Richard More is a distant cousin of Lindsay’s (The Patent Files, 1999), a First Comer on the Mayflower who grew up to be a bigamous debauchee, and this is his tale: a mostly jolly entertainment that finishes on a reflective note.
Lindsay has cobbled together More’s life from extant records—adding surmises and conjectures as necessary—and squared it with the times: from landfall in 1620 to the era of witches’ nooses in Salem. Product of a dalliance, More got shipped aboard the Mayflower at the age of five by his disgruntled father-in-name-only. Wonderfully, wryly told, Lindsay’s tale charts More’s wayward course. Put into the hands of a Saint—a particularly vibrant Puritan—for his first seven years at Plimouth Colony, he disappears from Lindsay’s sights until surfacing aboard the Blessing, out of London for New England in 1635. Well on his way to becoming a dispossessed soul, More falls in with the fishermen of Maine outposts, who “drank like the damned and shared their wives as they did their boats.” When he finally settles in Salem, he marries and starts to raise a family and gain a position in town. Problem is, he marries and starts to raise a family in London as well, which he takes pains to hide, as bigamy is a hanging offense. All this is painted against a rich historical backdrop of tobacco and bells, feuding between Separatists and Strangers, the Quaker and Antinomian controversies (“as usual, theology was not the real issue at stake, because no one was studying it”), the whole dissembling of the New England ideal, pretending to one course while following another.
Like something out of Henry Fielding, a bad seed gets worse (More eventually wears the scarlet letter) in a quizzical story that keeps momentum and drollery all the way to its humanist end.