Maypole Hill

Maypole Hill

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Maypole of Merrymount by David R. Wagner
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Maypole Hill in the Merrymount section of Quincy is known for two reasons. A rendition of the hill, which in the 17th century could easily be seen from shore, eventually became the city’s seal. The rendition shows the hill with a large tree on it. The tree has since fallen down, but what’s left of it can still be seen at the Quincy Historical Society.

The name Maypole Hill comes by way of Thomas Morton, an English outdoorsman and attorney who arrived here on Captain Wollaston’s ship Unity in 1624, just four years after the Pilgrims landed in Plimoth. Morton stood out for his willingness to learn ongoing transatlantic ways of trade to profit The Council for New England. While others prayed and went hungry, Morton’s company fraternized with Native peoples and traded guns for furs. His success and his perceived transgressions broke no laws, but so offended Plimoth and Boston’s first Puritans that they exiled him twice to England, only to see him return.

Morton’s company introduced the Maypole to Massachusetts in May 1627, most likely on the little knoll called Maypole Hill. Twined with flowers and crowned with buck’s horns, their 80-foot version worked as in “old England”--- to bring in trade and weave different people together. “The Poem” and “The Song” they nailed to the Maypole became America’s first English poetry, and read in part, “The first of May/At Ma-re Mount shall be kept holyday."

Local and national Morris Dance troupes celebrate Merrymount in May at Maypole Hill. The troupes practice old English dance that involves elaborate costumes, marching and leaping sequences, and comedy. The public is invited to learn and share Morris dances around the Maypole, sing along to songs from Morton’s time, and hear his poems and stories read aloud.

Morton's “New English Canaan” (1637) observes Native life-ways, catalogs America’s natural beauty and wealth, and satirizes his contemporary colonists. For a modern exploration of Morton, read “Thomas Morton of ‘Merrymount’: The Life and Renaissance of an Early American Poet” by Jack Dempsey, a local historian and editor of a 2000 annotated version of “New English Canaan.”

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Jack Dempsey on Thomas Morton at 2008 May Revels on Maypole Hill in Quincy

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