John Earthy's Tavern

by Fred Gosbee

Released 2012
Released 2012
Historic Songs of Maine - Being a Choice and Well-Selected Collection of Sentimental, Patriotic, Naval and Comic Songs
The idea for the John Earthy’s Tavern CD grew from the realisation that I had learnt or written many songs about historical events in Maine spanning almost three centuries. Few people know or appreciate how important Maine was in the early years of European colonisation. We don’t know exactly when European fishermen started visiting our shores and establishing seasonal fishing camps; it is likely to have been in the mid-1500s or even earlier. We do have documentation and archaeological evidence for the Popham Colony, established in 1607, the same year as Jamestown, Virginia. We don’t know when Pemaquid became a year-round settlement, but by 1620 it was well established and able to offer help to the Pilgrims.

As the project grew, Julia Lane suggested several songs to include and round out the program. Indeed, there are several fine and interesting songs that we want to include on a future project.

Most of the songs in this collection have Maine connections and I have tried to include those connections in the song notes. It is my hope that this musical journey through three centuries of Maine and New England history will entertain, inform, and perhaps inspire listeners to investigate the history of their own communities.
– Fred Gosbee
June 17, 2012

Year 1607

Ballad of the Popham Expedition © 2007 Fred Gosbee

James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603. He encouraged expeditions to establish settlements in Virginia, as the English then called North America. In 1607 two colonies were begun, Jamestown in Virginia and Popham in Maine. The northern expedition was undertaken by the Plymouth Company, financed by John Popham, then in his eighties, and led by his son, George, who was in his sixties. Raleigh Gilbert, at twenty three, was second in command.

Since much of the forest in Great Britain and Ireland had been cut, the Plymouth Company wanted to publicise the wealth of timber in New England. They brought with them a London shipwright, Digby, who laid the keel for the Virginia four days after the expedition landed. During the winter of 1607-08 Digby and about forty five men built the thirty ton pinnace. The Virginia is recorded as the first European ship to be built in North America. She crossed the Atlantic at least twice. She eventually sailed to Jamestown where she was used as a fishing boat.

While Jamestown had a mortality rate approaching 90% there were only two fatalities in Popham. One was George Popham and the mantle of leadership fell on young Gilbert. After spending the winter on the frozen coast of Maine and provoking the local natives to hostility they were no doubt relieved to see their supply ship arrive the next summer. With the news that not only their patron, the well-connected John Popham had died, but also Raleigh’s elder brother, John, their fort was torched to keep it from falling into French hands and Raleigh Gilbert sailed home to claim his inheritance.

The site of the Popham Colony was lost until 1994. There was extensive archaology done there over the course of fifteen years. Among the finds was a crystal beaded cartouch which is visible in a portrait of Raleigh Gilbert done before the Popham adventure.

The guitar used on this track is a 10-string baroque guitar I built in 2005 with way too much inlay, tied-on frets and a wedding cake rosette.

When King James wore the English crown
Two ships sailed forth from Plymouth town.
The Gift of God and Mary & John
To Virginia made their way.
George Popham was the leader then
And with him there went six-score men
To build a fort on the northern strand
And for the winter stay.

Using tools of the proper sort
They built a house and a sturdy fort
Their brave adventure to support
And a colony to begin.
Then Raleigh Gilbert looked, it seemed,
Up every river, brook and stream
The Northwest Passage was the dream
Would all their fortunes win.

And as they viewed the woods around
The oaks and pine there did abound
The like of which had not been found
In England for many a year.
There was among those hardy wights
One shipwright, Digby he was hight.
He laid a keel by the water bright
To build a pinnace there.

As autumn's days began to wane
Their two ships sailed back home again,
Leaving forty-five brave men
There by the ocean side.
Scarce one month or two was past
Before the winter's icy blast
Brought great hardship, cold and frost.
Twas then George Popham died.

The colonists were in great need
When young Gilbert took the lead;
Strong of will and rash of deed,
And whether 'twas right or wrong,
With haughty mien he sent his men
To fight the local Indians
For food and firewood ran out then
As winter lingered long

Yet doughty Digby labored on
The beams were hewed and planks were sawn.
The pinnace frame was raised anon,
A ship of thirty tuns.
The hull was fit, the seams were caulked,
The mast was set, spars rigged aloft.
The sails were bent when she was launched;
Virginia was done!

But they had barely rigged the clews
When a ship came there and brought sad news
John Popham had died; John Gilbert, too,
But Raleigh was his heir.
So Fort St. George was burnéd down
For fear by France it might be found.
To Compton Castle was Gilbert bound,
To friends and family there.

Two ships the North Atlantic crossed.
The Popham colony was lost.
The Plymouth Company bore the cost
But all was not in vain.
Virginia also made the trip,
The first of many wooden ships
Crafted and launched down the slips
All on the coast of Maine.

Year 1627

The Maypole Songe (Thomas Morton)

Thomas Morton was born in Devon, England, about 1578. Devon remained Anglican during the rising prominance of Protestantism and also was an area where many of the old customs were observed. When Morton studied the law in London he was exposed to Renassaince and libertine ideas.

He entered the service of Fernando Georges, a prominant colonial entrepeneur and in 1618 became Georges’s overseer for his properties in New England. Morton first voyaged to Plymouth (Massachusetts) in 1622 but was back in London in 1623, complaining about the intolerance of the Puritan settlements. He returned to New England in 1624 as a senior partner in a trading scheme with Captain Wollaston.

The partners established a trading post at Merrymount, now part of Quincey, and began a thriving trade with the local Algonquins. Morton admired their culture and by all accounts, treated them fairly in his dealings. When Morton discovered that Wollaston was selling the induntured men who had come with them, virtually as slaves, to Jamestown. Morton led them in a revolt against the captain, who fled to Jamestown, leaving Morton in charge of the community. He set out to integrate his settlers with the local tribe and to establish his own utopian colony, based on his Anglican and libertine ideals, much to the disgust of his Puritan neighbors, who described the residents of Merrymount as worthless idlers who spent their days in debauchery. Merrymount was the fastest growing community in New England with a thriving and agricultural and fur trade, so it would appear that econimic as well as religious factors were leading toward a confrontation. Morton erected a Maypole in 1627, much to the disgust of his Puriton neighbors.

In 1628 Morton erected an even bigger Maypole - eighty feet tall and topped with deer antlers. This was too much for the Plymouth community. The militia, led by Myles Standish, marched on Merrymount, cut down the Maypole, arrested Morton, and marooned him on the Isle of Shoals. Eventually he made it back to England. When he returned to Merrymount in 1629 he found that Plymouth has raided the plentiful supplies there during the winter, and the community had been scattered. Morton was arrested a second time and banished from the colony. The following year the Puritan colonists burned Merrymount to the ground.

He barely survived this second ordeal but by 1631, when he had regained his health, he brought suit against the Massachusetts Bay Company and succeeded in getting their charter revoked. In 1637 Morton published New English Canaan. In these three books he described the bountiful recources of New England, praised the native culture and denounced the Puritan of Massachusetts. His descriptions of the Plymouth colony are the basis of the popular view of the Puritans that exists to this day.

Morton fled the English Civil War in 1642, returning to Plymouth where he was arrested yet again. He was imprisoned while evidence was sought to try him for sedition as a royalist agitator . He spent the winter in prison, no evidence was forthcoming and as his health failed he was granted clemency. He came finally to Maine, where he spent his remaining days amidst planters from his beloved West Country. Thomas Morton died in 1647 at the age of 71.

The text for this song was published by Morton in New English Canaan. The melody, Staines Morris, was popular in the early 17th century.

Drinke and be merry, merry, merry boyes,
Let all your delight be in Hymens joyes,
Io to Hymen now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take a Roome.

Make greene garlands, bring bottles out;
And fill sweet Nectar, freely about,
Uncover thy head, and feare no harm,
For hers good liquor to keepe it warme.

Nectar is a thing assign'd,
By the Deities owne minde,
To cure the hart opprest with grief,
And of good liquors is the chief,
Give to the Mellancolly man,
A cup or two of't now and than;
This physick' will soone revive his bloud,
And make him be of a merrier mood.

Give to the Nymphe thats free from scorne,
No Irish; stuff nor Scotch over worn,
Lasses in beaver coats come away,
Ye shall be welcome to us night and day.

Year 1628
Morton’s Return © James V. Ryan (used by permission)

The Merrymount incident influenced the cultural fabric of New England for centuries. Nathanial Hawthorn included his short story “The Maypole of Merrymount” in his book “Twice Told Tales” published in 1837. The poet Robert Lowell adapted this story into his play, “The Old Glory” in 1964.

While the Merrymount maypole of 1627 is usually thought to be the first in New England there is documentation of a maypole on Damariscove Island in 1622

Thomas Weston, a British merchant, in early 1622 sent from London seven passengers and some letters in his fishing ship, Sparrow, headed for the Plymouth Colony, founded just two years earlier. The Sparrow made landfall too far north, in the spring of 1622, at Damariscove Island (“wanting a pilot”). Phinehas Pratt, a member of the Sparrow’s crew, related the story of the lively Damariscove fishermen in May of 1622, in his own words and seventeenth-century spelling: “The men yt belong to ye ship, ther fishing, had newly set up a may pole and weare very mery.” – Chip Griffin

I’ll tarry no longer, to Merrymount I will go
I’ll drink whene’re I want to and dance around the pole
While women will attend me in the company of friends.
Tell ‘em old Tommy Morton’s come to Merrymount again

I first came to these shores my fortune to find
In the company of Wollaston and others so inclined.
But cruelly he deserted us. Bereft and all alone
In a strange and savage country we made Merrymount our home

Quite soon we were befriended by a host of Algonquin.
They could hunt and trap and fish, but they were not businessmen
Yet we treated them most squarley in all matters of our trade.
Sure as night follows day, it seemed our fortunes were made.

To celebrate our fortune a Maypole we did raise
And with our native brothers we danced and sang God’s praise
And with our native sisters we often did lie down
‘Till the laughter of our revels was heard in Plymouth town.

Soon word came back from Plymouth that a company of men
Was marching down to Merrymount our rowdiness to end.
We passed a jug among us for to fight them was our plan
But when they got up to Merrymount we were to drunk to stand.

They clapped me into irons and sent me out to sea
In a ship that sailed for England; heavy charges laid on me.
But no jury would convict me - they freed me from my chains
And I vowed that I would soon return to Merrymount again.

So we land in the morning. We’ll come in with the tide.
For my beloved Merrymount I’d cross the whole world wide.
It seems what I call pleasure other men mistake for vice
And what others call New England to me is Paradise.

Year 1643
New England Annoyances by Edward Johnson (?)
tune: Derry Down

In his book “New England Annoyances - America’s First Folk Song”, Leo Lemay identifies Edward Johnson as the probable author of the text and 1643 as the probable date. He also evaluates the oldest published versions (1758, 1774, 1791) to reconstruct a plausible original. With verses that are at times realistic, exaggerated, humourous and serious, this song describes some of the hardships faced by the Puritons in the early years of the settlements in Massachussets. Yet despite the litany of complaints the song concludes with the advice “forsake not the honey for fear of the sting”.

This song is emblematic of the New England character which has persisted to the present day, especially in the northern regions.

New England’s Annoyances, if you would know them
Just ponder these verses that quickly will show them.
The place where we live is a wilderness wood,
Where grass is much wanting that’s fruitful and good.

From the end of November till three months are gone,
The ground is all frozen as hard as a stone,
Our mountains and hills and valleys below
Are commonly covered with ice and with snow.

And when the north-wester with violence blows,
Then every man pulls his cap over his nose;
But if any’s so hardy and would it withstand,
He forfeits a finger, a foot, or a hand.

Our clothes we brought with us are apt to be torn,
They need to be mended before they are worn.
But wearing patched clothing, it troubles us nothing.
Double patches are warmer than single whole clothing!

When the ground opens we then take the hoe,
And make the ground ready to plant and to sow;
Our corn being planted and seed being sown,
The worms destroy much before it is grown.
While it is growing much spoil there is made,
By birds and by squirrels that pluck up the blade;
Even when it is grown to full corn in the ear,
Much spoil there is made by the racoon, and deer.

If flesh meat be wanting to fill up our dish,
We have pumpkins and turnips as much as we wish;
And when we have a mind for a delicate dish,
We repair to the clam banks, and there we catch fish.

For pottage and porridge and pudding and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon;
If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone.

Now while some are going let others be coming,
For while liquor's boiling it must have a scumming;
But I will not blame them, for birds of a feather,
By seeking their fellows, are flocking together.

But you whom the Lord intends hither to bring,
Forsake not the honey for fear of the sting;
But bring both a quiet and contented mind,
And all needful blessings you surley will find.

Year 1673
John Earthy’s Tavern © Fred Gosbee 2011
tune: Larry O’Gaff

John Earthy kept a tavern in Pemaquid from sometime prior to 1673 until 1675. At that time Pemaquid was an economic rather than a military outpost; political and ecomonic decisions were made by local community leaders. From his letters we know that John Earthy was trying to avert hostilities in Maine during the early months of King Phillip’s War. He was successful for a while.

Subsequent to that war the five tribes in Acadia formed the Wabanaki Alliance, based in northern New England, to stop the expansion of the English colonies. From this base near their French allies in Canada, they conducted fought the five “French and Indian Wars” between 1689 and 1763. During this time European settlements in Maine were often abandoned. Pemaquid therefore has three settlement dates: circa 1608, 1692, and 1729.

A colonial tavern was the heart of the community (if not the soul). It was a place for social and official gatherings, a way stop for travelers, depot for mail delivery and in the very early days a trading post as wel...

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Concerts in Brief

  • Mar 12
    The Ridge,  Exeter
  • Mar 15
    Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church,  Baltimore
  • Mar 16
    Lakewood Manor,  Richmond
  • Mar 18
    Well-Spring Retirement Community,  Greensboro
  • Mar 19
    Country Club of Salisbury,  Salisbury