Myles Standish

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Signing of the Mayflower Compact

Myles Standish (c. 1584 - October 3, 1656), was an English-born professional soldier hired by the Pilgrims as military advisor for Plymouth colony. Arriving on the Mayflower, he worked on colonial defense. Later, he served as Plymouth's representative in England, and served as assistant to the governor and as the colony's treasurer. He was also one of the founders of the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1632. He is best remembered through Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish. On February 17, 1621 he was appointed the first commander of Plymouth colony.

Myles Standish is often remembered for his bravery in battle and his reputation as the military captain of the Pilgrims.

Standish was born about 1584 (though some put his birth later around 1587). According to Nathaniel Morton writing in New Englands Memorial (1669), Myles was from Lancashire, England. In the 20th century, some researchers attempted to place his birth at Ellanbane, Isle of Man, rather than in Lancashire. This issue has been widely debated, even becoming the subject of a Wall Street Journal article in the Thanksgiving 2004 issue.

The Standish name was well known through out Northern England and there are many buildings still standing there today named for the Standish family. His alleged birth home, Standish Hall, was auctioned at the Empress Hall, Wigan in March 1921, failing to make a reserve price of £4,800. The remaining part of the Hall was finally demolished in 1982. The original ancestral home of the Standishes was Duxbury Hall, which is still standing today. The township of Standish was of importance during the Roman occupation of Britain; and the Standish family is known to have been there since the Norman Conquest. Present Day Duxbury Hall has been sold to strangers and is surrounded by the Wigan coal-field and with it the traffic of the Yorkshire Railways along with various factories that are busily in operation. The wealth of the territorial lords has largely increased while the male descendants of the Standishes of Standish Duxbury have died out.

In his family there was a conflict over religion starting about the time Myles was born. The Standishes of Standish were the older party, and were strong Catholics. The side Myles grew up on were the Duxburys, who used to be Catholics but now were strong Protestants.

History is unclear as the reason for Myles not receiving his portion of the family inheritance, but recent research by Helen Moorwood (Lancashire History Quarterly) suggests that it could have been due to confiscation by a more powerful neighbor during the English Civil War.

Myles started his military career as a drummer, and eventually worked his way up and into the Low Countries (Holland), where English troops under Heratio Vere had been stationed to help the Dutch in their war with Spain. It was certainly here that he made acquaintance with the Pilgrims at Leyden, and came into good standing with the Pilgrims pastor John Robinson. Standish was eventually hired by them to be their Military Captain.

After the Pilgrims hired Standish as Military Captain for the voyage to America he was soon to be one of the members to sign the Mayflower Compact at Cape Cod November 11,1620. After the voyage, Standish was elected Military Captain of the colony by the leadership of the Pilgrims.

Soon after arriving at Plymouth the first illness struck the Pilgrims and this sickness took his wife Rose’s life, on January 29, 1621; Myles and Rose had no children together. In 1623, a woman named Barbara came to Plymouth on the ship Anne, and Myles married her that same year. Myles and Barbara had seven children together. They were Charles (died young), Alexander, John, Myles, Loara (http://www.pilgrimhall.org/s_sampler.htm), Josiah, and Charles.

Through all the continued sickness Standish was one of the seven that did not get sick; William Bradford quoted, “ But that was most sad and lamentable was, that in two or three months’ time half of their company died, especially in January and February…So as their died some times two or three of a day in the foresaid time, that 100 and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these, in the time of most distress, there was but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendation, be it spoken, spared no pains night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed their meat, made their beds, washed their clothes clothed and unclothed them… Two of these seven were Mr. William Brewster, their reverend Elder, and Myles Standish, their captain and military commander, unto whom myself and many others were much beholden in our low and sick condition.”

Standish was quick to make friends with the Indians; one that he befriended was named Hobomok, and they probably understood each other because they both were men of warfare.

One of Myles Standish's great achievements in history happened the second year at Plymouth when he led a force to save the settlement of Wessagusett that was under an Indian attack, hoping that doing so would prevent the same for their colony; he managed to kill some of the Indians who had led a plot to expel the English. This was the first time Plymouth had killed an Indian. Once the message of the victory reached the pastor of Leyden, John Robinson, he wrote Plymouth's governor saying “To consider the disposition of their captain, who was of a warm temper…Oh how happy a thing had it been that you had converted some before you had killed any!”

Edward Winslow quoted in Good News From New England about Standish: “Also Pecksuot, being a man of great stature than the Captain, told him, though he were a great Captain, yet he was but a little man; and said he, thought I be no sachem, yet I am a man of great strength and courage. These things the Captain observed, yet bare with patience for the present. . . On the next day he began himself with Pecksuot, and snatching his own knife from his neck, though with much struggling, killed him therewith. . . Hobbamock stood by all this as a spectator, and meddled not observing how our men demeaned themselves in this action. All being here ended, smiling, he brake forth into these speeches to the Captain: Yesterday Pecksuot, bragging of his own strength and stature, said, though you were a great captain, yet you were but a little man; but today I see you are big enough to lay him on the ground.”

Standish can be considered the Harry Hotspur of the Pilgrim band: a man whom it was easy to make fun of, but one whom his friends knew how to value, and whom even they who scoffed at him would have been glad to call their own.

Myles Standish was also the treasurer of the Colony of Duxbary from the year 1644 to 1649, which was named after the original Standish estate in England. Standish had never joined the Plymouth church (though he attended every Sunday), and to his death supposedly never did. This was possibly because of the constant conflict over religious beliefs in his family.

Myles Standish died in Duxbury Massachusetts on October 3, 1656. Nathaniel Morton, wrote of Myles Standish’s death: "This year [1656] Captain Miles Standish expired his mortal life. . . .In his younger time he went over into the low countries, and was a soldier there, and came acquainted with the church at Leynden, and came over into New England, with such of them as at the first set out the plantation of New Plymouth, and bare a deep share of their first difficulties, and was always very faithfull to their interest. He growing ancient, became sick of the stone, or stranguary, whereof, after his suffering of much solorous pain, he fell asleep in the Lord, and was Honorably buried at Duxbury.”

Myles Standish’s last will and testimony states even though leaving his family in England that he had land in various parts of England. His will states: “9 I give unto my son & heir apparent Allexander Standish all my land as heire apparent by lawful Decent in Ormistick Borsconge Wrightington Maudsley Newburrow Crawston and the Ile of man and given to me as right heire by lawful Decent but Surruptuously Detained from mee great G(ran) dfather being a 2cond or youngerbrother from the house of Standosh of Standish. March the 7th 1655 by me Standish.”

Standish is also name-checked in the R.E.M. song Begin The Begin

References

  • Alexander Mackennal, Homes and Haunts of the Pilgrim Fathers, pg. 66-85, 1976.
  • Russel Warner, Myles Standish of the Mayflower and his Descendents for Five Generations, 1996.
  • Lawrence Hill, Gentlemen of Courage...Forward, pg. 175, 1987.
  • Helen Moorwood, "Pilgrim Father Captain Myles Standish of Duxbury, Lancashire", Lancashire History Quarterly, Volume 3(1999)

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