Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ever heard of this guy? (8)

So, who was the biggest party guy in the newly founded American colonies? My vote goes to a fellow named Thomas Merton (1576-1647), who really gave the Puritans fits.

The Puritans, of course, had left impure England and had settled in the Netherlands, which accepted folks of any and all religious sects. But when the Puritans saw that their kids were growing up like the Dutch - tolerant! - they arranged passage to the New World. Hence the Mayflower and all that.

But when, after much hardship, Gov. William Bradford and his followers made alliances with some Indian tribes and had become a successful colony, other people started to show up - non-Pilgrim colonists sent to bolster the population, traders, etc. And these folks were more interested in making a living than sharing in the Puritan lifestyle.

One of them, Thomas Merton, founded a village about 20 miles north of Plymouth. In this place, mostly filled with men disenchanted with Puritan rules, the guys would set up maypoles and danced with Indian women. Drinking went on. It was grim. As Bradford wrote, they would engage in "dancing and frisking together like so many fairies, or furies rather, and worse practices." Bradford organized a military expedition in 1628, staged a 2 a.m. raid - when the bad guys were likely to be hung over - and unceremoniously shipped the men back to England.

Later, in England, Merton wrote a book describing life in New England, hoping the British authorities would crack down upon a colony setting itself up as so independent. But Bradford and the Pilgrims had won. For a while, anyway.

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