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            “When they find any man like to prove an enemy to their Church and State…the 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….” (New English Canaan, Book III)


Early Life: 1570s-1624


Thomas Morton (born c. 1576) grew up in England’s wild West Country, most likely in Devonshire during Elizabeth I’s long reign. Devon denotes “people of the land” 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 “gentle” families there. At times families mixed these with raucous “roving feasts” across a landscape rich with pre-English ruins, from barrow-tombs to Roman stones. Anglican rites and Maypole Revels hallowed and celebrated people’s relations with nature and each other. “Brawling Bristol” 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,

“Now Is The Month of Maying”

and “Strike It Up, Tabor.”


Devonshire men and women liked their traditional independent ways: they had shared Cornwall’s 1549 Western Rebellion during England’s 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 “reformers” called the West Country a “dark corner of the land,” but Morton his life-long was for “Old England’s” social ways.



Nothing is known of Morton’s mother. If he was son of “a soldier,” there were thousands in England’s wars against Spain until the Armada’s defeat in 1588. Morton’s father might also have served in attempts to subjugate Ireland (see Canny), where many future American colonizers inflicted “progress” 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’s 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 “conduct book” advised, wise parents “in their children’s 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” (81).

We might imagine young Morton, fishing with his kinsmen, handed a social guide-book by an uncle:

“A 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….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….

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….He must be full of love, both to his pleasure and to his neighbor….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….”

(Gervase Markham, The Pleasure of Princes, or, Good Men’s Recreations, 1613)


Apparently, Thomas had an older brother (his will mentions a “niece”). 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 “law school” at the Inns of Court in London. The associated Inns and courts made up England’s great “finishing school” for all kinds of ambitious men (Prest’s book treats levels of Inns activities and connections). New students usually stayed at an Inn shared by home-county fellows: in Morton’s Devon case, it was Clifford’s Inn. Famous Inns men ranged from Humphrey Gilbert and John Smith to John Donne, Ben Jonson and young Shakespeare.




London in Morton’s times. Overcrowding and appalling sanitation kept bubonic plague sporadically alive, and sent other diseases into North America.


England’s population almost doubled in Morton’s 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: “A singular profit hurts and harms a commonwealth” (1466),  and “They think no sin, where profit comes between [people]” (1500-1520). See Patricia Fumerton on how a new “separation” 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:

“Your 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….”

Yet another social and cultural tension informed these times: whether one favored the Renaissance (the revival of ancient “pagan” 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 “reforming” England, for starters, based upon it. While new King James’ Book of Sports tried to declare what old “pastimes” were still permissible, most people, “in-between” to different degrees, sensed that England’s (and America’s) 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 “God’s Word” as a basis for community or an answer to “idleness” and “disorder.” An avid “sportsman” all his days, Morton stood not for “counter-culture” (as he was read in the 1960s), but for England’s oldest traditional ways, both official and non-Christian.

He understood too what “freedom to read The Bible” 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 “The fountains of learning …are corrupted, perverted and utterly overthrown” (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 “takes his green book in hand, we shall have such a deal of bibble-babble that I am weary to hear it…and take a good nap…for he speaks against us for our dancing….We had a good parson here before, but now we have a puritan” (qtd. in Johnson 295).

And that was how Puritan came into Morton’s English --- denoting “precise 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” (i.e., “contingent” or “alterable”: Canaan 139). The “Brownists” or “Pilgrims” of Plimoth, just coming of age at this time, would become the cutting edge of Separation.



Morton’s satires derided extreme principles. His watchwords: “Moderation, and discretion” (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. “I will go the surest way to work first, and see how others are answered in the like kind.”

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’s human and natural condition(s). Sir Francis Bacon was then laying bare “the idols of the tribe” 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’s New English Canaan speaks back to Puritan plans for America based in Exodus and The Old Testament --- with the unblinkable human presence of “Canaanite” or Native American civilizations. At the Inns of Court, Thomas Morton grew prepared to become a many-sided man: a “passionate moderate.”



The crackling social and cultural atmosphere expanded his being. Students bantered mountains of law-books and literature in legal “moots” and on flimsy stages: you learned to write and speak persuasively, wherever you were going. As a group, “common lawyers” 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 “solemn foolery” that camouflaged much mockery of Power. “Pastoral Realism” was for Morton, its feeling for nature and merciless humor. And he was there when the country Maypole and “Indians” shared the court masque stage with “Proteus” in the greatest of shows for Elizabeth in 1594---Gesta Grayorum. See “Reading the Revels” 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 “Axbridge” as some kind of refuge. Morton was angered by the sufferings of displaced countrymen who filled new tent-cities, “furnished” prisons and gallows, and learned himself that “Hell is in Westminster under the Exchequer Office.”

Merchants of the West Country ports like Bristol ran a “permissive frontier” (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 “landsmen” 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’s abilities to American enterprises. Late in life he had the skills to be arguing for Gorges in England’s 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’ and Plimoth’s (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’s 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 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….



Middle Years, 1624-1630

Listen below to Thomas Morton’s words on the beauty he found in New England:
“The more I looked, the more I liked it….”



Click to read the full text of  New English Canaan, Book II ,
which contains Morton’s 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:

Who Is America’s First Poet in English?




            Aboard the Unity under Captain Wollaston, “with 30 servants, and provision of all sorts fit for a plantation,” Thomas Morton sighted New England on June 25 (then, New Year’s 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’s 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 “improvise” in order to make the voyage pay --- including where to assign the indentured men. (Examples of their contracts, rights, and hopes in Ford’s “Wollaston,” and Mass. Historical Society Proceedings XIV [1875-6], 359-381.)

Between Gorges and Morton, who talked whom into putting Thomas’s 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’s Council for New England. The criteria? High dry ground, fresh water, good soil, and easy access between “up country” Native inlands and the sea.



In their first weeks they fished and took on stores of processed whale or “train” 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 “at least half died every year” (Letter of Don Diego de Molina in Tyler ed., Narratives of Early Virginia). For eight more weeks, Morton’s company somehow, somewhere awaited Rastall’s return. But Rastall sent a letter in August instead, demanding that Wollaston bring Unity’s human capital to Jamestown.

Without “vittles” for that voyage, Wollaston gained some at Monhegan Island --- which may suggest that they still lacked much connection to the land. (Morton had been “cloyed” with plentiful lobster “the first day I went ashore,” 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’s “contrary winds,” then turned for home.



Somewhere that summer, Lt. Fitcher, Thomas Morton and his “consociates” disembarked and were set up at “Mount Wollaston,” on the southerly rim of Massachusetts Bay. He first referred to their household as “nine persons, besides dogs.”

 Though the harbor at the foot of the “mount’s” 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’s “white sandy and very bold” 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 “great store of plain ground without trees” (Wood 57): the Massachusetts’ fields, or what might have remained of their Three Sister gardens, since “plague” had swept away nine of out ten Native people (1616-18).




When adventurers “broke up” on the land, men had “liberty to shift for themselves” until new arrangements. Fitcher, at his duty, must have held to the undesirable hope that next year they’d 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’s first set of crimes:

“This Morton…having more craft than honesty…in the others’ 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….”        (History 2: 47-8)

Morton’s 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 “Pilgrims” of Plimoth Plantation.


            “Reading the Revels” provides the best clues we have about Morton’s first Massachusetts meeting. His “Poem” hints that somewhere along the “bold shore,” possibly near Squa Rock (above), he met a Massachusett woman sitting “solitary on the ground,” “in form of” both “Scilla” and Niobe” --- 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 “bold” Squa Sachem to bring Thomas Morton’s 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’s mother’s 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 “Martialist” 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 “middle” 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 “factors” in trade partly by giving them guns --- if guns helped to bring in the profits, or assisted the “conquest” of hostile tribes. Bristol never could say No.

In the eyes of Chikatawbak’s 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’s Neponsets took advantage of a well-connected straggler’s company to hold onto Nittauke: “My land.” 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’s Book I. He blamed England for “plague,” and likened the abandoned villages he saw full of skulls and bones to “Golgotha,” 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 “perfection in the use of the senses”; 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 “philosophical life.” Summing up Book I, Morton found that ideally at least, both English and Native Americans aspired to “Plato’s Commonwealth.” His own Devon ways of hospitality and code of “quietness” proved serviceable. It remained to see what more fair means could do.

“He that played Proteus best, and could comply with her humor, must be the man that would carry her” (140).


Listen below to Morton on the “Subtlety” of Massachusett Sachem Chikatawbak, in New English Canaan Book I, Chapter XIV ---



            “While our houses were building,” Morton’s second first encounter (likely in 1625) was on a visit to Plimoth Plantation, where he found and praised much “industry” by William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Myles Standish, Isaac Allerton and others of the mixed “Saints and Strangers.” He must have seen the Native head(s) atop Plimoth’s fort, for he wrote a Book III chapter on the “Massacre” at Weymouth too, criticizing that and treatment of Weymouth investor Thomas Weston. Come over “in disguise” to see “how things were,” Weston was shipwrecked, stripped to his shirt by Merrimack Natives, and reached Plimoth with “things boiling in his mind.”

            Here, where Morton’s and Plimoth’s (Time Line 3) stories join, Weston was helped out of town. But Morton, though served “fresh butter and a salad of eggs in dainty wise” there, made few friends among his fellow but “Separatist” countrymen. He considered their fort and watch-house “needless.” Its effects on trade had made them “Princes of Limbo.” Did he then outwit a Plimoth plot to strand him on an island, using a feast and “claret sparkling neat” to win back fellows tempted by Plimoth’s pious order? Before long the “notorious gun-runner” answered back:


            “And 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….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….

            “But I have found the Massachusetts Indians more full of humanity than the Christians….The more Salvages, the better quarter: the more Christians, the worser quarter, I found; as all the indifferent-minded planters can testify.”   (Canaan 113)

            Something like an experiment was unfolding. After a time of modest success by fair means in the Northeast, Plimoth’s Christians had tried their “new creed” approach. Now it was Thomas Morton’s turn. Hence, his second set of crimes:

            “Now, 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…and 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…

Yea, it is well known that they will have powder and shot, when the English want it nor cannot get it….Yea, some…have told them how gunpowder is made, and all the materials in it, and that they are to be had in their own land….

O the horribleness of this villainy!...Oh! that princes and parliaments would take some timely order to prevent this mischief…by some exemplary punishment….” (Bradford History 2: 52-53)


            Where not a noble stirred to make James’ Proclamation an actual law, Bradford painted the “crisis” without many clues to the game.

Within a year, Mount Wollaston was nearing its peak. From 1625-1627 Morton’s trading-boat, and “his” young men guided up-country to trap beaver, “gleaned away all” that year’s 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 “sail inside” thick competition, bypassing fishermen, the planters of Piscataqua (who were “threatening” to pursue a land-patent, in Bradford’s History 1: 449); and Plimoth, for all its travail of six long years.

            Just as “all planters” were beginning to taste “the sweetness of the country” (Bradford Letters 36), Plimothers reached the Kennebec River in Maine, where Winslow took their first surplus corn to trade with Abenakis, to “good success.” At the same time (Bradford 2: 49), “all the scum of the country” were gathering at Mount Wollaston. By no means could Plimoth allow a new rival to interfere with their sole profitable enterprise (Willison 229). Morton’s deeds and plans “bred a kind of heart-burning” in his neighbors (Canaan 155), and they were bound to act.

   Listen below to Morton’s description “Of The Revels of New Canaan” in May 1627


            From the Inns of Court, Morton brought the skill to “make emblems” that wove together different realities into a language with effect. He went “the surest way to work first” and wove together people’s 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 “solemn foolery,” from dance and performance to public oratory, and these too were values in common with Native traditions (see Bragdon, “’Emphaticall Speech’”). Not surprisingly, young men with Morton hoped for wives, but no one wanted to “ship home” for one. Here, then, came the largest open Native-English intermarriage on any credible early record. Spain’s 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.

“As if this jollity would have lasted ever,” Bradford croaked.



We recognize every element of this multicultural event. Indeed, Morton was here “like the others,” to colonize. But his “moderate” means meant a world of difference. He gave Native people one free item, salt, to encourage food-preservation and “settling down” --- because that was the least disruptive way for Englishmen to recognize their presences. Morton let readers think he saw “the Lord’s Angel” in New England’s epidemics, but he laced this with irony and pointed The Bible at England. He said Native people had “no religion,” but showed how it was everywhere in their world.



Morton said one race “must rule, or no quietness”; 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’s hand was turned to it. But the entire work he also packed with unmatched feeling for nature, and a demand for “respect”: he flanked it with Native America’s 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 “Master Bubble,” below. It stands among the country’s first multicultural short stories. He was trying to educate a juggernaut.

Minimize Canaan’s impact. Deconstruct Morton’s 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 “Poem” proclaiming through a “love story” 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 “medicine” offered from Ma-Re Mount. Then the drinking- “Song”, whose first word in each simple verse spelled out Morton’s formula: Make/Nectar/Give/Give. Sung “with a Chorus” of youths with pick-up instruments, the “Song” 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, “cohabitations” --- 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 “scurrilous” verses nailed to the Maypole (2: 49) and much “frisking,” of “fairies, or Furies, rather.” Morton’s “Revels” chapter says they “could not expound” The Poem’s Riddle: it “put their noses out of joint, as the proverb is.” Morton imagined the Maypole rearing up over them like a “seven-headed Hydra”: a core of six men around him (likely some with families) who had, like a Hydra, too much reach for Plimoth’s liking.

“At defiance with” the Maypole, “Some 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….”(140).

Compassion and the courage to try new things were at these Revels’ core. “Reading The Revels” shows more behind each line of both creations.

Listen below to Morton’s original “Poem,” and read along with the “modernized” 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’s own beauteous Mother,

That here’s a wise fool’s 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’s lost, if we should hear her knell---

The great Earth Mother’s 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 “The Song” to music by Mark Waterhouse and Jack Dempsey




Drink and be merry, merry, merry boys,

Let all your delights be in Hymen’s 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’s good liquor to keep it warm.


So drink and be merry, merry, merry boys...


Nectar is a thing assigned

By the Deity's own mind

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’s free from scorn

Nor Irish [cloth] nor Scotch o’er-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’s life:


            A year after May Day (June 1628), Myles Standish or “Captain Shrimp” sprung his second ambush at Weymouth. But Morton, a guest there, slipped laughing out of Standish’s grasp (and slammed the door behind). He was probably still laughing to think of Plimothers complaining to their nemesis King James’ officials. So he had answered their “friendly warnings”: “The King is dead, and his displeasure with him.” Morton was right on legal and real-world grounds. He had to be forced out.

            Plimoth commenced the Keystone Cops period of Thomas Morton’s 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 “not so much as rebuked” (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 “better walking.” Plimoth sent a boat to Maine and arrested one Edward Ashley, another “notorious irregular trader” whose beaver-trade paid Bristol, not Plimothers’ debts.

Listen below to Canaan’s Book III, Ch. 21, on Morton’s 1629 resistance to John Endecott of Salem’s plan --- that all trade and living be “according to the Word of God.”




Tiny clues suggest that Morton shared out his mock-epic “Bacchanall Triumph”  at this time, on his voyage through The Underworld at Plimoth. That winter 1629, as Merrymount kept Christmas, Endecott’s ice-caked boat arrived from Salem. “Captain Littleworth” had traded away their corn for a boon of beaver. His men took all they could of Merrymount’s 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 “Boston Neck” 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’s “Reasons” (Papers 2: 141) had already decided that Native Americans could have no rights in land because, supposedly, they did nothing to “improve” 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’ 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 “as good live in Turkey” as under these newcomers.


Listen below to Canaan Book III, Ch. 23, on Morton’s 1630 arrest and exile:




            Thomas Morton, “summoned” on August 23, was the first defendant before the Massachusetts Bay Court, on September 7, 1630. (Record in Shurtleff 1: 74). The “city on a hill” held no trial. There was “no color of law whatsoever” (Zuckerman’s phrase), with even a fake murder-warrant that never saw legal light of day. Boston simply ordered the burning of Merrymount before Morton’s 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’ first business was to end those first Transatlantic experiments. Negotiation and compromise were “new creed” sins against The Lord. A new phase of experiment in how to live in America was in their hands.

Massachusetts Bay Company ordered “all males” to be “exercised in arms.” Native people were forbidden at plantations except at assigned times, and a “stiff directive” promised “severe” punishment for gun-trade --- soon carried out when one “Hopkins of Watertown” was “branded in the face” for trading “a piece and pistol” to the friendly Sagamore James, of Saugus (Vaughan Frontier 94-5). Within a year, anyone with Native “servants” was to discharge them, and to forbid Native people in their houses without permission from the Court (Shurtleff Records 1: 83).

“We have great Ordnance,” wrote Rev. Frances Higginson (in Force 3). “But…our greatest comfort is, we have plenty of Preaching, and diligent Catechizing, with strict and careful exercise…to bring our people into a Christian conversation with [those] whom we have to do withal….If God be with us, who can be against us?”

Another ominous development was also preposterous.

Myles Standish and John Endecott were poised to become the “Injun Expert” 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 “protected” inside the palisades. “Religion” was putting its faith in guns and foolhardy tactics at the same time. Endicott took his wrath into the Pequot “Long Water Land.”

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’s 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’s second exile, and the “Late” 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’s Left Wing Democracy in the English Civil War, for thinking people in the Renaissance “The 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.”

Morton prized reason as “the light of nature,” as did Gerard Winstanley, a leader of “displaced” people in England (and no university man): it was “a 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” (Winstanley qtd. 179). Diggers, Ranters, Quakers and more defied the “new economy” of profit and war. Close to Charles’ court that he was, Morton had a history of liking “ale house intellectuals,” such as Ben Jonson.




            Exiled for 15 years, Morton was going win his lawsuit, and come back to “the land he loveth.” Meanwhile (1637) he published New English Canaan --- the work of a “pastoral realist” who saw the Garden in America, and refused to be silent while idiotic “Martialists” 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’s Worcester, Mass. area]; thereabouts being more beaver to be had than this Milo could carry. And, both his journeymen glad that he was “good man,” 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’ 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, “Avoid, Satan! What have ye to do with me?” 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’s 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’, 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


The Maypole of Merrymount:  
A Young Reader's Story of Early America

(Large file in PDF format)

Wanted:  A Children’s Book Illustrator!


Enjoy the 1992 documentary Thomas Morton by Jack Dempsey
(2 hours; more info in Books & Films)



Dialogue with others
about these subjects.
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