Tales of My Home
Stories about the Lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts
My research on Native American interactions with early English settlers of Massachusetts and New England led me to the writings of one Thomas Morton, who in 1638 wrote detailed accounts of the Pennacook and other bands of Indians. (Note - I tend to call the colonists “English” and the natives “Indians” because all the writings from the colonial period use these terms.)
It turns out that, in 1626, before the Puritans were establishing Boston, Thomas Morton and some friends established a colony called Merrymount (as in, a hill for merriment), a.k.a. Wallaston. The name lives on as a subway stop on the Red Line in Quincy, Mass., site of the small colony, but it otherwise seems to have been forgotten. From what I could gather, it was sort of the anti-Puritan colony, full of drunken revelry, hooking up with native females, and a lot of other activity that no doubt drove the puritans mad. Here are some of my quick notes. Some of this might be cut and pasted from copyrighted material so I may need to edit this.
Morton disdained the Pilgrims at Plymouth, who he called ‘those Moles.’ He complained they ‘keep ‘much ado about the tithe of mint and cumin, troubling their brains more than reason would require about things that are indifferent.’
He called the first governor of Massachusetts, John Endicott, “that great swelling fellow, Captain Littleworth,” and called the short Myles Standish, military leader of the Plymouth colony, ‘Captain Shrimpe.’
On May 1, 1627, Merrymount decided to throw a party in the manner of Merrie Olde England. Morton hoped it would attract some Indian brides for his bachelor followers.
Thus, he violated a cardinal concept of English settlement of New England: endogamy, or marriage solely within the group. In contrast to French Quebec and Acadia, where European-native marriages were tolerated (possibly because settlement was largely by men), they were a big no-no in New England (possibly because settlement was by supposed to be by families and entire villages that came over from England together).
Morton was arrested on Sept 30, 1629 and was sent back to England by the Puritan authorities. The account of his transgressions said, "The inhabitants of Merrymount ... did devise amongst themselves to have ... Revels, and merriment after the old English custom ... & therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beer, & provided a case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers of that day. 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 buckshorns 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."
Gov. William Bradford was horrified by the ‘beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians.’ After a second Maypole party the next year, Myles Standish led a party of armed men to Merrymount, seized Morton and put him in chains. Not a shot was fired. According to Morton, the Merrymount inhabitants didn’t want bloodshed. According to Bradford, they were too drunk to resist.
Morton wrote a guidebook of sorts in 1638 while back in London, on the culture of the New England Indians. He supposedly used the money from the sale of the book to pursue a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Bay Colony. I don’t know what came of that lawsuit.
In his book, he compares the native Americans to the Irish in their primitiveness.
“The Natives of New England are accustomed to build themselves houses much like the wild Irish; they gather poles in the woods and put the great end of them in the ground, placing them in form of a circle or circumference, and, bending the tops of them in form of an arch, they bind them together with the bark of walnut trees, which is wondrous tough, so that they make the same round on the top for the smoke of their fire to ascend and pass through; these they cover with mats.”
He also wrote, “when they have their apparel on they look like Irish”. Ireland was of course England’s first colony.