- Historic Sites
The Rebels Of Merry Mount
Thomas Morton liked the lush country, the Indians liked Thomas—and the stern Puritans cared little for either
June 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 4
No early English settler was more delighted with New England than was Thomas Morton, lawyer of Clifford’s Inn, London. He had none of the dour misgivings of William Bradford and the other Mayflower Pilgrims who had landed at Plymouth less than two years before. From the moment he stepped ashore at Massachusetts Bay, in June, 1622, he fell in love with this American earth: its Indians, its wild life and plants, and its beauty. Only Captain John Smith left a more complete record of its resources. But Smith wrote mostly as a blunt, prosaic soldier, while every word in Morton’s account glows with enthusiasm.
He came with thirty well-heeled proprietors under Captain Wollaston, who brought many indentured servants and ample supplies to start a successful plantation near the southwest corner of Boston Harbor at what was called Mount Wollaston and which today is known as Quincy.
While the houses were building, Morton rushed through the countryside. “I do not thinke that in all the knowne world it could be parallel’d ... so many goodly groves of trees; dainty fine round rising hillucks . . . sweet crystal fountains, and cleare running streams ... in fine meanders through the meads, making so sweet a murmering noise to hear ... so pleasantly do they glide upon the pebble stones, jetting most jocundly . . . Fowles in abundance, Fish in multitudes . . . Millions of Turtle doves . . . pecking at the full ripe pleasant grapes.” He described the lilies and the flowers of the “Daphnean tree.” It was Paradise, ̶’twas Nature’s Master-peece ... if this land be not rich, then is the whole world poore.”
He found nearly all the animals, birds, fish and plants larger or better, the savor of the flesh superior, to those of England. The air was fragrant with the odor of herbs, and all had “more masculine virtue” than those at home. Here acorns, nuts and clams fed to swine produced “the delicatest bacon” known. The red cedars and firs were the equal of those Solomon had used to build “the glorious temple at Jerusalem.” The cypress trees, even more beautiful, were tough enough for the masts and yards of the “biggest ship” that ever sailed “the main Oceane.”
He was enraptured with the falcons and the sheen of hummingbirds, the swans, ducks and geese. He often had a thousand geese before the mouth of his gun and in a short time could kill enough to pay for all his powder and shot for an entire year.
He marveled at the large herds of “griseled” deer, the moose and reindeer, “the finest in all Christendom.” His description of the beaver is charming; forefeet like a “cunny,” and “hinder feet” like a goose; and he told how they cut trees with their teeth and how they took each other’s tails in their mouths to haul big logs to their dams like teams of horses; how they always sat with their tails hanging in the water, “which else would heat and rot off.”
Otter skins, “black as Jett,” were worth “3 or 4 angels of gold” each; the black wolf’s skin was “a present for a prince.” The bear’s fur was of “great utility” and the flesh better than beef for he fed upon berries, nuts and fish and was a “tyrante at a Lobster,” which he groped for at low tide “with great diligence.”
Cod was a better source of prosperity than all the gold of the Spanish Main. Enough bass filled the stream by his house to load a hundred-ton ship. He could not throw a stone without hitting one and sometimes could cross over on their backs dry-shod. Merely the head provided a good dinner, and the taste excelled the “marybones of beefe.” Mackerel, trying to escape the bass, “shot themselves a shore,” and whole hogsheads could be taken up from the sand. Smelt could be scooped up by basketfuls. Halibut were so large, two men could scarcely lift one out of the water. Salmon and hake, “a dainty white fish,” came in multitudes. The sturgeon were so fat they were yellow. The swarming shad were used only “to dung the ground.” A thousand per acre would triple the corn yield. He became so sated with lobsters—for five hundred to a thousand came in with each tide—that for five years he used them only for bait. Some oyster beds were a mile long, the mussels were “fat and large.” He defied anyone to show him “the like in any known part of the world.”
He found the hospitality and customs of the Indians in many ways superior to those of his fellow Europeans. He often visited their admirable, tough, walnutbark tepees, sat on their reed mats, sewn with hemp thread and cranes’ leg-bone needles, and slept on their eighteen-inch-high beds of spring branches, covered with mats and furs. His hosts woke him gently, tendering a wooden bowl of meat, saying “’Cart up jeene Mechin—eat if you are hungry’ . . . Such was their humanity.”
Their marvelous sense powers seemed “the intelligence of the Devil!” They could spot a ship two hours’ sail away, distinguish between a Spaniard and a Frenchman by the scent of the hand, sort out the crisscross tracks of deer by sniffing the earth.