Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Pagan Pilgrim

May Day, 1626, New World: 'Pagan Pilgrim' Thomas Morton (1590? - 1646), royalist rake, a trader and lawyer, raised the Maypole with Native American allies.

Fed up with Puritan restrictions on life and liberty, Morton (calling himself "mine Hoste of Mare Mount") and a Captain Wollaston had set up near the Plymouth Colony a fur-trading post in 1624 which they named "Mare Mount" -- Mount by the Sea. Their Puritan neighbours saw through his pun and its suggestion of a rejection of Puritan values (for it was a place of revelry), and sneeringly called it "Merrymount".

When Morton set up a Maypole, with a poem attached and the whole shaft topped with antlers, all hell broke loose at the Plymouth colony nearby. Miles Standish's Pilgrim stormtroopers invaded the free settlement, John Endicott chopped down the proud Maypole, scattered Merrymount's inhabitants, destroyed its houses and renamed the place Mount Dagon.

Governor Bradford dared not execute the well-connected Morton so he marooned him on a desert island till 1628 when an English ship transported him back to London where he stood trial and was acquitted. There he spent the next decade in using his talents and resources to oppose the Puritans with wit and humour, particularly in the satirical tract New English Canaan (1637). He pointedly contrasted the lives of the uptight Pilgrims with those of the good-natured and hospitable Native Americans ...

This is just a snippet of today's stories. Read all about today in folklore, historical oddities, inspiration and alternatives, with many more links, at the Wilson's Almanac Book of Days, every day. Click today's date (or your birthday) when you're there.


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