1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Morton, Thomas (adventurer)

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MORTON, THOMAS (c. 1590-1646), usually called Thomas Morton of Merrymount, English adventurer in America, was a lawyer of Clifford's Inn, London, and seems to have practised in the west of England. He spent three months in America in 1622; returned in 1625, and settled at Mount Wollaston, in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts; and in 1626, when most of the settlers removed to Virginia, he assumed command of the settlement, and renamed it Merrymount.[1] Morton, a Royalist rake, soon became a thorn in the flesh of the sober colonists at Plymouth. On May-Day in 1627 his companions erected a May-pole, and, assisted by Indians, indulged in all the revelry and licence then customary in England. “The setting up of this May-pole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise Separatists that lived at New Plimmouth,” says Morton. “They termed it an Idoll; yea, they called it the Calf of Horeb, and stood at defiance with the place, . . . threatening to make it a woefull mount and not a merry mount.” In disregard of a royal proclamation, Morton sold rum and fire-arms to the natives, not only injuring the trade of Plymouth, but also endangering the safety of the colonists. Morton was therefore arrested and sent to England; and when John Endecott, with a patent from the council for New England, arrived soon afterward he visited Merrymount, which lay within his jurisdiction, rebuked the inhabitants, cut down the May-pole, and renamed the place Mount Dagon. In 1629 Morton returned to America, but was arrested on trivial charges by the Massachusetts authorities, and was confined in the stocks. Later his house was burned and he was sent to England, where he spent a term in the Essex gaol. After his release he wrote his New English Canaan (1637), in which he describes the Indians and the natural features of the country, and heaps ridicule upon the New England colonists. In 1643 Morton returned to America. He was imprisoned in Boston in the following year, and was tried before the general court for complaining against the colony before the Privy Council; he was recommitted to gaol pending the gathering of further evidence, and after a year's confinement was fined £100 and released. He retired to Agamenticus (now York), Maine, and in 1646 died poverty-stricken.

See the New English Canaan, edited by Charles Francis Adams (Publications of the Prince Society, vol. ix., Boston, 1883); C. F. Adams, Three Episodes of Massachusetts History (Boston, 1896); and, for a more favourable view of Morton, A Few Observations on the Prince Society's Edition of the New English Canaan, revised and reprinted from the Churchman (New York, 1883). Morton's adventures have furnished material for Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, The Maypole of Merrymount, and for John Lothrop Motley's novels, Morton's Hope (1839) and Merry Mount (1849).


  1. In his book Morton indulges his fondness for punning and display of Latinity by calling the place Mare-Mount (Hill by the sea).