- 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
All the Merry Mounters were in the woods, but with two companions, Morton laid out his guns and bullets to resist. According to Bradford of Plymouth, they were so drunk one fell on the point of a sword held before his nose and lost some of his “hot blood.” Morton told a different story. The “worthies” coming “before the Denne of this supposed Monster . . . began like Don Quixote against the windmill,” coming “within danger like a flock of wild geese . . . tailed one to another, as cats to be sold at a faire.” To “save effusion of such worthy blood,” he capitulated on the promise of no violence to him or his possessions and that he could retain his arms.
The promises were not kept. He was brought to Plymouth, where they were puzzled whether to punish him or to deport him to England. According to Morton’s story, Standish thrust him on a desert island, “without gunne, powder or shot, or dogge or so much as a knife” to provide himself with something to eat. But the Indians brought him food and drink, “so full of humanity were these infidels before those Christians.” Presently he slipped off to England on a fishing boat.
Nothing was done to him there. The Plymouth agent showed up with “a big bag of gold” to get him punished, but was told “Leave Mine Host alone.”
Wrathfully William Bradford tossed aside his violet cape and stood before Plymouth court in his scarlet grogram suit, breeches and vest, to ask for action once more against Thomas Morton.
Isaac Allerton, the colony’s own agent, had brought him back to Plymouth as his secretary and had installed him in his own house, “as if to nose them.”
Morton was ordered out of town.
Back in his “old nest” in Massachusetts, he faced trouble from a new quarter. John Endecott—”a great swelling fellow,” whom Morton dubbed “Littleworth”—had arrived in Salem, armed with a patent for all Massachusetts. “In his progress to and froe,” Endecott used the patent, locked up in a covered case, as an emblem of authority, which vulgar people took to be “some instrument of musick” and “this man of littleworth ... a fiddler.” He forced all people to accept his “articles of government” drawn up “by himself and the Salem minister” or else “pack.”
Mine Host Morton refused to sign such “a very mousetrap,” or to put his goods into a “general stock” to be traded by one body headed by Endecott himself. At the end of twelve months, not only were the colonies without corn, which had all been traded off, but had to make up a heavy loss to Littleworth. General sickness was compounded by hunger, and more than half the people died. Morton, who had saved his own stock “from such a cancer” and had profited six- or seven-fold, “derided the Contributors” for having been “catch’d in that snare.”
Endecott had “an akeing tooth at mine Host of Ma-Re-Mount” and ordered Morton’s goods seized. Endecott’s deputies feasted at Morton’s expense and carried off everything except “a small parcell of refuse corn with which to celebrate Christmas.” But Mine Host “merrily” derided Captain Littleworth, sending word he was getting along well on game and venison.
In July, 1630, seven ships arrived, bringing Governor John Winthrop—“their Joshua”—with settlers and supplies to take charge of all Massachusetts. “What!” cried Morton, gazing upon the largest flotilla of vessels ever to come to the English colonies, “Are all the 12 Tribes of the new Israel come? No, none but the Tribe of Assacar” and some “scattered Levites, remnants of the descendants of Eli ... come to rid the Land of all pollution.”
Morton was quickly hailed before the General Court and confronted with flimsy charges. The real “snare,” he believed, was that he had refused to despise the Common Prayer Book. “Wherefore,” he demanded, “are you so violent against a man you never saw before?” They shouted him down: “Hear the Governour! Hear the Governour!”
Without more ado, Winthrop sentenced him to the stocks, and ordered all his goods confiscated, his plantation burned and that he be banished “with all speede.”
Only friendly Indians protested against this harsh sentence in words of “unexpected divinity,” reproving those “Eliphants of witt for their inhuman deed” and warning them the Lord “would not love them,” and that the colonists would rue destroying such good shelter.
Winthrop’s agents came “like Sampson’s foxes with firebrands on their tails.” Nothing remained of Merry Mount “except the bare ashes as an emblem of their cruelty,” a “very sacrifice of Kain.”
Morton was thrust into the hold of the Handmaid —like “Jonah in the whale’s belly”—allowed only three small pieces of pork for two or three months’ provision. He decided to have one good meal before he died and invited the sailors to the feast. Thereafter they shared their rations with him, however scant. In England, after brief imprisonment in Exeter gaol, he was released without charges.