The story of this episode in Massachusetts history captured the imagination of the Salem author Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his short tale, “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” Hawthorne recounts the events at Mount Wollaston while adding a fictional love story for effect.
The author’s description of the May gathering, he wrote in a brief preface, was “in accordance with the manners of the age” when such pagan gatherings were common in England and throughout Europe. In attendance at Hawthorne’s Merry Mount were frolickers dressed as wolves, bears, stags and a “bearded he-goat.” Many others wore fools-caps and had bells attached to their garments that tinkled gaily as they moved to the music provided by roaming minstrels.
A planned highlight of the bacchanal was the wedding of a young couple, gaily dressed and madly in love.
But the event, even as it was to climax with the union of the young “king and queen” of the May, is disrupted by the arrival of Endicott and his men, representatives, says the author, of “a settlement of Puritans, most dismal wretches who said their prayers before daylight” and met in enclaves not to celebrate but to “hear sermons three hours long, or to proclaim bounties on the heads of wolves and the scalps of Indians.”
As he had done in real life, Endicott has the offensive maypole hacked to pieces. He will soon regret having done so, realizing it would have served wonderfully as whipping post.
The governor’s attention then turns to the forlorn — and terrified — bride and groom whose nuptials have been so rudely interrupted. In a show of mutual love, each of them begs that all punishment, even if it be death, be given to him or her alone so that the partner would be spared.
Stirred by this show of genuine gallantry, the hardhearted Endicott goes easy on the young couple. More appropriate clothing is sought for both, and the young man’s inappropriately long hair is cropped in the acceptable “pumpkin-shell fashion.” Then Endicott, the “severest Puritan of all,” throws a wreath or garland of roses torn from the maypole over the couple’s heads.
The couple never returned to Merry Mount. “But as the flowery garland was wreathed of the brightest roses that had grown there, so, in the tie that united them, were intertwined all the purest and best of their early joys.”
Salem historian Jim McAllister writes a regular column for The Salem News.