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Photos: Lebrecht Music & Arts / Alamy Stock; Getty/whitemay
Unlike the Puritans he lived among, Thomas Morton loved nature, local tribes, and pagan traditions like dancing around the maypole. The Puritans banned a book book he wrote — the first banned book in America. 

Today we joke about Boston and its “Banned in Boston” moniker. We criticize other communities that ban books they believe threaten local morals. People have always tried to address threats they believe are posed by certain ideas. Even now we argue about the best way to keep fake news off social media. But who is to decide? I hope we don’t think government officials — whether they’re currently the ones we voted for or not —  are capable of deciding.

Let’s take a look at an old controversy over America’s first banned book.

Matthew Taub writes at Atlas Obscura, “Apparently, Thomas Morton didn’t get the memo. The English businessman arrived in Massachusetts in 1624 with the Puritans, but he wasn’t exactly on board with the strict, insular, and pious society they had hoped to build for themselves.

“ ‘He was very much a dandy and a playboy,’ says William Heath, a retired professor from Mount Saint Mary’s University who has published extensively on the Puritans. …

“Within just a few short years, Morton established his own unrecognized offshoot of the Plymouth Colony, in what is now the town of Quincy, Massachusetts (the birthplace of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams). He revived forbidden old-world customs, faced off with a Puritan militia determined to quash his pagan festivals, and wound up in exile.

“He eventually sued and, like any savvy rabble-rouser should, got a book deal out of the whole affair. Published in 1637, his New English Canaan mounted a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures that went far beyond what most New English settlers could accept. So they banned it — making it likely the first book explicitly banned in what is now the United States. …

“The Puritans’ move across the ‘pond’ was motivated by both religion and commerce, but Morton was there only for the latter reason, as one of the owners of the Wollaston Company. He loved what he saw of his new surroundings, later writing that Massachusetts was the ‘masterpiece of nature.’ His business partner — slave-owning Richard Wollaston — moved south to Virginia to expand the company’s business, but Morton was already deeply attached to the land. …

‘He was extremely responsive to the natural world and had very friendly relations with the Indians,’ says Heath, while ‘the Puritans took the opposite stance: that the natural world was a howling wilderness, and the Indians were wild men that needed to be suppressed.’

“After Wollaston left, Morton enlisted the help of some brave recruits — both English and Native — to establish the breakoff settlement of Ma-Re Mount, also known as Merrymount. …

“The Puritan authorities didn’t see Merrymount as a free-wheeling annoyance; they saw an existential threat. The problem wasn’t only that Morton was taking goods and commerce away from Plymouth, but that he was giving that business to the Native Americans, including trading guns to the Algonquins.

“With Plymouth’s monopoly dissolved and its perceived enemies armed, Morton had perhaps done more than anyone else to undermine the Puritan project in Massachusetts. Worse yet, in the words of Plymouth’s governor William Bradford, Morton condoned ‘dancing and frisking together’ with the Native Americans . … Governor Bradford nicknamed Morton the ‘Lord of Misrule.’

“There could be no greater symbol of such misrule than Morton’s maypole. … Throughout medieval Europe, maypoles had been a popular installation for May Day (or Pentecost or midsummer, in some regions) — encouraging human fertility as the land itself sprung up from winter. Now that was a tradition that Morton could get behind, and he gladly called upon the residents of Merrymount to drink, dance, and frolic around the pole. The establishment of Merrymount had been a provocation, but Morton’s May Day celebrations meant war.”

What happened next? Find out at Atlas Obscura, here.

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Photo: Bryn Mawr College

Happy May Day, the old-fashioned kind that involves surprise flowers and dancing around the May Pole.

This year’s came in like a lion, with icy rain, and is going out like a lamb. Spring can’t be stopped now.

Here are a few photos of the season.

Congress-St-flower-boxes

mottled-tree-by-train-stop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pine-branches

May-Day-basket

 

 

 

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