Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Morton, Thomas

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MORTON, Thomas, adventurer, b. in England about 1575; d. in Agamenticus, Me., in 1646. He was a lawyer of Clifford's inn, London, and in 1622 came to New England with a party of emigrants, many of whom returned the following year. The remainder scattered about Plymouth settlement, and, according to Morton, “were very popular while their liquor lasted, but were afterward turned adrift.” He went home, but returned in 1625 with Capt. Wollaston, an English adventurer, who settled part of his followers in Virginia, and a few others under Morton at Mount Wollaston (now Braintree), Mass., where the latter founded the town, and henceforth styled himself “mine host of Mare-Mount.” There he relates that on May-day, 1626, he “brewed a barrel of excellent ale, provided a case of good bottles to be spent with other good cheer, and prepared a song fitting to the time and occasion. We also brought the May-pole to the place appointed, with drums, guns, pistols, and there erected it with the help of Salvages that came hither for purpose to see the manner of our revels.” This proceeding caused great scandal to the Plymouth colonists, and, according to Nathaniel Morton (q. v.), the first chronicler of Plymouth, “they fell into great licentiousness of life, in all profaneness, and the said Morton became a lord of misrule, and maintained a school of atheism, spending £10 worth of liquors in a morning, setting up a May-pole, and drinking, frisking, and dancing about it like so many fairies or furies.” Morton also instructed the Indians in the use of fire-arms, for which violation of the law he was arrested by Capt. Miles Standish, by order of the governor. But, although guarded by six men, he escaped in the dead of night, while his watchers were asleep. Of this episode Thomas Morton says: “When the word was given that the bird had flown, the grand leader took on furiously and tore his clothes for anger. The rest were eager to have torn their hair from their heads, but it was so short it would give them no hold.” He was subsequently recaptured and sent to England, the May-pole was cut down, and the name of the place changed to Dagon. He returned the next year, and was forced to submit to the search of his house, under the suspicion that it was filled with stolen corn. In 1630 he was again arrested for “mischievous behavior,” his dwelling was torn down, and he was seized and transported, and, arriving in London, was so “metamorphosed by his long voyage that he looked like Lazarus in the painted cloth.” He visited Massachusetts for the fourth time in 1643, but, having published his “scandalous book,” as the colonists called it, was imprisoned one year in Boston, after which he removed to Maine, where he died in poverty. This work, “The New England Canaan” (Amsterdam. 1637), is a description of the country and the Indians, and full of ridicule of the Puritan creed and customs. Morton's history is embodied in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story of “The Maypole of Merry Mount.”