The May-Pole of Merrymount


MAY-DAY, 1627.

THE May-pole of Merrymount—that May-pole which inspired the historian Motley’s first effort in literature, and which Hawthorne made the subject of a brilliant sketch — was erected on Mayday of the year 1627. The 1st of May, old style, fell upon what is now the 10th of the month. Accordingly, on the tenth day of the coming mouth of May the full period of two hundred and fifty years will have elapsed since Thomas Morton and his motley crew awoke the echoes of the wilderness on the shores of Boston bay; greeting with noisy revels what may, perhaps, not inaptly be described as the English anniversary of summer’s birth.

Two hundred and fifty years represent no trifling portion of the history of any people. They constitute in themselves a very respectable antiquity. In the case of America they carry us back to the beginning of all things, — to the genesis of the race; while even in connection with other and older lands, when we turn to the men and events of 1627, we are surprised to find ourselves on what is in reality the threshold of modern history. We always think of America as the youngest of the family, and so indeed it is; and yet even America’s years begin to accumulate. When the May-pole was set up at Merrymount, a quarter of a thousand years ago the coming 10th of May, the names of Hampden and Cromwell and Milton were as unknown to history as those of Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson. Lord Bacon had died the year before, and a striking illustration is supplied of the little progress which modern science then had made by the fact that he — the greatest, wisest of mankind — to the last hesitated to accept as true that theory of the heavens which Copernicus had expounded only a few years less than a full century before, and the exact laws of which Kepler and Galileo were but then divining. It was but nine years since Harvey had discovered the circulation of the blood. The first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays was almost the latest novelty in English literature; it had been published four years, and the author had been dead fourteen. For Paradise Lost the world had yet to wait for forty years. Guido and Rubens were in the zenith of their artist fame, but Rembrandt was still a young and unknown man. Ravaillac had murdered Henry IV. seventeen years before, and the memory of his deed was no less fresh in men’s minds then than that of Booth’s is now. Buckingham was destined to fall by Felton’s hand just one year later. Russia existed, but had not yet begun to live; and the exploits of Bethlen - Gabor filled the mind of Eastern Europe. Germany had been torn through eight only of her thirty years’ religions war, and Captain Dalgetty’s master, “ the Lion of the North, the immortal Gustavus Adolphus,” had not yet drawn his sword as the Protestant champion. His opponent Tilly was still in the full flush of victory, and four years later was to earn an immortal infamy in connection with the horrors of Magdeburg. In France, Richelieu, the Cardinal-Duke, had been three years in power, and Louis XIV. was not born until 1638. The recollections of St. Bartholomew still haunted the memories and consciences of survivors. Charles I. had been two years king of England; and his successor in the rule, Oliver Cromwell, was a clownish Huntingdon squire in his twenty-eighth year. Sir Walter Raleigh had gone to the block on Tower Hill in 1618; Sir Isaac Newton was not born until 1642.

In the midst of centennial memories names like these sound strangely remote. So far as America is concerned, they seem associated with a prehistoric past. Yet it was in that past, in the days of those men, that the events which are now to be described took place. It was while Richelieu governed, Gustavus fought, Rembrandt painted, Galileo pondered, and Milton wrote. The modern world was in its youth then, and the men who lived in it, were filled with the spirit of its novelty.

Among the many who shared to a greater or less degree in this spirit of the day was a Captain Wollaston, who, in the summer of 1625, sailed into Boston bay in command of a vessel which there dropped its anchor. The country about those parts was even then not wholly uninhabited. The Indians, it is true, had some years before been nearly annihilated by a pestilence, and scarcely a cowed and slinking remnant of the once powerful Massachusetts tribe lingered about their former homes. It is said there were not over thirty warriors left in the whole region about the bay. It was an absolute wilderness, but here and there — very few and very far between — were straggling Europeans, living .alone on the sea-shore. The Pilgrims had been settled at Plymouth, twenty miles further south, fur five years, and their little community numbered then some one hundred and eighty souls, dwelling in thirty-two houses, surrounded by a stockade about half a mile in compass. Where Boston now stands there lived a solitary, bookish recluse, William Black stone by name, cultivating his garden and watching the growth of some apple-trees; while Thomas Walford, a blacksmith, was his nearest neighbor, dwelling in “ an English palisadoed and thatched house,” over at Charlestown. Either shortly before or immediately after Wollaston’s arrival a Mr. John Maverick fixed his home at Noddle’s Island, now East Boston, where for protection against the Indians he built himself a block-house, or stronghold of some sort, armed with four large guns, or " murtherers.” In this work he was aided by his neighbor, David Thomson, a Scotchman, who owned the peninsula of Squantum and the Farm-School island, which still bears his name. He, however, came a year later, in 1626, and was dwelling there in 1627 with his wife and infant son. In that part of the town of Weymouth then called Wessagusset and now known as “ Old Spain,” still lingered the remnants of an unsuccessful colony, which a Captain Robert Gorges had sought to plant there two years before, in 1623, but which he himself had soon abandoned. At Nantasket, “ an uncoth place,” there dwelt a few more straggling people; while across the bay, at Cape Ann, “ a place more convenient for those that belong to the tribe of Zebulun than for those that chose to dwell in the tents of Issaehar,”1 tarried the outcasts from Plymouth, John Oldham, John Lyford, and Roger Conant. Two brothers by the name of Hilton were also established near where Portsmouth now stands, in New Hampshire; while on the Isles of Shoals and along the coast of Maine, there were transient stations to supply the needs of the fishing fleet, which with each returning spring visited the neighboring waters. In all, perhaps; some two hundred and fifty souls may have been scattered along the seven hundred miles of New England coast, most of them at Plymouth.

Among these Captain Wollaston made his appearance, one of a little company of adventurers, consisting of three or four men of some substance and thirty or forty servants, as they then were called, or persons who had sold their services for a term of years, and during that period occupied towards their employers the position of apprentices. Those in control of the enterprise had no object in view other than gain, and this they thought to secure by establishing a plantation, trading post, and fishing station on the shores of a region concerning the climate and resources of which, while no real knowledge existed, the vaguest and most fabulous stories had been told. Of Captain Wollaston almost nothing at all, not even his given name, is known. So far as New England history is concerned, he was a bird of passage; flitting out from an English obscurity, he rested for a brief space upon a hillock on the shore of Boston bay, giving to it his name as a memorial forever, and then forthwith disappeared into that oblivion from which he came. Among the Plymouth people he bore the reputation of being “ a man of pretie parts” and of “ some eminencie, ” and that is both the substance and the sum of all we know about him.

What could ever have induced visionaries and gentlemen adventurers like Gorges, Gardiner, Weston, and Wollaston to seek to establish themselves amid surroundings of a nature so very unpropitious is ever a subject of honest wonder to the New Englander of to-day. That their attempts one after another failed calls for no explanation, as a ready one suggests itself in a niggard soil and an inclement winter. To face and overcome these required that dreary though admirable tenacity of purpose which religious fervor only supplies. In point of fact, however, there is a very simple way of accounting for those failures. Surprising as it now seems, the time was when New England also was accounted an unknown, earthly paradise, — a sort of garden of the Hesperides, even if it should not prove the veritable El Dorado. This time, it is true, was short, but it did exist; and it lasted from about 1610 to 1625. The idea had its origin with the early explorers, who saw nothing of New England’s dark and repellent side. They did not; come here when the rocks were covered with ice and the thin soil was seared and scarred by the winter’s frost. They never saw that side of the picture; and the side they did see was pleasant enough. Their accounts, consequently, were of the most rose-colored and deceptive character; and from them one might yet well picture New England as a sort of nature’s garden, in which perennial vineyards were circled by soft summer seas. Some of these descriptions are even now very pleasant reading. Not only Captain Robert Gorges, but Wollaston and even Weston had doubtless read, for instance, Captain John Smith’s description of New England, which he published in 1616, six years before any of those named undertook personally lo verify the accuracy of his account. Smith was here in the summer, and in July and August he explored the coast. Even more than those of most travelers, Smith’s adventures lost nothing in the telling. He thus describes Boston bay, and under the glowing touch of the pen to which we owe that charming creation of American fable, the Princess Pocahontas Mediatrix, the stern reality is metamorphosed into this vision of delight: —

“ And surely by reason of those sandy cliffs and cliffs of rocks, both which we saw so planted with gardens and corn fields, and so well inhabited with a goodly, strong, and well-proportioned people, besides the greatness of the timber growing on them, the greatness of the fish, and the moderate temper of the air, who can but approve this a most excellent place, both for health and fertility? And of all the four parts of the world that I have yet seen, not inhabited, could I have but means to transport a colony, I would rather live here than anywhere. And if it did not maintain itself, were we but once indifferently well fitted, let us starve, . . .

“ Here nature and liberty affords us that freely, which in England we want, or it costeth us dearly. What pleasure can be more than (being tired with any occasion ashore) in planting vines, fruits or herbs, in contriving their own grounds to the pleasure of their own minds, . . . to recreate themselves before their own doors in their own boats upon the sea, where man, woman and child, with a small hook and line, by angling, may take divers sorts of excellent fish at their pleasures? . . . And what sport doth yield a more pleasing content, and less hurt or charge than angling with a hook, and crossing the sweet air from isle to isle, over the silent streams of a calm sea? . . .

“ For gentlemen, what exercise should more delight them, than ranging daily those unknown parts, using fowling and fishing for hunting and hawking? . . . For hunting, also, — the woods, lakes and rivers afford not only chase sufficient for any that delights in that kind of toil or pleasure, hut such beasts to hunt, that besides the delicacy of their bodies for food, their skins are so rich as may well recompense thy daily labor with a captain’s pay.”

This and not the reality was what Gorges, Weston, and Wollaston expected to find when they came to Boston bay; and it is small matter for surprise if they were proportionally disappointed, and even abandoned their ventures when the unwelcome truth forced itself upon them. Both the Weston and Wollaston expeditions, also, were on the most approved plan, specially recommended by the early explorers, consisting of some thirty or forty men unincumbered by wives or families; with such they were assured they need “ not fear, hut to do more good there in seven years than in England in twenty.” Captain Christopher Levett, by the way, to whom this last assurance was due, was one of Captain Bobert Gorges’ body of assistants, under that official’s brief governor - generalcy, and when giving his impressions of the country, he thus refers to Smith’s glowing account, at the same time imparting an air of moderation to his own sufficiently battering statement : —

“ I will not do therein as some have done to my knowledge, speak more than is true; I will not tell you that you may smell the corn fields before you see the land; neither must men think that corn doth grow naturally (or on trees,) nor will the deer come when they are called, or stand still and look on a man until he shoot him, not knowing a man from a beast; nor the fish leap into the kettle. nor on the dry land, neither are they so plentiful, that you may dip them up in baskets, nor take cod in nets to make a voyage, which is no truer than that the fowls will present themselves to you with spits through them.”

But besides these general descriptions of a land unoccupied and yet flowing with milk and honey, another account of the region of Massachusetts Bay, and perhaps the most glowing account of all, had privately reached Wollaston and his associates, and, doubtless, was the deciding motive of their venture. Of Thomas Morton it will remain to speak more at length presently; here it need only be said that he was one of Wollaston’s company, and that he now came to New England not for the first time. Three years before he had passed a few months here, coming in June and returning to England in September, taking back with him a summer’s impressions. He thus tells what those impressions were and what, doubtless, he led his companions to expect: —

“ And when I had more seriously considered of the bewty of the place, with all her faire indowments, I did not thinke that in all the knowne world it could be paralel’d. For so many good groues of trees; dainty fine round rising hillucks: delicate faire large plaines, sweete cristall fountaines, and cleare running streames, that twine in fine meanders through the meads, making so sweete a murmering noise to heare, as would even lull the sences with delight a sleepe, so pleasantly doe, they glide upon the pebble stones, jetting most jocundly where they doe meete; and hand in hand runne downe to Neptunes Court, to pay the yearely tribute, which they owe to him as soveraigne Lord of all the springs, Contained within the volume of the Land, Fowles in abundance, Fish in multitude, and discovered besides; Millions of Turtledoves one the greene boughes: which sate pecking, of the full ripe pleasant grapes, that were supported by the lusty trees, whose fruitfull loade did cause the armes to bend, which here and there dispersed (you might see) Lillies and of the Daphnean - tree, which made the Land to mee seem paradice, for in mine eie, t’ was Natures Master-pecce: Her ehiefest Magazine of, all where lives her store: if this Land be not rich, then is the whole world poore.”

As he who thus described this paradise of “ Lillies and of the Daphncan-tree ” was of the party, it would seem to be fairly matter of inference that he guided it to Passonagessit, as what is now Mt. Wollaston was called in the Indian tongue. This lay within the present limits of the town of Quincy, directly across the marshes from Wessagusset, now Weymouth, and less than two miles away, being separated from the site of the Weston and Gorges plantation only by the Monatiquot River and the saltwater creeks and estuaries which indent that shore in all directions. There is reason for believing that Morton had taken part in Weston’s unfortunate experiment at Wessagusset three years before. Now that he was returning, therefore, again to try his fortune in those parts, he naturally turned his steps to those pleasant places which he so vividly recalled as he first saw them in the bright freshness of a New England June, and as he left them in the mellow softness of its September. He found Wessagusset still occupied by the remnants of Gorges’ company, who had now been there nearly two years, so that he and his associates had necessarily to look elsewhere for an abiding place; Passonagessit was, moreover, in many respects, for the purposes of the adventurers, the better spot of the two. They came there to trade. While ranging the coast in his open boat, in 1614, Smith had “ got for trifles near eleven hundred beaver-skins, one hundred martens, and near as many otters; and the most of them within the distance of twenty leagues.” In Morton’s mind, therefore, the plantation was a mere incident, in all probability, to the establishing a regular trade in peltries. A prominent position on the shore in unobstructed view of the entrance to the bay would be with him an important consideration. Wessagusset, however, though it had the deeper water and the more sheltered anchorage, was quite hidden from the sight of vessels making the harbor, and could be approached only by a long and devious channel. Passonagessit, on the contrary, lay full in view of the harbor’s entrance, a gentle upland, swelling into a hill, at the mouth of a salt-water creek which emptied into a quiet tidal bay, just midway between two promontories a couple of miles apart; while beyond these lay an apparently connected succession of islands, among which the main channel to Boston harbor threaded a devious way. The disadvantage of the place was that, except when the tide was in, it could he approached only by boats; but there was excellent anchorage beyond, and, so far as planting was concerned, Passonagessit, lying as it did close to “ the Massachusetts fields,” had years before been selected for his residence by the Sachem Chickatabut, by whom it had been cleared of trees. Indeed, he had continued to live there until he abandoned it at the time of the great pestilence.

Hither Wollaston and his companions were guided by Thomas Morton. The part taken by this individual in the May-pole episode was so very prominent that everything which can he ascertained about him becomes of interest in connection with it. Unfortunately, it is not much. He seems to have been a man of strange, inexplicable character and, probably, wholly devoid of principle. He was not unknown in the Plymouth colony, whose grave elders contemptuously spoke of him as “a petie - fogger of Furnivalls Inn.” Of Morton’s: life before he came to America absolutely nothing can now be found out. He had certainly received a classical education of some sort; for, though he could not write English, throughout all the odd jumble of his composition he shows some familiarity with the more common Latin writers, amid an elaborate display of that pedantry then so much in vogue. An authority tells us that in England he had been an attorney in one of the western counties; while be subscribes himself as being “of Clifford’s Inn, Gent.,” which means, of course, a barrister in London. That he was not wholly without means is evident from the fact that he owned an interest in the Wollaston enterprise. He was a man of convivial temper, endowed with a good deal of wit and a very well-developed sense of the humorous; but that his moral character was decidedly loose is sufficiently apparent from his own hook. He had, too, a strong, innate love of nature, and of every description of field sports; and, withal, he was a close observer, for his strange, incoherent, well-nigh unintelligible work, the New English Canaan, contains one of the best and closest descriptions of Indian life, traits, and customs which has come down to us. What, unless the love of adventure, ever originally brought him to America is not likely to be known. But when once he came here, he was never able to take himself off, nor could he even be driven away. He certainly, at first, seems to have had no connection with Gorges, nor is there reason to suppose that he belonged to any established Company of adventurers. he appears, in fact, to have been a brokendown and probably disreputable London lawyer, with a Bohemian nature and without clients, who was not unfamiliar with that Alsatian life which Scott has depicted in his Fortunes of Nigel, and who must have felt much more at home when ranging the fields with hawk or hound than while rummaging lawbooks. Indeed, he seems to have been an adept in the mysteries of falconry, having been bred, as he tells us, in the common use of hawks in England. Thomas Morton, probably, is the only man who in Massachusetts ever flew bird at quarry. In his description of the country he grows warm and almost lucid as he tells of its falcons and goshawks and lannerets, — of hoods, bells, ami lures; and describes how, on his first coming, he caught a lanneret which he “ reclaimed, trained, and made flying in a fortnight, the same being a passinger at Michaelmas.” This man, horn a sportsman, bred a lawyer, ingrained an adventurer, by some odd freak of destiny was flung up as a waif on the shores of Boston bay. Robust of frame, eager in the chase, fond of nature, it was not strange he liked the life. He was one of those whom the rugged, variable New England climate, with its brilliant skies, its bracing atmosphere, its rasping ocean winds, and its extremes of heat and cold does not kill; and such it is apt to exhilarate. So, not even a succession of winters passed on the bleak summit of his sea-side lull ever made Thomas Morton swerve from his belief that New England was “Natures Master-peece,” without a parallel in all the world. He was clearly of one mind with the Rev. Francis Higginspn of Salem, who did not hesitate to write, “ A sup of NewEnglands Aire is better than a whole draught of old Englands Ale.”

The adventurers established themselves where they did simply because it seemed good to them to do so. They had neither charter nor grant of land, and seemed to trouble themselves little about questions of title. They built their house nearly on the centre of the level summit of the hill, in Quincy, still called Mt. Wollaston, commanding to the eastward the broad bay with its distant islets, while to the north and south it looked over wide marshes and intersecting creeks, interspersed with upland to Shawmut and Wessagusset. Toward the west alone was it connected with the higher ranges of the interior, which were then still covered with their native forest growth.

The exact date of Wollaston’s arrival is not known, but not improbably it was during the month of June. A season must have passed away while the party was engaged in the work of building a house and laying out. a plantation, but this sudiced to convince Captain Wollaston that there was little profit to be hoped for out of that region. Accordingly, early in 1626, as would seem most likely, he determined to go elsewhere. Taking with him a number of the articled servants, he set sail for Virginia, leaving one of his associates, a Mr. Rasdell, in charge of the plantation. If he did not find anything else in Virginia, Captain Wollaston at least found a ready market for his “hired help;” as he is said to have there sold the time of those he carried with him on terms wholly satisfactory to himself. Having accomplished this stroke of business, Wollaston sent back to Rasdell, directing him to turn over the government of the pltyitation to a Mr. Fitcher, and himself to bring on to Virginia another detachment of the servants, whom he disposed of as he had of those which he himself brought down. It was after Rasdell’s departure, and while Fitcher was in charge, that Morton’s presence at Mt. Wollaston began to make itself felt. The evident intention on the part of his associates of breaking up the enterprise in no way accorded with his views; unlike them, he was pleased with the country, and he seems to have felt satisfied that a longer residence in it could be made a source of profit as well as of enjoyment.

Meanwhile, supplies had begun to run short, and the general spirit of the settlement was not one of contentment. Taking advantage of these facts, Morton gradually instilled into the minds of the few who remained unsold a suspicion, for which doubtless there was very good foundation, that it would be their turn next to go to Virginia; and to suggest that if they would make him the chief of the little settlement, they might then all dwell together as equals, protecting one another, and deriving profit from planting and from trade. The number of those left at the plantation was now reduced to nine, exclusive of Fitcher. All of these Morton won over to his views, and at last a species of mutiny broke out, as the result of which poor Mr. Fitcher was fairly put out-of-doors and compelled to ask food and shelter among the straggling settlers in the vicinity. Then began an episode so curious that it would be difficult to conceive one more so in connection with New England history, — one the bizarre effect of which it is not easy to describe. Certainly, no dram-shop in the midst of a conventicle, no billiard-room or bowling-alley in the basement of a Calvinistie meeting-house, could have seemed more out of place, more incongruous in its surroundings, than did the roistering Morton and his reckless crew among the devout, severe generation which had sought a home on that bleak and desolate coast.

Morton had two very distinct ends in view: one was enjoyment, the other profit. And he was equally reckless in his methods as regarded each, he delighted in wandering, fowling-piece in hand, over all the neighboring hills, or sailing in his boat on the bay. With the Indians he was evidently the most popular of Englishmen, for not only did they act as his huntsmen and guides, but they participated in his revels, —and not the men alone but the women also; for one of the principal allegations subsequently made against him referred to the very anomalous relations existing between himself and his followers and the neighboring squaws.

After the fashion of the period he was something of a scribbler of verses as well as a sportsman, and he had a decided partiality for those outdoor amusements which causes the England of those days to be referred to in ours with the pleasant prefix of “ merrie.” Accordingly, Mt. Wollaston soon ceased to he known as such, and became instead Mare Mount, in which name lay concealed a play upon words of some significance; for whereas Merry Mount was a name well calculated to stir the Puritan wrath and to be alleged against the settlement as indicative of the evil practices there in vogue, yet Mare Mount, if the name were so pronounced and spelt, was simply an appropriate and characteristic display of Latinity. Having decided upon this name, it only remained for Morton to confirm it by suitable ceremonies as a memorial. As May-day of the year 1627 approached great preparations were on foot at Mt. Wollaston, — a pole was to be reared, with merriment and revels after the old English wont. Of what took place on this occasion we know through the account left us by Morton, — himself the arch reveler or Lord of Misrule, — and whether it be strictly accurate in all respects or not, that account lacks neither minuteness nor picturesque effect. They were not an abstemious set, those first residents in Quincy, and amidst the cheer gotten ready for all comers against the great occasion, a barrel of strong beer and a liberal supply of bottles containing yet stronger fluids are especially mentioned. The May-pole itself consisted of a pine-tree eighty feet in length, wreathed with garlands and made gay with ribbons, while near its top were nailed the spreading antlers of a buck. When at last the holiday came, this pole was dragged to the summit of the mount amid the noise of drums and the discharge of fire-arms, and there firmly planted, the savages lending a willing aid in the work. A poem suited to the occasion had been prepared beforehand by Morton, a copy of which was now affixed to the pole. Of it the author says that “it being Enigmattically composed pusselled the Seperatists most pittifully to expound it,” nor has time cast any new light upon its meaning. Bradford says that these “rimes” affixed to this “idle or idoll May-polle ” tended “ to ye detraction & scandall of some persons,” but whom he does not specify, and Morton denied the imputation. In any event, with the exception of the two last lines, in which the first of May is proclaimed a holiday at Mare Mount, this earliest recorded effusion of the American muse is as unintelligible as it is inharmonious.1

Such as it was, however, it was ready, and no sooner did the May-pole stand erect than it was fastened to it, and then the revels and the merriment began.

As they danced and circled around the antlered and garlanded pine one of the company kept filling the cups of his companions, and as he did so he sang yet another song of Morton’s composition, of a highly bacchanalian character, while from time to time the rest of the rout joined in the chorus.2 These verses Bradford apparently looked upon as “ tending to lasciviousness,” but, though rather more intelligible, they were hardly more harmonious or better worth preserving than the others. Thomas Morton may have been a “ petie-fogger,” but he certainly was not a poet. In the case of the " Songe,” however, one line at least, in which reference is made to “lasses in heaver coats,” has some significance, as throwing a gleam of light on the composition of the choice company which circled round the May-pole.

Rise Oedipeus, and if thou canst unfould,
What meanes Caribdis underneath the mould,
When Scilla sollitary on the ground,
(Sitting in forme of Niobe) was found ;
Till Amphitrites Darling did acquaint,
Grim Neptune with the Tenor of her plaint,
And causd him send forth Triton with the sound,
Of Trumpet lowd, at which the Seas were found,
So full of Protean formes, that the bold shore,
Presented Scilla a new parramore,
So stronge as Sampson and so patient,
As Job himselfe, directed thus, by fate,
To comfort Scilla so unfortunate.
I doe professe by Cupids beautious mother,
Heres Scogaus choise for Scilla, and none other ;
Though Scilla’s sick with greife because no signe,
Can there be found of vertue masculino.
Esculapius come, I know right well,
His laboure’s lost when you may ring her
The fatall sisters doome none can withstand,
Nor Citliareas powre, who poynts to land,
With proclamation that the first of May,
At Ma-re Mount shall be kept hollyday.


Drinke aud be merry, merry, merry boyes,
Let all your delight be in Hymens ioyes,
Jô to Hymen now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take a Roome.
Make grcenc garlons, bring bottles out ;
And fill sweet Nectar, freely about,
Vncover thy head, and feare no harme,
For hers good liquor to keepe it warme.
Then drinke and be merry, &o.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Nectar is a thing assign'd,
By the Deities owne minde,
To cure the hart opprest with greife,
And of good liquors is the chiefe,
Then drinke, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Mellancolly man,
A cup or two of't now and than ;
This physick will soone revive his bloud,
And make him be of a merrier moodo.
Then drinke, &e.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Nymphe thats freo from scorne,
No Irish; stuff nor Scotch over wome,
Lasses in beaver coats come away,
Yee shall be welcome to us night and day.
To drinke and be merry, &c.
Jô to Hymen, &c.

it has already been stated at the commencement of this narrative that, allowing for the difference between the old and new styles, May-day in the year 1627 fell upon what is now the 10th of the month, which renders it a little less improbable that it in some respects resembled the sweet English anniversary whose observances it was thus sought to transplant. The episode, however, breaks out like a single fitful gleam of sickly sunlight amid the leaden gloom of our early New England annals, exciting a sense of warmth, cheerfulness, and sympathy. That the Puritan ancestry of Massachusetts were a remarkable race, possessing qualities which inspired fear and awe in their presence, and command the deepest respect and admiration when studied from a distance, no one will deny. But they were not attractive; between us and them two centuries and a half of interval is none too much. And in no respect was the unattractive side of the Puritan character more clearly brought into view than in their sour, narrowminded dislike of innocent and joyous relaxation. Before the May-day at Merrymount, there is a record of but a single attempt to introduce into New England the pleasant festivities of the motherland, — one single attempt, the result of which was wofully unpropitious. The incident is familiar enough, but it will bear to be repeated in this connection. It took place at Plymouth in December, 1621. Just as the first year of the little colony was drawing to a close there arrived a small ship bringing some thirtyfive immigrants. They were not Puritans, but they were all landed, and disposed of into the several families. Presently Christmas day came round. It hardly needs to be said that of all days in the year Christmas is most associated in the English mind with sentiments of kindness and good-will to men; it is the day of feasting, games, and jollity. On this Christmas morning at Plymouth, however, the governor arose and, as was the custom on other days, called the men together to go out to work. Most of the new-comers, liking not the innovation, excused themselves on the ground of conscientious scruples against it. The governor, in his own quaint language, carrying in it still the echoes of a grim chuckle, thus goes on to tell of the ready wit with which he discomfited the revelers. They had alleged conscientious scruples against manual labor on Christmas day, and “ so ye Govr tould them that if they made it mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away ye rest and left them; but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in ye streete at play, openly; some pitching ye barr, & some at stoole-hall, and sliuch like sports. So he went to them, and tooke away their implements, and tould them that was against his conscience, that they should play & others worke. If they made ye keeping of it mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in ye streets. Since which time nothing hath been atompted that way, at least openly.”

But suddenly, just when the psalm was supposed to have finally drowned the stave through all those parts, from close at hand Morton’s noisy chorus broke in like a protest of human nature against the attempted suppression of its more attractive half. When its echoes reached Plymouth, language in which adequately to express their horror at such doings wholly failed the people there, and they were forced to have recourse to pagan times to find a parallel for them. “ They allso set up a May-pole,” wrote Governor Bradford, “ drinking and dancing aboute it many days togeather, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddes Flora, or ye beasly practieses of ye inadd Bacehinalians.” There was something very dramatic about the situation. On the one hand the sombre Puritan settlement, and on the other, close beside it, the rollicking trading post, with the solitary vastness encompassing both. Indeed, it seems almost strange at this distance of time that men should have been found daring enough to break the awe of that primeval silence by vulgar revels about a May-pole planted on their gravel ridge between the ocean and the wilderness, — an ocean rarely whitened by a sail, and a wilderness unbroken, save at Merrymount and at Plymouth, from the St. Lawrence to the Hudson; and Plymouth was scandalized beyond expression by the goings on at Merrymount.

Altogether the settlement at Merrymount lasted about five years, from the summer of 1625 to that of 1630; and during two years of this time, in 1627-28, it was that Morton traded with the Indians and curiously observed the country, its products, and its inhabitants, as well as conducted its revels. He wrote his book, which he called the New English Canaan, at a later period, probably after the year 1630, and in it he gave in his own way the results of his observation and experience. He divided it into three parts, the first of which treats of the natives, their manners and customs, the second of the country and its products, while the last and most bulky of the three deals in a confused, metaphorical, hardly intelligible way, half narrative and half satire, with the Massachusetts and Plymouth settlements.

In his observations on the savages there is a great deal which is of positive value, though at times he indulges in inferences and generalizations which would scarcely bear the test of modern historical criticism. Yet these passages are hardly more absurd than much which is to he found in the writings of the recognized historians of that time and even later. His explanation of the origin of the Indian race, for instance, reads like a very clever satire on all the historians of the old or credulous school, and even on those modern scripturalists who still insist on tracing the descent of the different races of men from the several sons of Noah. “It may perhaps be granted that the Natives of this Country might originally come of the scattred Trojans: For after that Brutus, who was the forth from Aneas, left Latium upon the conflict had with the Latinos . . . this people were dispersed there is no question.

. . . And when Brutus did depart from Latium, we doe not find that his whole number went with him at once, or arrived at one place; and being put to Sea might encounter with a storme. that would carry them out of sight of Land, and then they might sayle God knoweth whither, and so might be put upon this Coast, as well as any other . . . now I am bold to conclude that the originall of the Natives of New England may be well conjectured to be from the scattered Trojans, after such time as Brutus departed from Latium.”

Having thus provided the natives with an ancestry, he presently accounts for the color of their skin in this wise: “ Their infants are borne with haire on their heads; and are of complexion white as our nation, but their mothers in their infancy make a bath of Wallnut leaves, husks of Walnuts, and such things as will staine their skinne for ever, wherein they dip and washe them to make them tawny.” . . . And finally he closes what he has to say of them by remarking that they are “ to be commended for leading a contented life, the younger being ruled by the Elder and the elder ruled by the Powahs, and the Powahs are ruled by the Devill, and then you may imagin what good rule is like to he amongst them.”

When dealing with the country and its products, Morton, after the fashion of his time, indulged freely in the traveler’s license, and some of his exaggerations are very humorous. For instance, when speaking of the excellent, game with which New England then abounded, he exclaims, “ Turkics there are, which divers times in great flocks have sallied by our doores; and then a gutine (being commonly in a redinesse) salutes them with such a eourtesie, as makes them take a turne in the Cooke room. They daunce by the doore so well. Of these there hath bin killed, that have weighed forty eight pound a peece.” Nor, Captain Levett’s authority to the contrary notwithstanding, did the turkeys alone among the wild animals of savage New England come up to the settlers’ doors to be shot. The bear was equally obliging. According to Morton: " The Beare is a tyrant at a Lobster, and at low water will downe to the Rocks, and groape after them with great diligence. Hee will runne away from a man as fast as a litle dogge. If a couple of Salvages cliaunce to espie him at his banquet, his running away, will not serve his turne, for they will eoate him, and chase him betweene them home to theirir howses, where they kill him, to save a laboure in carrying him farre.” This trait in the beaver, also, does not seem to have been observed by the naturalists, that he conveys food and wood " to his bowse built on the water, wherein he sitts with his tayle hanging in the water, which else would over heate and rot off.” As respects rats, Morton makes the astounding statement that 44 the Country by Nature is troubled with none; " while of the rattlesnake he says, it “is no lesse hurtfull than the Adder of England, nor no more. I have had my dogge venomed with troubling one of these; and so swelled, that I had thought it would have bin his death: but with one Saucer of Salet oyle poured downe his throate, he has recovered, and the swelling asswaged by the next day. The like experiment hath bin made upon a boy, that hath by chaunce troad upon one of these, and the boy never the worse. Therefore it is simplicity in any one that shall tell a bug beare tale of horrible, or terrible Serpents that are in that land.” Nothing, however, can be more natural or prettier than the following description of a familiar bird which has now delighted many generations of New Englanders: “ There is a curious bird to see to, called a hunning bird, no bigger than a great Beetle; that out of question lives upon the Bee, which he eateth and catcheth amongst Flowers: For it is his Custome to frequent those places, Flowers he cannot feed upon by reason of his sharp bill, which is like the poynt of a Spannish needle, but shorte. His fetliers have a glasse like silke, and as hee stirres, they shew to be of a chaingable coloure: and has bin, and is admired for shape coloure, and size.”

In reading the New English Canaan it is very curious to notice how old the names of the islands and localities are, in and about Boston bay. Morton speaks, for instance, of going over in is canoe to shoot ducks at Nut Island; and again he refers to Pettick’s Island as being so called " in memory of Leonard Peddock that landed there.” Yet Nut Island is one of the smallest of the many small islands in the bay, and of Leonard Peddock not even a tradition remains. The fact that the pretty promontory of Squantum, also, was already as early as 1627 known by that name is apparent from Morton’s book. It has since then been somewhat notorious for the houses of call on its rocky shores, which have not at all times been too particular as to the quality of the “intoxicants” they have supplied to their patrons. It was, therefore, in an almost prophetic spirit that Morton wrote “ neere Squantos Chappell (a place so by us called) is a Fountaine, that causeth a dead sleepefor 48. howres, to those that drinke 24. ounces at a draught, and so proportionably. ”

Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

  1. Dwellers on Gape Ann carious as to the significance of this scriptural allusion of the historian. Hubbard are referred to Genesis xlix. 13, 15.
  2. THE POEM.