SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 6, 2013

McAllister: Memories of Merry Mount

In May 1629, a handful of Englishmen living in Mount Wollaston (now Quincy) gathered to celebrate the arrival of spring in a fashion popular among folks in rural European communities but frowned upon by political and ecclesiastical authorities.

Those in attendance had settled at Mount Wollaston under the leadership of Thomas Morton, a renegade who had little respect for authority and was a professed atheist. Morton had renamed Mount Wollaston “Merry Mount” and proclaimed himself the community’s “Lord of Mis-rule.”

In the best pagan tradition, Morton’s followers had erected a celebratory maypole and laid in a plentiful supply of liquor and food. Native Americans living nearby, especially women, were invited to the festivities.

The lively event was not envisioned as a brief celebration. The merrymaking would go for days or until the food or drink was gone. No behavior was considered out-of-bounds.

Eventually, news of the goings-on at Mount Wollaston reached the ears of Massachusetts Gov. John Endicott, then in residence at Salem. Endicott was none too pleased to learn that a “dissolute, lawless settlement” was operating within his jurisdiction, and for Morton, that would be very bad news indeed.

Endicott was a man of action and had the authority from his employers in England to impose their will on all persons living within in the boundaries of the new colony. The phrases that Essex County historian Sidney Perley used in describing John Endicott in his “History of Salem, Mass.” are telling. The governor, Perley wrote, “ruled with a determined hand, sometimes with violence,” was “quick to assert and ready to maintain,” “firm and unyielding,” and comfortable with “crushing insubordination.”

With a small group of well-armed men, the governor traveled by boat to Mount Wollaston. The confrontation with Morton and his merrymaking followers was brief and one-sided. By the time Endicott set out for home, the Maypole had been destroyed, the celebrants “rebuked” and threatened. The “licentious,” “profane” Morton, the Lord of Mis-rule, was banished from the colony. Morton would go on to cause further trouble elsewhere, but was a non-factor in Massachusetts.

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