Merrymount – A very gay Hippie Pilgrim Society

The town of Merrymount stood out in the Puritan world of New England in the 1600s because of its tolerance towards gender roles and homosexuality.

HomoCulture LGBT History Silvia Hildebrandt

This article was published on May 21st, 2019

The Late Middle Ages saw an opening to new ways of life, of culture and of loving. The grip of the church lessened as the Renaissance saw stronger, militaristic kings rising in Europe. While the church was split in itself in Reformation era, secular culture bloomed. 

But not everyone was pleased by this new tolerant way of thinking. Many people searched for a new puritanism in the New World. The Mayflower set sail for the New England shores, where its people slowly but surely formed a new society. 

One of the few early colonies was the town Merrymount in Quincy, Massachusetts, founded in 1625. 

But the rigor of the Puritan lifestyle soon faded for the Merrymounters when they met the indigenous Mamitaree tribe that already inhabited this patch of land, and when they learned about the different understanding of gender which they experienced in the Natives. There, men were allowed to wear women’s clothes and even married other men, exerting traditionally female roles in their society. Soon, the settlers took over some aspects of their lifestyle. 

While other new founded Pilgrim towns strictly forbade any sexual acts which did not end in reproduction, Merrymount became somewhat of a refugee for homosexuals. 

There are surprisingly many accounts of same-sex acts at that time, considering how prude people were considered. In 1629, the ship Talbot carried “five beastly Sodomitical boys [who] confessed their wickedness not to be named.”[1]

A few years later, two men were accused of “lude behavior and uncleane carriage one w[ith] another, by often spendinge their seede one vpon another.”[2]

Punishments were prison, beating, whipping, branding and exiling, some even back to the continent. 

Meanwhile, in Merrymount, the inhabitants celebrated their own unique lifestyle by parties with emphasize on fluid gender roles. They dressed up as animals wearing explicit clothes, referencing Zeus and Ganymede for example: “One was a youth in glistening apparel, with a scarf of the rainbow pattern crosswise on his breast. … There was the likeness of a bear erect, brute in all but his hind legs, which were adorned with pink silk stockings. “

With time passing by, other Colonists were influenced and inspired by the Merrymounters. Practical need often stopped them from exercising harsh Puritan ways of punishment for same-sex relationships. Death rate was high, society lacked strong workers and sending good men to jail or even killing them for forbidden sexual intercourse seemed more and more like a waste of resources. Out of necessity came tolerance. 

[1] //www.jstor.org/stable/3787139?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[2] //www.histarch.illinois.edu/plymouth/Lauria1.html

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