This Troublesome Planter: Thomas Morton of Merry Mount

Morton’s revels upset the Pilgrim Settlers; Larry Gragg describes how he was twice deported to England and three times imprisoned.

By the mid-1620s the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony had overcome many of the difficulties that plagued their initial settlement. All had enough to eat, relations with the Indians were improving, their debts to their English backers were partly paid off, and the colony had begun a slow, stable growth. But this relative peace was soon shattered by the activities of an adventurer named Thomas Morton. The Pilgrims, and later the Puritan settlers, found him to be a menacing threat to the stability of their society.

Little is known of Thomas Morton’s life in England except that he was a lawyer at Clifford’s Inn, where he had a disturbing reputation for getting involved in fights and lawsuits. He journeyed to Massachusetts with Andrew Weston in 1622. Arriving in summer, Morton developed an immediate love of New England, calling it a paradise. ‘I did not think that in all the known world it could be paralleled’, he later wrote, ‘for in mine eye ’t was Nature’s masterpiece’.

In addition, Morton journeyed among the Indians, enjoying their hospitality. Noting the natives’ marvellous ability to trap all sorts of fur-bearing animals, the shrewd Englishman contemplated the potential for a lucrative fur-trade. But because Weston decided to return to England in the autumn, Morton had to delay the implementation of his plans.

Three years later, Morton was back in Massachusetts with a Captain Wollaston and two other men of ‘some eminency’, named Rasdall and Fitcher. Along with thirty indentured servants, the foursome landed near Boston Harbour in the vicinity of present-day Quincy, Massachusetts, hoping to establish a trading post and fishing station. They named the settlement Mount Wollaston.

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