pagans and pilgrims

On Thanksgiving, libertarians like to tell the lesser-known story of the early Pilgrims, their initial communism, their early famine, and their physical salvation through the institution of private property. I link to a few examples here.

You can read the Foundation for Economic Education’s version here:

In his chapter on the founding of Plymouth colony (which we feature today at, Murray Rothbard tells a story I’d certainly never heard before:

In 1625, Thomas Morton, gentleman lawyer and an agent of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, organized another settlement, Merrymount, north of Plymouth at the present site of Quincy, Massachusetts. Merrymount was an Anglican settlement, and the citizens did not comport themselves in the highly ascetic fashion to which the Plymouth Separatists wished them to conform. Apparently Merrymount was merry indeed, and whiskey and interracial (white-Indian) revelry abounded, including the old Anglican (but denounced by the Pilgrims as pagan) custom of dancing around a maypole, a practice which King James I had urged in his Book of Sports (1617).

Plymouth had established friendly relations with the Indians, but Merrymount was now threatening to compete most effectively with Plymouth’s highly lucrative monopoly of the beaver trade with the Indians. Merrymount was also a place where Morton set his servants free and made them partners in the fur trade, and thus it loomed as a highly attractive haven for runaway servants from Plymouth.

Plymouth Pilgrims invaded Merrymount and chopped down the “pagan” maypole.

The Pilgrims denounced Morton’s colony as a “school of atheism” — “atheism” apparently signifying the use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the maypole, and selling rum and firearms to the Indians (and buying furs in exchange). The sale of rum and firearms was condemned even though relations with the Indians had been perfectly peaceful. Then, in 1628, Plymouth established a virtual New England tradition of persecution by dispatching Captain Standish with an armed troop to eradicate Merrymount.

Having surrendered on the promise of safe treatment to himself and the settlement, Morton was assaulted by Standish and his men and almost killed, the Plymouth forces “not regarding any agreement made with such a carnal man.” Hauled into a Plymouth court — despite Plymouth’s lack of legal jurisdiction over Merrymount — Morton was almost executed; his death was urged at great length by Miles Standish. Finally, he was deported back to England, with Standish still threatening to kill Morton personally before he could leave the colony. Before deportation, Morton was confined alone for over a month of severe winter at the Isles of Shoals without a gun, knife, or proper clothing.

So I guess the Puritan Pilgrims were leftwing (in the 20th-century sense) in their economics and rightwing (in the post-WWII sense) in their military policy.

I’m tempted to make the Maypole a part of my family’s Thanksgiving tradition.


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