders not acceptable under their ideas of religion. One planter recorded another as saying they had &ldquoas good live in Turkey&rdquo as under these newcomers.
Listen below to Canaan Book III, Ch. 23, on Morton&rsquos 1630 arrest and exile:
Thomas Morton, &ldquosummoned&rdquo on August 23, was the first defendant before the Massachusetts Bay Court, on September 7, 1630. (Record in Shurtleff 1: 74). The &ldquocity on a hill&rdquo held no trial. There was &ldquono color of law whatsoever&rdquo (Zuckerman&rsquos phrase), with even a fake murder-warrant that never saw legal light of day. Boston simply ordered the burning of Merrymount before Morton&rsquos eyes then (December) hoisted him by cow-harness onto a ship whose voyage almost killed him.
The Merrymount threat was its success by Fair Means. The Puritans&rsquo first business was to end those first Transatlantic experiments. Negotiation and compromise were &ldquonew creed&rdquo sins against The Lord. A new phase of experiment in how to live in America was in their hands.
Massachusetts Bay Company ordered &ldquoall males&rdquo to be &ldquoexercised in arms.&rdquo Native people were forbidden at plantations except at assigned times, and a &ldquostiff directive&rdquo promised &ldquosevere&rdquo punishment for gun-trade --- soon carried out when one &ldquoHopkins of Watertown&rdquo was &ldquobranded in the face&rdquo for trading &ldquoa piece and pistol&rdquo to the friendly Sagamore James, of Saugus (Vaughan Frontier 94-5). Within a year, anyone with Native &ldquoservants&rdquo was to discharge them, and to forbid Native people in their houses without permission from the Court (Shurtleff Records 1: 83).
&ldquoWe have great Ordnance,&rdquo wrote Rev. Frances Higginson (in Force 3). &ldquoBut&hellipour greatest comfort is, we have plenty of Preaching, and diligent Catechizing, with strict and careful exercise&hellipto bring our people into a Christian conversation with [those] whom we have to do withal&hellip.If God be with us, who can be against us?&rdquo
Another ominous development was also preposterous.
Myles Standish and John Endecott were poised to become the &ldquoInjun Expert&rdquo officers training the next generation of colonists . They were ready to confirm and prosper by every ignorant assumption --- their own, and those of the people they kept &ldquoprotected&rdquo inside the palisades. &ldquoReligion&rdquo was putting its faith in guns and foolhardy tactics at the same time. Endicott took his wrath into the Pequot &ldquoLong Water Land.&rdquo
Profit, Advantage, and Progress grew more entwined. How many people should Profit Dis-advantage, to achieve how much human Progress? In his appeals for Council support against rival "irregular" traders, Bradford offered to stop "the unprofitable consuming of the victuals of the land" by "these salvages" (Letters 56).
Within a few years, Massachusetts Bay built its first ship --- the Desire --- for the African and Caribbean slave trade. Ten years after the May Day Revels, Boston and Hartford (CT), with Plimoth manpower in the wings, set out to destroy the next people in England&rsquos way, The Pequots. You can take their documented journey and find out why they failed in Mystic Fiasco: How the Indians Won The Pequot War. Yet, that was the war that hard-wired the American colonial psyche through today.
Plimoth and Boston made a good lawyer angry in 1630. Thus began Morton&rsquos second exile, and the &ldquoLate&rdquo years of his long life --- See Time Line 4.
Click to enjoy the feature-film script MERRYMOUNT: A True Adventure Comedy (also for radio & performance). Watch a movie in your mind!
According to David Petegorsky&rsquos Left Wing Democracy in the English Civil War, for thinking people in the Renaissance &ldquoThe conception of a personal God or Devil, of an actual Heaven and Hell, were the psychological result of the inability to understand the nature of the physical world: the refuge of those who felt impelled to substitute fancy and imagination for the knowledge they were unable to achieve.&rdquo
Morton prized reason as &ldquothe light of nature,&rdquo as did Gerard Winstanley, a leader of &ldquodisplaced&rdquo people in England (and no university man): it was &ldquoa doctrine of a sickly and weak spirit who hath lost his understanding of the Creation, and of the temper of his own heart, and Nature --- and so runs into fancies&rdquo (Winstanley qtd. 179). Diggers, Ranters, Quakers and more defied the &ldquonew economy&rdquo of profit and war. Close to Charles&rsquo court that he was, Morton had a history of liking &ldquoale house intellectuals,&rdquo such as Ben Jonson.
Exiled for 15 years, Morton was going win his lawsuit, and come back to &ldquothe land he loveth.&rdquo Meanwhile (1637) he published New English Canaan --- the work of a &ldquopastoral realist&rdquo who saw the Garden in America, and refused to be silent while idiotic &ldquoMartialists&rdquo took over.
New English Canaan Book III, Chapter 12
This worthy member Master Bubble, having a conceit in his head that he had hatched a new scheme for the purchase of beaver, beyond Imagination, packs up a sack full of odd implements. And, without any company but a couple of Indians for guides---and therefore you may, if you please, believe they are so dangerous as the Brethren of Plimoth give it out---he betakes him to his progress into the inland for beaver, with his carriage on his shoulders like Milo.
His guides and he, in process of time, come to the place appointed, which was about Neepenett [or, Nipmuc, today&rsquos Worcester, Mass. area] thereabouts being more beaver to be had than this Milo could carry. And, both his journeymen glad that he was &ldquogood man,&rdquo his guides willing to pleasure him, there he and the Salvages stay.
Night came on. But, before they were inclined to sleep, this good man Master Bubble had a fantasy creep into his head---by misunderstanding the Salvages&rsquo actions. He must needs be gone in all haste, yea and without his errand. He purposed to do it so cunningly that his flight should not be suspected: he leaves his shoes in the house with all his other implements, and flies.
As he was on his way, he increased his fear, suggesting to himself that he was pursued by a company of Indians, and that their arrows were let fly as thick as hail at him. He puts off his breeches, and puts them on his head, for to save him from the shafts that flew after him so thick that no man could perceive them.
And crying out, &ldquoAvoid, Satan! What have ye to do with me?&rdquo and thus running on his way without his breeches, he was pitifully scratched with the brush of the underwoods as he wandered up and down in unknown ways.
The Salvages, in the meantime, put up all his implements in the sack he left behind, and brought them to Wessaguscus [Weymouth], where they thought to have found him. But understanding he was not returned, they were fearful what to do and of what would be conceived by the English to have become of this mazed man and were in consultation of the matter.
One of the Salvages was of opinion that the English would suppose him to be murdered: fearful, he was, to come in sight. The other, better acquainted with the English, having lived some time in England, was more confident. And he persuaded his fellow that the English would be satisfied with the relation of the truth, having had testimony of his fidelity. So, they boldly adventured what they had brought, and how the matter stood.
The English, when the sack was opened, did take a note in writing of all the particulars in the sack and heard what was related by the Salvages of the accidents. But when Master Bubble&rsquos shoes were shown, it was thought he would not have departed without his shoes.
And therefore they did conceive that Master Bubble was murdered by some sinister practice of the Salvages&rsquo, who unadvisedly had become guilty of a crime which they now sought to excuse. And the English straightly charged the Salvages to find him out again, and bring him dead or alive else, their wives and children would be destroyed.
The poor Salvages, being in a pitiful perplexity, caused their countrymen to seek out for this mazed man who, being in short time found, was brought to Wessaguscus, where he made a discourse of his travels and of the perilous passages, which did seem to be no less dangerous than those of that worthy Knight-Errant, Don Quixote and how miraculously he had been preserved.
And, in conclusion, he lamented the great loss of his goods, whereby he thought himself undone. The particular whereof being demanded, it appeared that the Salvages had not diminished any part of them: no, not so much as one bit of bread. Whereby Master Bubble was overjoyed, and the whole company made themselves merry at his discourse of all his perilous adventures.
And by this you may observe whether the Salvage people are not full of humanity or whether they are a dangerous people, as Master Bubble and the rest of his tribe would persuade you.
Morton drops it in our lap: Bubble would not learn. Still, through Canaan, as Morton wished, we have twice the chance.
A Merrymount Postscript
Wanted: A Children&rsquos Book Illustrator!
Enjoy the 1992 documentary Thomas Morton by Jack Dempsey
(2 hours more info in Books & Films)
The exhibition Scenes from the Pilgrim Story: Natural History by Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant, marked the final phase of Durant’s "Merry Mount" project.
Works by Sam Durant frequently amplify the social and political resonance of protest movements and charismatic figures in contemporary American historical consciousness. Durant’s methodology of entropic logic, derived from Robert Smithson, approaches history as a dialectical process which continually distorts our lenses of past, present and future. Very often his photographs, sculptures, drawings and installations evoke this instability between stasis and flux. By selecting out and colliding certain culturally loaded objects and icons, Durant's works test the volume of these figures' current social and political reverberations.
The exhibition at Catriona Jeffries brought together a series of photographs and sculptural platforms based on a scene that Durant acquired from the now-defunct Plymouth National Wax Museum. The museum purported to tell the story of the English Pilgrims’ journey to Massachusetts and the establishment of their Plymouth colony. Entitled “Merry Mount,” the particular display that Durant obtained depicts a dissident community led by social reformer Thomas Morton. In 1626, Morton learned that indentured servant-colonists were being sold into slavery on Virginian tobacco plantations and encouraged the remaining servants to become the free consociates of a community he renamed Mount Ma-re (or simply Merrymount). The Merrymount colony treated Indians as equals, sought a degree of integration with the local Algonquin culture, and practiced rural folk traditions which outraged the Puritans who viewed such practices as pagan. Following the erection of an 80 ft high antler-topped Maypole as part of Morton’s 1628 Mayday ‘Revels of New Canaan’, the Plymouth Militia invaded Merrymount, cut down the Maypole, destroyed the colony and marooned Morton on the deserted Isles of Shoals until he was able to escape to England.
Durant’s Scenes from the Pilgrim Story: Natural History investigates the objects, equipment and mannequins that serve to frame and iconicize the story of Merrymount through this American colonial history museum display.
Early Modern Times - Merrymount merriment
This past week saw millions of Americans travel during US Thanksgiving, contrary to the stern recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such disobedience of health guidelines would seem rather un-Puritan and thus contrary to the spirit of this traditional holiday. As noted in the Oct. 31 issue of Early Modern Times, however, the origin of Thanksgiving as a feast between Puritan settlers and Native Americans is a myth legitimising European settlement, while the notion that the Mayflower pilgrims were founders of America begins as a 19th-century justification of Protestant Anglo-Saxon dominance. In this recent article, moreover, Ed Simon fascinatingly describes an alternative historical moment in colonial America: the short-lived settlement of Merrymount, founded by Thomas Morton (1579–1647), devoted to feast, pagan dancing, cross-cultural mixing, and general revelry. Irresponsible holiday-goers during the pandemic may well be tapping into a spirit of Merrymount merriment.
Thomas Morton hailed from Devon in southeast England. Although his family was high Anglican, his high spirits exceeded the conservative religiosity of his roots. Nevertheless, he seems to have imbibed the Devonshire spirit of ‘merrie Olde Englande’, which was at odds with Puritan disapproval of the paganism of crypto-Catholic Anglicanism as well as of excessive ‘e’s in English spelling–and which would eventually lead to rebellion and civil war in Morton’s birth country. Furthermore, during his legal studies and practice in London, he was exposed to the libertinism of the metropolis and sought to use common law to protect Englishmen forced to migrate from rural areas to cities, towns, and life at sea. Subsequently, he became involved in projects to establish colonies in New England, and decided to head overseas himself after unsuccessful attempts to marry in 1618 as a result of Puritan interference. Morton’s background and early life, then, disposed him to Puritantagonism.
Morton’s sour experience in his initial trip led to Merrymount several years later. He landed in Massachusetts in 1622–as Ed Simon notes, only a couple of years following the Mayflower–but sailed back to England the following year in disgust at Puritan intolerance in the colony. He returned in 1624 along with a pirate captain named Wollaston who established the colony humbly named Mount Wollaston. The Mount Wollaston colonists broke from Puritan practice in trading liquor and firearms in exchange for food and fur provided by local Algonquians. Morton was horrified, however, when Wollaston sold his indentured servants into slavery, working on tobacco plantations in Virginia. He led an uprising against Wollaston in 1626, and renamed the colony ‘Merrymount’, in reference to mare (the sea), the mother of God, and of course merriment. This newfound colony of fun was thus intended to take out the ‘grim’ in ‘pilgrim’.
Morton’s vision of Merrymount as a utopia of freedom was expressed on its official founding on May 1, 1627. On this day, the colonists celebrated with ‘Revels and merriment after the old English custome’, i.e., the eccentric pagan ritual of dancing around a maypole, a ‘goodly pine tree of eighty feet long’. Such maypole dancing was, of course, accompanied with drink: for the occasion, the Merrymounters ‘brewed a barrell of excellent beare and provided a case of bottles, to be spent, with other good cheare, for all commers of that day’. ‘Commers’ included not only the English settlers but also local indigenous peoples–as reflected by the 19th-century image above depicting Plymouth Captain Miles Standish and his regiment gazing disapprovingly at the maypole dancing in 1628. Thus, such pagan bacchanalia, along with mixing with Native Americans (which included the encouragement of intermarriage, though as a means of conversion) was the may-polar opposite of Puritans in America.
The ideas underlying the Merrymount colony are, among other things, reflected in Morton’s 1637 account of New England, A New English Canaan. The work, including its lyric poems, celebrates the spirit of festivity as epitomised by intoxicated maypole dancing, depicts America as a ‘paradise’ rather than the ‘howling wilderness’ for the Puritan pilgrims, and lauds the Native Americans as living in blissful harmony: ‘Plato’s Commonwealth is so much practiced by these people’. Although obviously tainted by European exoticisation of the ‘New World’, Morton’s account greatly angered Puritan settlers who would regard such reflections as Canaan-fodder. Indeed, Puritan outrage at the Babylon of Merrymount led the standoffish Standish to dismantle the colony in 1628. Morton was put in chains, briefly imprisoned in England, returned to New England, and died in Maine. The site of the colony in Quincy, Massachusetts is now ‘an industrial area across the road from a Dunkin’ Donuts’: ironic, given that Merrymount was denounced as un-holey or fitting, since it was the beigne of the New England Puritans.
Director, Early Modern ‘ain’t no Merrymount high enough’ Studies Program
Johann Hari: the hidden history of homosexuality in the US
The gay and bisexual community of America pre-dates Columbus &ndash and continues to shape the nation. Why isn't it acknowledged? Johann Hari argues that it's time for the activists to come in from the margins
Find your bookmarks in your Independent Premium section, under my profile
The American right presents homosexuality as something alien to the American experience – an intruder that inexplicably gate-crashed America in 1969 in the form of a rioting drag queen clutching a high heel in her fist as a weapon. The statements of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, or Mitt Romney insistently hint that the fag does not belong under the flag. But there's something odd here. For people who talk incessantly about honouring American history, they have built a historical picture of their country that can only be sustained by scrubbing it clean of a significant part of the population and everything they brought to the party (if not the Tea Party).
In his new book, A Queer History of the United States, the cultural critic Michael Bronski runs the film backward, through 500 years of American life, showing there were gays and bisexuals in every scene, making and remaking America. They were among some of the country's great icons, from Emily Dickinson to Calamity Jane to perhaps even Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The rioting drag queens of the Stonewall Inn arrive only on page 210 of a 250-page book that argues gay people weren't merely present at every stage – they had a historical mission in America. It was to expose Puritanism, scolding and sexual intolerance. Yet in a strange and disagreeable turn, Bronski concludes that in the final act of this story, gays have en masse abandoned their mission by demanding the most domestic and Puritan goal of all: monogamous marriage.
The gay alternative to Puritan America began before the first white settler ever arrived. The day before Christopher Columbus set foot in North America, it was a safer place for gay people than it was ever going to be again for several centuries.
The limited-but-sturdy evidence provided by historians that Bronski draws on suggests homosexuality was treated matter-of-factly among most Native American tribes. In the records of the Lewis and Clark expeditions, Nicholas Biddle observes: "Among the Mamitarees, if a boy shows any symptoms of effeminacy or girlish inclinations he is put among the girls, dressed in their way, brought up with them, and sometimes married to men."
Among the Crow tribe, a horrified white observer wrote, "men who dressed as women and specialised in women's work were accepted and sometimes honoured a woman who led men in battle and had four wives was a respected chief". This shouldn't be entirely romanticised. One tribe "accepted" homosexuality by raising young men to be "passives", available as "sexual resources" to the tribe, which sounds uncomfortably close to rape. But in most places, different sexualities were granted room for expression, much of it consensual.
The Europeans looked on in revulsion, like Jerry Falwell in a powdered wig. In the 1775 diary of Pedro Font, a Franciscan on a trip to what is now California, he warns that "the sin of sodomy prevails more among [the Miami] than in any other nation" and concludes with a cluck: "There will be much to do when the Holy Faith and the Christian religion are established among them."
There was a lot to do and it was done with extreme violence. These practices were stamped out by force, which Bronski notes "provided a template for how mainstream European culture would treat LGBT people throughout much of US history".
The Europeans who arrived in North America had a ferociously fierce sense of how gender and sexuality should be expressed. They had fled Britain because they felt it had become a syphilitic brothel. Although homosexuality was illegal in Elizabethan England, the culture allowed it to be represented and discussed. Christopher Marlow could even go around semi-publicly saying: "St John the Baptist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom, that he used him as the sinners of Sodom."
The Puritans came to America to shun all this, and to build instead a pure theocratic homeland. As the research of historian Jonathan Ned Katz shows, they meant it: many people were executed for sodomy. Yet he also uncovered cases that suggest this isn't the whole story. Look at the court records of a man called Nicholas Sension of Windsor, Connecticut, for example. From the 1640s to 1677, he had a long history of propositioning men for sex, offering to pay men for sex and sexually assaulting male servants. He was admonished by the town elders in the late 1640s and in the 1660s, but there was a general consensus against legal charges. They liked him. The prohibition, it seems, wasn't absolute. But then, in 1677, he was convicted of attempted sodomy, publicly whipped and had his estate seized.
From the start, there were Americans who dissented from the Puritanism – often in the most blatant way. In 1624, a large group of people led by a man named Thomas Morton decided to found a town based on very different principles, in an area that is now Quincy, near Boston. They called the town Merrymount – popular slang at the time for illicit forms of sex – and built an 80ft phallic symbol in the town centre. They freed any indentured servants who joined them, befriended the local Native American tribe and began to intermarry with them, suggesting many of their members were heterosexuals sick of Puritan strictures and open to other ways.
Merrymount sounds as quintessentially American as Salem – and a lot more fun. But the conflict that runs through American history – between fundamentalism and sexual freedom – mowed down Merrymount. In 1629, after a five-year-long prefiguring of life in South Beach or West Hollywood, the local Puritans invaded the town and dismantled it brick by brick. (History doesn't record what they did with the phallus.) Morton was deported back to London, where he became one of the most eloquent critics of the genocide of the Native Americans in Europe.
The Puritan spirit was soon diluted by a flood of new immigrants who weren't drawn by their religious vision, but by economic opportunities. Between 1700 and 1720, the population almost doubled to 470,000. But it remained a fiercely sexually repressed society. In 1775 a young woman called Jemima Wilkinson had a chronic fever and announced that Jesus Christ had entered her body and stopped her from being a woman. She should no longer be called male or female she was now neuter. She travelled across America raging against sexuality of any kind and saying nobody should ever have sex again. Crows would gather and cheer her with a mixture of glee and guilt. A huge cult of anti-sex surrounded her.
Some gay people were rebelling in more inventive ways. In 1782, at the age of 22, Deborah Sampson Gannett dressed as a man and enrolled in the army as Robert Shurtliff. (Read that surname again.) She fought bravely in several battles, until she was wounded and exposed. Her memoirs became a bestseller, including her titillating accounts of flirting with women (and hinting at more).
Again, there are hints that America at that time was more open to alternative sexualities than we have been led to believe. She sparked a popular genre that ran through the American Civil War of tales of disguised women who fought in battle. Some were even awarded military pensions.
Yet here's a strange wrinkle. The ideas of the Enlightenment were at the core of America's founding, yet they didn't percolate into its view of sexuality until far later. In France, the implications of Enlightenment values for gays were obvious almost immediately. In 1789, the French National Assembly declared that "liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else" and abolished all punishments for sodomy two years later. The United States kept, elaborated on and enforced its sodomy laws for another 212 years. Why?
The historian RI Moore has tried to unpack how societies create "dangerous" groups that need to be shunned – Jews, heretics, lepers, gays – in his book The Formation of a Persecuting Society, and Bronski subscribes to his perspective. Nothing helps to solidify a group, and to make its members feel they belong, more than identifying an enemy, or somebody who has to be expelled from the tribe. To have Us, you need to have Them. Perhaps precisely because America was admirably a country of immigrants, it needed to cling to the embers of Puritan homophobia to reinforce a sense of unity.
It was only in 1869 that the Hungarian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual" and began to try to describe the phenomenon scientifically. But as Bronski tells it, the real break in the American conversation about gays came from a source that is often overlooked, the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Please, nobody tell Glenn Beck, or we'll have a flow chart showing that gay marriage ineluctably leads to anarchy, which ineluctably leads to George Soros.)
Writers like Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman were the first to put forward three crucial points that transformed the debate. Bronski celebrates their challenge to narrowly constrained domesticity: "They argue that sexuality is natural and positive, that sex can be solely about pleasure, and, if consensual, should not be the subject of any laws." In their suspicion of all rules and all laws, they were the first to see the nasty codes surrounding sexuality served no positive purpose and only spread misery. Intriguingly, the first great open champions of homosexual freedom in America were, as it turns out, almost all heterosexual.
It's around this same time that gay people began crafting their own narratives, albeit awkwardly and painfully, for the first time in the American story.
A leading neurologist in 1894 wrote down these words of one of his patients: "The knowledge that I am so unlike others makes me very miserable. I form no acquaintances out of business, keep mostly to myself, and do not indulge my sexual feelings." The scattered, and still furtive, confessions and reflections of gays as a new century approached ache with this sense of pure isolation. Many of them believed they were the only homosexual in the world – a human dead-end.
But when gay people began to be able to whisper, they began to find each other. Bronski pores over the letters pages of magazines like Physique Pictoral, which starting in 1951 depicted bodybuilders in small posing pouches. The letters whisper ever louder: "I know that I am not alone in my beliefs" and "you are truly doing a wonderful job in uniting young men from all over the world who share a common interest".
A series of historical trends were colliding to make steps towards gay equality possible. For the first time, it was becoming normal for single adults to live alone, apart from their family unit. The apartment, the car and the city: all made anonymity possible and with anonymity there came the flickers of freedom. Then, in 1960, a small white tablet turbo-charged the cause of gay equality. The contraceptive pill separated sex and reproduction for heterosexuals, so that for them, sex became what it had always been for homosexuals – a joyous and exuberant end in itself. Straight people were no longer so inclined to tut – they were doing it themselves. The gradual expansion and freeing of straight sexuality – its de-Puritanisation – brought with it greater tolerance for gay sexuality, as the two converged.
But the most decisive turning point arrived when gay people began to band together to demand to be treated decently. The Mattachine Society was founded in 1950, named after a French Renaissance secret fraternity of unmarried men. But it couldn't agree on its central goal. The battle in that society – which created a deep split in the group within three years – runs through gay history from that point on and eventually breaks apart Bronski's book. It boils down to this. Is the point of the gay struggle to say we are essentially the same as straight people, or is it to say we are different and glad to be so?
My view – since reading Andrew Sullivan's masterpiece Virtually Normal when I was a teenager – is that the point of the gay-rights struggle is to show that homosexuality is a trivial and meaningless difference. Gay people want what straight people want. I am the same as my heterosexual siblings in all meaningful ways, so I should be treated the same under the law, and accorded all public rights and responsibilities. The ultimate goal of the gay-rights movement is to make homosexuality as uninteresting – and unworthy of comment – as left-handedness.
That's not Bronski's view. As he has made more stridently clear in his previous books, he believes that gay people are essentially different from straight people. Why is his book called a "Queer History" and not a "Gay History"? It seems to be because the word "queer" is more marginal, more edgy, more challenging to ordinary Americans.
He believes that while the persecution in this 500-year history was bad, the marginality was not. Gay people are marginal not because of persecution but because they have a historical cause – to challenge "how gender and sexuality are viewed in normative culture".
Their role is to show that monogamy, and gender boundaries and ideas like marriage throttle the free libidinal impulses of humanity. So instead of arguing for the right to get married, gay people should have been arguing for the abolition of marriage, monogamy and much more besides. " 'Just like you' is not what all Americans want," Bronski writes. "Historically, 'just like you' is the great American lie."
He swipes at the movement for gay marriage and Sullivan in particular, as an elaborate revival of the old social-purity movements – with the kicker that gays are doing it to themselves. (It's easy to forget that when Sullivan first made the case for gay marriage, his events were picketed by gay people spitting this argument into his face.)
When Bronski argues this case, his prose – which is normally clear – becomes oddly murky and awkward, and he may not agree with every word of my summary. This is the best I can figure out his position: He does finally explicitly say that the gay movement should have fought instead to "eliminate" all concept of marriage under the law, a cause that would have kept gay people marginalised for centuries, if not forever. Of course some gay people hold revolutionary views against the social structures of marriage and the family – and so do some straight people. But they are small minorities in both groups. If you want to set yourself against these trends in the culture, that's fine – we can have an interesting intellectual debate about it. Just don't equate it with your homosexuality.
When Bronski suggests that gay marriage "works against another unrealized American ideal: individual freedom and autonomy", he is bizarrely missing the point. Nobody is saying gay people have to get married – only that it should be a legal option if they want it. If you disagree with marriage, don't get married. Whose freedom does that restrict?
It's bizarre that Bronski – after a rousing historical rebuttal to the right-wing attempt to write gays out of American history – ends up agreeing with Santorum, Beck and Bachmann that gay people are inherently subversive and revolutionary, longing for the basic institutions of the heterosexual world to be torn down.
There's a whole Gay Pride parade of people marching through Bronski's book who show it isn't so. I can see them marching now, down the centre of the Mall: the Native American chief with her four wives, Nicholas Sension with the whip marks on his back, the residents of Merrymount holding aloft their their 80ft phallus, Deborah Sampson Gannett dressed in her military uniform as Robert Shurtliff and the men from Physique Pictoral in their posing pouches, amazed to discover they are not alone.
Yes, they were all Americans. And no, they didn't choose marginality and exclusion. They were forced to the margins. It would be a betrayal of them – not a fulfilment – to choose to stay there, angrily raging, when American society is on the brink of letting them into its core institutions, on the basis of equality, at long last.
Myles Standish Facts: Military Career
Contact with the Native Americans came in March 1621 through Samoset, an English-speaking Abenaki who arranged for the Pilgrims to meet with Massasoit, the sachem of the nearby Pokanoket tribe. On March 22, the first governor of Plymouth Colony, John Carver signed a treaty with Massasoit, declaring an alliance between the Pokanoket and the Englishmen and requiring the two parties to defend each other in times of need. Governor Carver died the same year and the responsibility of upholding the treaty fell to his successor William Bradford. Bradford and Standish were frequently preoccupied with the complex task of reacting to threats against both the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets from tribes such as the Massachusetts and the Narragansetts. As threats arose, Standish typically advocated intimidation to deter their rivals. Such behavior at times made Bradford uncomfortable, but he found it an expedient means of maintaining the treaty with the Pokanokets.
Myles Standish had five main hurdles to overcome:
- Nemasket Raid: The first challenge to the treaty came in August 1621 when a sachem named Corbitant began to undermine Massasoit&rsquos leadership. Standish planned to attack Corbitant and kill him and decided that a night attack would be best. That night, he and Hobbamock burst into the shelter, shouting for Corbitant. As frightened Pokanokets attempted to escape, Englishmen outside the wigwam fired their muskets, wounding a Pokanoket man and woman who were later taken to Plymouth to be treated. Standish soon learned that Corbitant had already fled the village and Tisquantum was unharmed. Standish had failed to capture Corbitant, but the raid had the desired effect. On September 13, 1621, nine sachems came to Plymouth, including Corbitant, to sign a treaty of loyalty to King James.
- Palisade: In November 1621, a Narragansett messenger arrived in Plymouth and delivered a bundle of arrows wrapped in a snakeskin. The Pilgrims were told by Tisquantum and Hobbamock that this was a threat and an insult from Narragansett sachem Canonicus. Taking the threat seriously, Standish urged that the colonists encircle their small village with a palisade made of tall, upright logs. The defense took three months to build and it was effective. The attack on the village did not happen.
- Wessagusset: the Massachusett tribe threatened the settlers in Plymouth in 1620.Standish arranged to meet with Pecksuot over a meal in one of Wessagusset&rsquos one-room houses. Pecksuot brought with him a third warrior named Wituwamat, Wituwamat&rsquos adolescent brother, and several women. Standish had three men of Plymouth and Hobbamock with him in the house. On an arranged signal, the English shut the door of the house and Standish attacked Pecksuot, stabbing him repeatedly with the man&rsquos own knife. Wituwamat and the third warrior were also killed. Leaving the house, Standish ordered two more Massachusett warriors to be put to death. Gathering his men, Standish went outside the walls of Wessagusset in search of Obtakiest, a sachem of the Massachusett tribe. The Englishmen soon encountered Obtakiest with a group of warriors and a skirmish ensued, during which Obtakiest escaped. Standish would be criticized for his brutality, but his tactics managed to keep the colonists safe.
- Merrymount Settlers: In 1625 another threat appeared when a group of men established an outpost outside the city. Standish arrived with a group of men to find that the small band at Merrymount had barricaded themselves within a small building. Morton eventually decided to attack the men from Plymouth, but the Merrymount group were too drunk to handle their weapons. Morton aimed a weapon at Standish, which the captain purportedly ripped from his hands. Standish and his men took Morton to Plymouth and eventually sent him back to England. Later, Morton wrote the book New English Canaan, in which he referred to Myles Standish as &ldquoCaptain Shrimp,&rdquo and wrote, &ldquoI have found the Massachusetts Indians more full of humanity than the Christians.&rdquo
- Penobscot Expedition: Standish&rsquos last significant expedition was against the French, having defended Plymouth from Native Americans and Englishmen. The French established a trading post in 1613 on the Penobscot River in what is now Castine, Maine. English forces captured the settlement in 1628 and turned it over to Plymouth Colony. It was a valuable source of furs and timber for the Pilgrims for seven years. However, in 1635, the French mounted a small expedition and easily reclaimed the settlement. William Bradford ordered Captain Standish to take action, determined that the post be reclaimed in Plymouth Colony&rsquos name. This was a significantly larger proposition than the small expeditions which Standish had previously led and, to accomplish the task, he chartered the ship Good Hope captained by a man named Girling. Standish&rsquos plan appears to have been to bring the Good Hope within cannon range of the trading post and to bombard the French into surrender. Unfortunately, Girling ordered the bombardment before the ship was within range and quickly spent all the gunpowder on board. Standish gave up the effort.
It’s Been 243 Years Since the First Man Was Thrown Out of the Army for Being Gay
This year marks an unusual milestone: It’s been 243 years since U.S. soldier Lt. Frederick Gotthold Enslin was discharged from the Army for being gay — the very first time such an incident occurred. So we decided to take a deeper look into life in gay colonial America — or the lack thereof.
Frederick Gotthold Enslin served in the Continental Army under George Washington. Though you’ve probably studied the Revolutionary War throughout your education, you’ve probably never heard the story of the Valley Forge trial involving slander, court martial and exile.
Frederick Gotthold Enslin was the first man to be discharged from the Army for sodomy.
We know very little about Enslin. He may have arrived in Philadelphia from the Netherlands in 1774, according to a ship’s log. In 1778, during a cold winter in the midst of the Revolutionary War, an ensign at Valley Forge began spreading a rumor that Frederick Gotthold Enslin had committed sodomy. At first, the ensign was charged with “propagating a scandalous report,” but he was later acquitted when the rumors were judged to be true.
Frederick Gotthold Enslin
George Washington himself wrote the report and approved a sentence of exile from the Army. “Lieut. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning,” records indicate.
And so on March 15, 1778, Gotthold Enslin was forced to march from camp with his coat turned inside-out, never to return. There are no records referencing his eventual fate.
Native Americans versus colonists
That’s certainly not the only record of a difficult life for queer people prior to America’s founding. Though Native Americans fostered a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, the invading Europeans established harsh penalties for same-sex relationships.
The Mamitaree tribe freely allowed people to choose their gender expression and in the Crow tribe, a woman led battles and married other women.
The colonists did what they could to oppress queer indigenous people. “There will be much to do when the Holy Faith and the Christian religion are established among them,” wrote one religious official.
The colony’s “Body of Laws and Liberty” explicitly identified sodomy as a capital crime. In contrast, many European countries were decriminalizing homosexuality at this time, thanks to enlightenment philosophy that elevated individual freedoms.
Harsh Puritan penalties for gay colonial America
The Puritans established a brutal and punishing society, torturing individuals they thought guilty of homosexuality. In this climate, some queer people attempted to separate themselves from the cruel colonists.
In the 1600s, Thomas Morton founded a town called Merrymount (which was at the time an obscene slang term) and built a giant penis (a Maypole) in the town center. The Puritans destroyed the town a few years later and had Morton deported back to England.
A century later, a woman named Deborah Sampson Gannett disguised herself as a man and joined the Army, fighting alongside men until an injury exposed the truth.
We have only limited knowledge of the queer lives of colonists because they were forced to remain hidden. At certain times, homosexuality was punishable by death. It is only in recent decades that America has begrudgingly accepted that its citizenry includes queer people — echoes of those court-martials, deportations and executions still remain with us to this day.
Did you know about the history of Frederick Gotthold Enslin? What do you think about life in gay colonial America?
This article was originally published on Jan 2, 2021. It has since been updated.
Hot off the Press
Last week, Christie’s, the famed auction house, auctioned off a copy of what they described as America’s first banned book — a 1637 first edition of The New English Canaan. The book, a diatribe against the Puritans of New England, sold for US$60,000. But, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders, you can read it for free at Project Gutenberg.
When the Puritans fled England in the early 17th Century to seek religious freedom in the wilderness of America, they had no intention of extending that freedom to anyone else. Their settlements were under tight theocratic control. But they were not the only Englishmen interested in settling in America. Others with less spiritual motives had also come across the Atlantic — to seek their fortunes.
The two groups were bound to clash. Among the entrepreneurs who earned the Puritans’ ire was Thomas Morton (1579–1647). He first came to America for a few months in 1622 as the agent for a British businessman. There he found “two sortes of people, the one Christians, the other Infidels these I found most full of humanity, and more friendly then the other.” Having no use for the Puritans, Morton took the trouble to acquaint himself with the native Americans and their language and customs.
In 1624, he returned to engage in fur trading with the Algonquian natives in the Puritans’ Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. The Puritans objected to Morton and his associates selling guns and liquor to the natives, so in 1625 Morton moved on to found his own settlement, Merrymount, in present-day Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1627, he and his fun-loving compatriots irritated the Puritans by holding a May Day revel with the natives. Plymouth governor William Bradford, in his History of Plimoth Plantation, referred to Morton as a “lord of misrule” and railed against the Merrymount colonists and native women “dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises.” (This bacchanal inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s story, “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” in Twice-Told Tales.) The growing prosperity of the Merrymount colony — which threatened the Puritans’ trade monopoly — and an even wilder May Day celebration the following year, only added insult to injury.
So Plymouth struck back, with a military offensive against Merrymount led by Myles Standish. Morton was arrested and banished to a deserted island off the coast of New Hampshire, and his 80-foot maypole was chopped down. After various unpleasant vicissitudes, including nearly starving to death, Morton made his way back to England. There, he successfully sued the Puritans’ financial machine, the Massachusetts Bay Company, and got its charter revoked in 1635.
With the help of London literary friends like Ben Jonson, Morton turned the notes he had made for his lawsuit into an explosive three-volume book, The New English Canaan, published in Amsterdam in 1637. It contains a pointed and entertaining screed against the Puritans’ theocratic rule in Massachusetts, their intolerance for dissent, and their efforts to wipe out the native population.
The first two books of The New English Canaan are mostly non-controversial, containing Morton’s observations on the native Americans, whom he respected greatly, and on the rich natural resources in New England. It was in the third book that Morton rolled up his sleeves and got down to his real purpose of skewering the New England Puritans, who, he said, “make a great shewe of Religion, but no humanity.”
Morton was particularly appalled at the Puritans’ mistreatment of the native Americans. He recounted various instances in which the Puritans cheated the natives, stole their land, and massacred them. He also criticized the Puritans for wanting to keep New England’s resources a secret from the public so as to have them all to themselves.
The third book also gives Morton’s side of the May Day story and its aftermath, interspersed with poems and songs. One song, which had been tacked up on the giant maypole, was bound to gall the Puritans, combining as it did intemperance with lasciviousness:
Morton also thinly disguised many of the Puritan figures in his book with humorously insulting names, such as “Captaine Shrimpe” for Myles Standish.
The Puritans were not amused. Governor Bradford referred to The New English Canaan as “an infamouse & scurillous booke against many godly & cheefe men of y e cuntrie full of lyes & slanders, and fraight with profane callumnies against their names and persons, and y e ways of God.” When Morton returned to America, the Puritans arrested him on various charges, including having “set forth a book against us.” He died an exile in Maine in 1647.
The edition of The New English Canaan at Project Gutenberg is an 1883 reprint of the first edition, with an illuminating introduction that lays out a detailed history of America’s first banned book.
This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.