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Merrymount

While the Pilgrims in Plymouth were struggling for bread, Captain John Smith's pamphlet about this wonderful Land of the Bays, was exciting more and more interest. "Of all the four parts of the world that I have seen," wrote Smith, "I would rather live here than anywhere else." He told the people of England about the shoals of cod in this region; and in 1622 as many as thirty-five ships came to New England to fish. The Plymouth merchants, who claimed all the country, appealed to King James to forbid fishing without the permission of their company. But the busy fishermen said that the sea was free, and one might as well try to keep them from breathing air or drinking water, as from taking draughts of fish in the boundless waters of the New England bays.

So they kept on coming, and their vessels sailed back into every port of Europe, laden with the fish they had caught and dried on the coast.

The fishing stations of Portsmouth and Dover were built on the strawberry bank of the Piscataqua in New Hampshire, and clusters of rude houses thatched with bark, were scattered along the coast of Maine.

Farther south, at Cape Ann and along the winding curves of Massachusetts Bay, fishing posts stood, like lighthouses, where a busy trade was carried on.

Besides these fishermen and common trades-people, many of the gentry of England came to the New World in search of adventure.

"What a field for the angler," they cried, "where a dozen different varieties of fish would bite the hook in one lazy summer afternoon.

"What a change from the falcon and hounds, to plunge into the gloomy forests, where strange beasts lie in ambush for the juicy white meat of an Englishman!"

And so the wilds of America became as fascinating to the sportsmen of Europe, as the jungles of India are to-day.

In 1625 Thomas Morton, a young lawyer of fine family, and some boon companions, crossed the sea to get all the enjoyment they could out of the New World, and at the same time make their fortunes in the fur trade. They built cabins at Mount Wallaston, at the mouth of a winding stream, which emptied into Boston Bay. It was an ideal spot. Out in the bay lay beautiful islands abounding in shell-fish, and beyond the beach wide stretches of meadow sloped up to hill and forest, bringing game within easy flight of an arrow.

To the south, in plain view from the hill, stood the lonely blockhouse of Weymouth.

But these young fellows learned no lessons from the ruins of Weymouth, and proceeded to live in a very reckless fashion, indeed.

They laughed gayly at the "brethren" of Plymouth, and declared that life was too short to spend so much time in praying and keeping the ten commandments.

They called their settlement "Merrymount," and cut down a giant pine-tree, eighty feet high, for a May-pole.

Such a high pole had never been seen in old England, and to show the giant of the forest due respect, they brought it into camp with great ceremony, firing off the guns and pistols, blowing the horns and shouting like madmen. When the revelers had set the pole up, they wound it with garlands of sweet, wild Bowers, and pasted on rhymes about May-day and Flora, the Queen of the May.

They drank ale and rum until their heads were light, and then called in the neighboring Indians to help them drink more. They drew the II lasses in beaver coats" into a dance, and the whole company whirled about the May-pole in great glee.

When the Pilgrims heard of these merry makings, they were greatly grieved. They thought dancing was wicked, and celebrating May-day was a heathenish custom.

But they soon had reason to fear that worse things than these might happen. Merrymount became the meeting-place of wild fishermen and reckless rabble along the whole New England coast.

Morton and his friends were anxious to make their fortunes as quickly as possible, and sold the Indians all the rum they wanted.

So the post became the great centre of trade. The bay was full of canoes laden with the furs of the otter, the martens, the black wolf and other rare animals.

Cargoes of beaver-skins were bought for almost nothing, and sold in London at ten shillings a pound.

But rum was not making money fast enough, and so they began to teach the Indians how to charge muskets and fire them. So eager were the red men to possess the thunder, that they paid twenty times what the firearms were worth.

And soon the Plymouth people met them ranging through the woods, shooting at every object they met.

When Governor Bradford remonstrated with Morton for this, he received an impudent answer, and the selling of firearms continued until all the little English settlements of Massachusetts Bay met together, and petitioned Plymouth to help put down the troublesome neighbors.

Governor Bradford again sent a remonstrance to the "Sachem" of Merrymount, and was again met with defiance.

Then Captain Miles Standish, with his eight picked men, was sent up to Boston Bay to administer justice.

Morton was arrested, but escaped in the night from his guards, and fled under cover of a violent storm to the blockhouse, where he barricaded the windows and doors, and prepared to defend himself. In the end he was seized and sent to England for trial.

Many months later he returned to America, and, for various misdemeanors, was set in the stocks in one of the colonies; and the Indians, "the poor, silly lambs," as he called them, came to gaze at their old boon companion, and wondered how he had ever been brought so low.