from New English Canaan
It is probably easiest (and most entertaining) to read Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan in conjunction with William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. Tensions sprang quickly between Morton and Bradford’s Puritan community, and the events at Merrymount (or Ma-re Mount), where Morton raised a Maypole, serve as a key moment in each man’s text. To the Puritans, Morton was a pagan who consorted with and allegedly sold weapons and alcohol to the Native populations. To Morton, the Puritans were exploitative busybodies who deserved to be mocked, and the excerpts included here are almost exclusively Morton’s parodies of the Puritan community. He also shows his understanding of mock-epic conventions, where ordinary events are treated in the grand style that we typically see in epics like The Iliad or The Odyssey. In this respect, Morton’s text might resemble literature as we typically think about it, and it certainly provides us with another way to view the early American settlers in New England.
- How does Morton’s depiction—both in what he emphasizes and how he narrates—compare to William Bradford’s?
- How does Morton define his ideal community? How does his idea compare to Bradford’s?
- Consider how Morton describes this “New World.” How does he depict the Native Americans? How does he depict the Puritans? How do these descriptions compare, and how do they influence our ideas about each group?
- How is Morton constructing himself as a character in the text? What do you think he wants his reader to believe or understand about him as a result of reading his writing?
Chap. XVI. Of their acknowledgment of the Creation, and immortality of the Soule.
Although these Salvages are found to be without Religion, Law, and King (as Sir William Alexander hath well observed) yet are they not altogether without the knowledge of God (historically); for they have it amongst them by tradition that God made one man and one woman, and bad them live together and get children, kill deare, beasts, birds, fish and fowle, and what they would at their pleasure; and that their posterity was full of evill, and made God so angry that hee let in the Sea upon them, and drowned the greatest part of them, that were naughty men, (the Lord destroyed so;) and they went to Sanaconquam who feeds upon them (pointing to the Center of the Earth, where they imagine is the habitation of the Devill:) the other, (which were not destroyed,) increased the world, and when they died (because they were good) went to the howse of Kytan, pointing to the setting of the sonne;where theyeate all manner of dainties, and never take paines (as now) to provide it.
Kytan makes provision (they say) and saves them that laboure; and there they shall live with him forever, voyd of care. And they are perswaded that Kytan is hee that makes corne growe, trees growe, and all manner of fruits.
And that wee that use the booke of Common prayer doo it to declare to them, that cannot reade, what Kytan has commaunded us, and that wee doe pray to him with the helpe of that booke; and doe make so much accompt of it, that a Salvage (who had lived in my howse before hee had taken a wife, by whome hee had children) made this request to mee, (knowing that I allwayes used him with much more respect than others,) that I would let his sonne be brought up in my howse, that hee might be taught to reade in that booke: which request of his I granted; and hee was a very joyfull man to thinke that his sonne should thereby (as hee said) become an Englishman; and then hee would be a good man.
I asked him who was a good man; his answere was, hee that would not lye, nor steale.
These, with them, are all the capitall crimes that can be imagined; all other are nothing in respect of those; and hee that is free from these must live with Kytan for ever, in all manner of pleasure.
Chap. XX. That the Salvages live a contended life.
A Gentleman and a traveller, that had bin in the parts of New England for a time, when hee retorned againe, in his discourse of the Country, wondered, (as hee said,) that the natives of the land lived so poorely in so rich a Country, like to our Beggers in England. Surely that Gentleman had not time or leasure whiles hee was there truely to informe himselfe of the state of that Country, and the happy life the Salvages would leade weare they once brought to Christianity.
I must confesse they want the use and benefit of Navigation, (which is the very sinnus of a flourishing Commonwealth,) yet are they supplied with all manner of needefull things for the maintenance of life and lifelyhood. Foode and rayment are the cheife of all that we make true use of; and of these they finde no want, but have, and may have, them in a most plentifull manner.
If our beggers of England should, with so much ease as they, furnish themselves with foode at all seasons, there would not be so many starved in the streets, neither would so many gaoles be stuffed, or gallouses furnished with poore wretches, as I have seene them.
But they of this sort of our owne nation, that are fitt to goe to this Canaan, are not able to transport themselves; and most of them unwilling to goe from the good ale tap, which is the very loadstone of the lande by which our English beggers steere theire Course; it is the Northpole to which the flowre-de-luce of their compasse points. The more is the pitty that the Commonalty of oure Land are of such leaden capacities as to neglect so brave a Country, that doth so plentifully feede maine lusty and a brave, able men, women and children, that have not the meanes that a Civilized Nation hath to purchase foode and rayment; which that Country with a little industry will yeeld a man in a very comfortable measure, without overmuch carking.
I cannot deny but a civilized Nation hath the preheminence of an uncivilized, by meanes of those instruments that are found to be common amongst civile people, and the uncivile want the use of, to make themselves masters of those ornaments that make such a glorious shew, that will give a man occasion to cry, sic transit gloria Mundi.
Now since it is but foode and rayment that men that live needeth, (though not all alike,) why should not the Natives of New England be sayd to live richly, having no want of either? Cloaths are the badge of sinne; and the more variety of fashions is but the greater abuse of the Creature: the beasts of the forrest there doe serve to furnish them at any time when they please: fish and flesh they have in greate abundance, which they both roast and boyle.
They are indeed not served in dishes of plate with variety of Sauces to procure appetite; that needs not there. The rarity of the aire, begot by the medicinable quality of the sweete herbes of the Country, alwayes procures good stomakes to the inhabitants.
I must needs commend them in this particular, that, though they buy many commodities of our Nation, yet they keepe but fewe, and those of speciall use.
They love not to bee cumbered with many utensilles, and although every proprietor knowes his owne, yet all things, (so long as they will last), are used in common amongst them: A bisket cake given to one, that one breakes it equally into so many parts as there be persons in his company, and distributes it. Platoes Commonwealth is so much practised by these people.
According to humane reason, guided onely by the light of nature, these people leades the more happy and freer being voyd of care. life, being voyde of care, which torments the mindes of so many Christians: They are not delighted in baubles, but in usefull things.
Their naturall drinke is of the Cristall fountaine, and this they take up in their hands, by joyning them close together. They take up a great quantity at a time, and drinke at the wrists. It was the sight of such a feate which made Diogenes hurle away his dishe, and, like one that would have this principall confirmed, Natura paucis contentat, used a dish no more.
I have observed that they will not be troubled with superfluous commodities. Such things as they finde they are taught by necessity to make use of, they will make choise of, and seeke to purchase with industry. So that, in respect that their life is so voyd of care, and they are so loving also that they make use of those things they enjoy, (the wife onely excepted,) as common goods, and are therein one of anothers as common. so compassionate that, rather than one should starve through want, they would starve all. Thus doe they passe awaye the time merrily, not regarding our pompe, (which they see dayly before their faces,) but are better content with their owne, which some men esteeme so meanely of.
They may be rather accompted to live richly, wanting nothing that is needefull; and to be commended for leading a contented life, the younger being ruled by the Elder, and the Elder ruled by the Powahs, and the Powahs are ruled by the Devill; and then you may imagin what good rule is like to be amongst them.
Chap. V. Of a Massacre made upon the Salvages at Wessaguscus.
After the end of that Parliament, some of the plantation there, about three persons, went to live with Checatawback and his company; and had very good quarter, for all the former quarrell with the Plimmouth planters: they are not like Will Sommers, to take one for another. There they purposed to stay untill Master Westons arrivall: but the Plimmouth men, intendinge no good to him, (as appered by the consequence,) came in the meane time to Wessaguscus, and there pretended to feast the Salvages of those partes, bringing with them Porke and thinges for the purpose, which they sett before the Salvages. They eate thereof without suspition of any mischeife, who were taken upon a watchword given, and with their owne knives, (hanging about their neckes,) were by the Plimmouth planters stabd and slaine: one of which were hanged up there, after the slaughter.
In the meane time the Sachem had knowledge of this accident, by one that ranne to his Countrymen, at the Massachussets, and gave them intelligence of the newes; after which time the Salvages there, consultinge of the matter, in the night, (when the other English feareles of danger were a sleepe,) knockt them all in the head, in revenge of the death of their Countrymen: but if the Plimmouth Planters had really intended good to Master Weston, or those men, why had they not kept the Salvages alive in Custody, untill they had secured the other English? Who, by meanes of this evill mannaginge of the businesse, lost their lives, and the whole plantation was dissolved thereupon; as was likely, for feare of a revenge to follow, as a relatione to this cruell antecedent; and when Master Weston came over hee found thinges at an evill exigent, by meanes thereof: But could not tell how it was brought about.
The Salvages of the Massachussets, that could not imagine from whence these men should come, or to what end, seeing them performe such unexpected actions; neither could tell by what name properly to distinguish them; did from that time afterwards call the English Planters Wotawquenange, which in their language signifieth stabbers, or Cutthroates: and this name was received by those that came there after for good, being then unacquainted with the signification of it, for many yeares following; untill, from a Southerly Indian that understood English well, I was by demonstration made to conceave the interpretation of it, and rebucked these other that it was not forborne: The other callinge us by the name of Wotoquansawge, what that doth signifie, hee said, hee was not able by any demonstration to expresse; and my neighbours durst no more, in my hearinge, call us by the name formerly used, for feare of my displeasure.
Chap. XIV: Of the Revells of New Canaan
The Inhabitants of Pasonagessit, (having translated the name of their habitation from that ancient Salvage name to Ma-re Mount, and being resolved to have the new name confirmed for a memorial to after ages,) did devise amongst themselves to have it performed in a solemne manner, with Revels and merriment after the old English custome; [they] prepared to sett up a Maypole upon the festivall day of Philip and Iacob, and therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beare and provided a case of bottles, to be spent, with other good cheare, for all commers of that day. And because they would have it in a compleat forme, they had prepared a song fitting to the time and present occasion. And upon Mayday they brought the Maypole to the place appointed, with drumes, gunnes, pistols and other fitting instruments, for that purpose; and there erected it with the help of Salvages, that came thether of purpose to see the manner of our Revels. A goodly pine tree of 80. foote longe was reared up, with a peare of buckshorns nayled one somewhat neare unto the top of it: where it stood, as a faire sea marke for directions how to finde out the way to mine Hoste of Ma-re Mount.
And because it should more fully appeare to what end it was placed there, they had a poem in readines made, which was fixed to the Maypole, to shew the new name confirmed upon that plantation; which, allthough it were made according to the occurrents of the time, it, being Enigmattically composed, pusselled the Seperatists most pittifully to expound it, which, (for the better information of the reader,) I have here inserted.
The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise seperatists, that lived at new Plimmouth. They termed it an Idoll; yea, they called it The Maypole called an Idoll the Calfe of Horeb. the Calfe of Horeb, and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon; threatning to make it a woefull mount and not a merry mount.
The Riddle, for want of Oedipus, they could not expound; onely they made some explication of part of it, and sayd it was meant by Sampson Iob, the carpenter of the shipp that brought over a woman to her husband, that had bin there longe before and thrived so well that hee sent for her and her children to come to him; where shortly after hee died: having no reason, but because of the sound of those two words; when as, (the truth is,) the man they applyed it to was altogether unknowne to the Author.
There was likewise a merry song made, which, (to make their Revells more fashionable,) was sung with a Corus, every man bearing his part; which they performed in a daunce, hand in hand about the Maypole, whiles one of the Company sung and filled out the good liquor, like gammedes and Iupiter.
This harmeles mirth made by younge men, (that lived in hope to have wifes brought over to them, that would save them a laboure to make a voyage to fetch any over,) was much distasted of the precise Seperatists, that keepe much a doe about the tyth of Muit and Cummin, troubling their braines more then reason would require about things that are indifferent: and from that time sought occasion against my honest Host of Ma-re Mount, to overthrow his ondertakings and to destroy his plantation quite and cleane. But because they presumed with their imaginary gifts, (which they have out of Phaos box,) they could expound hidden misteries, to convince them of blindnes, as well in this as in other matters of more consequence, I will illustrate the poem, according to the true intent of the authors of these Revells, so much distasted by those Moles.
Oedipus is generally receaved for the absolute reader of riddles, who is invoaked: Silla and Caribdis are two dangerous places for seamen to incounter, neere unto Vennice; and have bin by poets formerly resembled to man and wife. The like licence the author challenged for a paire of his nomination, the one lamenting for the losse of the other as Niobe for her children. Amphitrite is an arme of the Sea, by which the newes was carried up and downe of a rich widow, now to be tane up or laid downe. By Triton is the fame spread that caused the Suters to muster, (as it had bin to Penellope of Greece;) and, the Coast lying circuler, all our passage to and froe is made more convenient by Sea then Land. Many aimed at this marke; but hee that played Proteus best and could comply with her humor must be the man that would carry her; and hee had need have Sampsons strenght to deale with a Dallila, and as much patience as Iob that should come there, for a thing that I did observe in the life-time of the former.
But marriage and hanging, (they say,) comes by desteny and Scogans choise tis better [than] none at all. Hee that playd Proteus, (with the helpe of Priapus,) put their noses out of joynt, as the Proverbe is.
And this the whole company of the Revellers at Ma-re Mount knew to be the true sence and exposition of the riddle that was fixed to the Maypole, which the Seperatists were at defiance with. Some of them affirmed that the first institution thereof was in memory of a whore; not knowing that it was a Trophe erected at first in honor of Maja, the Lady of learning which they despise, vilifying the two universities with uncivile termes, accounting what is there obtained by studdy is but unnecessary learning; not considering that learninge does inable mens mindes to converse with eliments of a higher nature then is to be found within the habitation of the Mole.
Chap. XV. Of a great Monster supposed to be at Ma-re-Mount; and the preparation made to destroy it
The Seperatists, envying the prosperity and hope of the Plantation at Ma-re Mount, (which they perceaved beganne to come forward, and to be in a good way for gaine in the Beaver trade,) conspired together against mine Host especially, (who was the owner of that Plantation,) and made up a party against him; and mustred up what aide they could, accounting of him as of a great Monster.
Many threatening speeches were given out both against his person and his Habitation, which they divulged should be consumed with fire: And taking advantage of the time when his company, (which seemed little to regard theire threats,) were gone up into the Inlands to trade with the Salvages for Beaver, they set upon my honest host at a place called Wessaguscus, where, by accident, they found him. The inhabitants there were in good hope of the subvertion of the plantation at Mare Mount, (which they principally aymed at;) and the rather because mine host was a man that indeavoured to advaunce the dignity of the Church of England; which they, (on the contrary part,) would laboure to vilifie with uncivile termes: enveying against the sacred booke of common prayer, and mine host that used it in a laudable manner amongst his family, as a practise of piety.
There hee would be a meanes to bringe sacks to their mill, (such is the thirst after Beaver,) and helped the conspiratores to surprise mine host, (who was there all alone;) and they chardged him, (because they would seeme to have some reasonable cause against him to sett a glosse upon their mallice,) with criminall things; which indeede had beene done by such a person, but was of their conspiracy; mine host demaunded of the conspirators who it was that was author of that information, that seemed to be their ground for what they now intended. And because they answered they would not tell him, hee as peremptorily replyed, that hee would not say whether he had, or he had not done as they had bin informed.
The answere made no matter, (as it seemed,) whether it had bin negatively or affirmatively made; for they had resolved what hee should suffer, because, (as they boasted,) they were now become the greater number: they had shaked of their shackles of servitude, and were become Masters, and masterles people.
It appeares they were like beares whelpes in former time, when mine hosts plantation was of as much strength as theirs, but now, (theirs being stronger,) they, (like overgrowne beares,) seemed monsterous. In breife, mine host must indure to be their prisoner untill they could contrive it so that they might send him for England, (as they said,) there to suffer according to the merrit of the fact which they intended to father upon him; supposing, (belike,) it would proove a hainous crime.
Much rejoycing was made that they had gotten their cappitall enemy, (as they concluded him;) whome they purposed to hamper in such sort that hee should not be able to uphold his plantation at Ma-re Mount.
The Conspirators sported themselves at my honest host, that meant them no hurt, and were so joccund that they feasted their bodies, and fell to tippeling as if they had obtained a great prize; like the Trojans when they had the custody of Hippeus pinetree horse.
Mine host fained greefe, and could not be perswaded either to eate or drinke; because hee knew emptines would be a meanes to make him as watchfull as the Geese kept in the Roman Cappitall: whereon, the contrary part, the conspirators would be so drowsy that hee might have an opportunity to give them a slip, insteade of a tester. Six persons of the conspiracy were set to watch him at Wessaguscus: But hee kept waking; and in the dead of night, (one lying on the bed for further suerty,) up gets mine Host and got to the second dore that hee was to passe, which, notwithstanding the lock, hee got open, and shut it after him with such violence that it affrighted some of the conspirators.
The word, which was given with an alarme, was, ô he’s gon, he’s gon, what shall wee doe, he’s gon! The rest, (halfe a sleepe,) start up in a maze, and, like rames, ran theire heads one at another full butt in the darke.
Theire grande leader, Captaine Shrimp, tooke on most furiously and tore his clothes for anger, to see the empty nest, and their bird gone.
The rest were eager to have torne theire haire from theire heads; but it was so short that it would give them no hold. Now Captaine Shrimp thought in the losse of this prize, (which hee accoumpted his Master peece,) all his honor would be lost for ever.
In the meane time mine Host was got home to Ma-re Mount through the woods, eight miles round about the head of the river Monatoquit that parted the two Plantations, finding his way by the helpe of the lightening, (for it thundred as hee went terribly;) and there hee prepared powther, three pounds dried, for his present imployement, and foure good gunnes for him and the two assistants left at his howse, with bullets of severall sizes, three hounderd or thereabouts, to be used if the conspirators should pursue him thether: and these two persons promised theire aides in the quarrell, and confirmed that promise with health in good rosa solis.
Now Captaine Shrimp, the first Captaine in the Land, (as hee supposed,) must doe some new act to repaire this losse, and, to vindicate his reputation, who had sustained blemish by this oversight, begins now to study, how to repaire or survive his honor: in this manner, callinge of Councell, they conclude.
Hee takes eight persons more to him, and, (like the nine Worthies of New Canaan,) they imbarque with preparation against Ma-re-Mount, where this Monster of a man, as theire phrase was, had his denne; the whole number, had the rest not bin from home, being but seaven, would have given Captaine Shrimpe, (a quondam Drummer,) such a wellcome as would have made him wish for a Drume as bigg as Diogenes tubb, that hee might have crept into it out of sight.
Now the nine Worthies are approached, and mine Host prepared: having intelligence by a Salvage, that hastened in love from Wessaguscus to give him notice of their intent.
One of mine Hosts men prooved a craven: the other had prooved his wits to purchase a little valoure, before mine Host had observed his posture.
The nine worthies comming before the Denne of this supposed Monster, (this seaven headed hydra, as they termed him,) and began, like Don Quixote against the Windmill, to beate a parly, and to offer quarter, if mine Host would yeald; for they resolved to send him for England; and bad him lay by his armes.
But hee, (who was the Sonne of a Souldier,) having taken up armes in his just defence, replyed that hee would not lay by those armes, because they were so needefull at Sea, if hee should be sent over. Yet, to save the effusion of so much worty bloud, as would haue issued out of the vaynes of these 9. worthies of New Canaan, if mine Host should have played upon them out at his port holes, (for they came within danger like a flocke of wild geese, as if they had bin tayled one to another, as coults to be sold at a faier,) mine Host was content to yeelde upon quarter; and did capitulate with them in what manner it should be for more certainety, because hee knew what Captaine Shrimpe was.
Hee expressed that no violence should be offered to his person, none to his goods, nor any of his Howsehold: but that hee should have his armes, and what els was requisit for the voyage: which theire Herald retornes, it was agreed upon, and should be performed.
But mine Host no sooner had set open the dore, and issued out, but instantly Captaine Shrimpe and the rest of the worties stepped to him, layd hold of his armes, and had him downe: and so eagerly was every man bent against him, (not regarding any agreement made with such a carnall man,) that they fell upon him as if they would have eaten him: some of them were so violent that they would have a slice with scabbert, and all for haste; untill an old Souldier, (of the Queenes, as the Proverbe is,) that was there by accident, clapt his gunne under the weapons, and sharply rebuked these worthies for their unworthy practises. So the matter was taken into more deliberate consideration.
Captaine Shrimpe, and the rest of the nine worthies, made themselves, (by this outragious riot,) Masters of mine Hoste of Ma-re Mount, and disposed of what hee had at his plantation.
This they knew, (in the eye of the Salvages,) would add to their glory, and diminish the reputation of mine honest Host; whome they practised to be ridd of upon any termes, as willingly as if hee had bin the very Hidra of the time.
Chap. XVI. How the 9 worthies put mine Host of Ma-re-Mount into the enchanted Castle at Plimmouth, and terrified him with the Monster Briareus.
The nine worthies of New Canaan having now the Law in their owne hands, (there being no generall Governour in the Land; nor none of the Seperation that regarded the duety they owe their Soveraigne, whose naturall borne Subjects they were, though translated out of Holland, from whence they had learned to worke all to their owne ends, and make a great shewe of Religion, but no humanity,) for they were now to sit in Counsell on the cause.
And much it stood mine honest Host upon to be very circumspect, and to take Eacus to taske; for that his voyce was more allowed of then both the other: and had not mine Host confounded all the arguments that Eacus could make in their defence, and confuted him that swaied the rest, they would have made him unable to drinke in such manner of merriment any more. So that following this private counsell, given him by one that knew who ruled the rost, the Hiracano ceased that els would split his pinace.
A conclusion was made and sentence given that mine Host should be sent to England a prisoner. But when hee was brought to the shipps for that purpose, no man durst be so foole hardy as to undertake carry him. So these Worthies set mine Host upon an Island, without gunne, powther, or shot or dogge or so much as a knife to get any thinge to feede upon, or any other cloathes to shelter him with at winter then a thinne suite which hee had one at that time. Home hee could not get to Ma-re-Mount. Upon this Island hee stayed a moneth at least, and was releeved by Salvages that tooke notice that mine Host was a Sachem of Passonagessit, and would bringe bottles of strong liquor to him, and unite themselves into a league of brother hood with mine Host; so full of humanity are these infidels before those Christians.
From this place for England sailed mine Host in a Plimmouth shipp, (that came into the Land to fish upon the Coast,) that landed him safe in England at Plimmouth: and hee stayed in England untill the ordinary time for shipping to set forth for these parts, and then retorned: Noe man being able to taxe him of any thinge.
But the Worthies, (in the meane time,) hoped they had bin ridd of him.
The New English Canaan of Thomas Morton with Introductory Matter and Notes, by Thomas Morton and Charles Francis Adams is produced by Project Gutenberg and released under a public domain license.