Friday, March 3, 2023

As for Thomas Morton...

A friend sent me an article by Matthew Taub on 17th Century English "colonist" Thomas Morton. After reading it, I jotted down a few notes in response to the sender.

We have to abandon the "Puritan" label--it is misleading. The Plymouth plantation is properly called "Separatist." They were allied with people we might style "Classic Liberals" at the early Salem colony, which is properly called "Independent" -- compare John Milton, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson. The Separatists were working- and "under"-class, the Independents were middle class. The Dutch Republic, which was more tolerant than the English, even so booted out the Separatists for not having any money, hence the "Pilgrims" re-grouped and sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Maypole of Merrymount" has John Endicott, rather than Plymouth leader Myles Standish, repressing Merrymount.

Endicott was an Independent who shifted over to the Presbyterians when John Winthrop took over the Mass Bay Colony in 1630. 
As you read Hawthornes's story, you get the idea that Hawthorne was rather with the "Puritans" on this one, as Morton and the Merrymounter's were a pile of trouble; moreover, Hawthonrne underscores the dubious scruples of their practices. Hawthorne places the following words in Endocitt's mouth as he dashes down the maypole:
"Thou art the man who couldst not abide the rule even of thine own corrupted church, and hast come hither to preach iniquity, and to give example of it in thy life. But now shall it be seen that the Lord hath sanctified this wilderness for his peculiar people. Wo unto them that would defile it!"

As the story moves to resolution, Endicott's attention is turned to a young men and women whose frolicsome celebration has been ended, and evidently this is the matter of concern to Hawthorne, and which led to him using the episode as a point of departure for the story, which is a meditation upon the contrasts of young love and long marriage:

Endicott rested on his sword, and closely surveyed the dress and aspect of the hapless pair. There they stood, pale, downcast, and apprehensive. Yet there was an air of mutual support, and of pure affection, seeking aid and giving it, that showed them to be man and wife, with the sanction of a priest upon their love. The youth, in the peril of the moment, had dropped his gilded staff, and thrown his arm about the Lady of the May, who leaned against his breast, too lightly to burden him, but with weight enough to express that their destinies were linked together, for good or evil. They looked first at each other, and then into the grim captain's face. There they stood, in the first hour of wedlock, while the idle pleasures, of which their companions were the emblems, had given place to the sternest cares of life, personified by the dark Puritans. But never had their youthful beauty seemed so pure and high as when its glow was chastened by adversity.

The story ends with Endicott pronouncing his judgment upon them:

"The troubles of life have come hastily on this young couple," observed Endicott. "We will see how they comport themselves under their present trials ere we burden them with greater. If, among the spoil, there be any garments of a more decent fashion, let them be put upon this May Lord and his Lady, instead of their glistening vanities. Look to it, some of you."

"And shall not the youth's hair be cut?" asked Peter Palfrey, looking with abhorrence at the love-lock and long glossy curls of the young man.

"Crop it forthwith, and that in the true pumpkin-shell fashion," answered the captain. "Then bring them along with us, but more gently than their fellows. There be qualities in the youth, which may make him valiant to fight, and sober to toil, and pious to pray; and in the maiden, that may fit her to become a mother in our Israel, bringing up babes in better nurture than her own hath been. Nor think ye, young ones, that they are the happiest, even in our lifetime of a moment, who mis-spend it in dancing round a Maypole!"

And Endicott, the severest Puritan of all who laid the rock foundation of New England, lifted the wreath of roses from the ruin of the Maypole, and threw it, with his own gauntleted hand, over the heads of the Lord and Lady of the May. It was a deed of prophecy. As the moral gloom of the world overpowers all systematic gayety, even so was their home of wild mirth made desolate amid the sad forest. They returned to it no more. But as their 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. They went heavenward, supporting each other along the difficult path which it was their lot to tread, and never wasted one regretful thought on the vanities of Merry Mount.

Reading this when I was a young man, I was put off at Endicott's austerity. Now that I am "old and wise", I am comfortable saying the "moral heroism" he represents in the story is sound, and is moreover underscored in another Hawthorne story, "Endicott and the Red Cross", which I happily recommend (see the image below).
Let's return to history and Thomas Morton. His "love" of Native Americans is dubious, as his dealings with them caused problems for his neighbors. Was he using the Native Americans?
Later in 1647 during the Civil Wars, now returned to England, Morton was agitating against the Roundheads, and he was arrested. Now, earlier, at his "colony" in New England--when I consider the trouble he had been causing, I have to wonder: had Morton been an Anglican spy?
The true champion of the Native Americans was Roger Williams, who was exiled (twice) by the Mass Bay Colony. An Independent, with friends in the Salem and Plymouth colonies (sometime ally of John Endicott), Williams set up the Rhode Island Colony, which offered religious toleration and gave rights to Native Americans.

John Endicott cuts the cross of St. George from the flag in 1634, proclaiming American independence--142 years before the Revolution

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