Peter C. MancallJun 14, 2021
The Trials of Thomas Morton
An Anglican Lawyer, His Puritan Foes, and the Battle for a New England
Yale University Press 2019
Every good story needs a villain, and some of the early chroniclers of the pilgrim and puritan settlements found all they needed for this type of character in Thomas Morton. Peter C. Mancall tells the story in The Trials of Thomas Morton: An Anglican Lawyer, His Puritan Foes, and the Battle for a New England (Yale UP, 2019), in what reads perhaps like a historical legal thriller novel. Most of our knowledge of Morton comes from the records left by his enemies, but Mancall's new research into this enigmatic figure unveils how this unlikely anti-hero can shed tremendous light on alternate possibilities in the contentious early years of the European-Native encounter. Morton's own writings portray a vision of an altogether different kind of indigenous–settler future. Yet Morton's continued antagonism of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonial governments led to his repeated exile. While he was repudiated by the earliest generations of readers for debauchery and political menace, subsequent generations continue to find in Thomas Morton a countercultural icon in a world dominated by religious dissidents.
Ryan David Shelton (@ryoldfashioned) is a social historian of British and American Protestantism and a PhD researcher at Queen’s University Belfast.