Capt Myles Standish, "Mayflower" Passenger

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Myles Standish

Nicknames: "Miles Standish", ""Captain Shrimpe""
Birthplace: England
Death: Died in Plymouth, MA, USA
Cause of death: kidney stones
Immediate Family:

Son of Unknown Standish and Unknown Standish
Husband of Rose Standish and Barbara Sarah Standish
Father of Charles Standish (first, died c1627); John Standish; Alexander Standish; Lora Standish; Myles Standish, Jr. and 2 others

Occupation: Captain & Military Commander of Pilgrams, Captain of Militia Plymouth Colony, Military leader, Plymouth Colony, Military Captain, Captain of the Mayflower, CAPTAIN OF THE MAYFLOWER
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Myles Standish

Captain Myles Standish (c.1584 – 1656) was a Mayflower passenger who accompanied the Pilgrims as the commander of their militia, but was not a Pilgrim in the religious sense of the group. Born in Lancashire, England in 1584 to unidentified parents, he fought as a young man against the Spanish in the Netherlands, learning the military trade and developing leadership skills. The Pilgrims, realizing that none of them had any military ability, asked him to command and train their militia, and he sailed with the original colonists.

Short, stocky, with bright red hair and a florid complexion that would turn beet red when he was angry, he was "a little chimney too soon fired" as one of his detractors once stated. However, no one questioned his bravery, and his watchfulness over the colony probably saved it from destruction by Indians in its early years. In 1632, he moved a few miles north of Plymouth to Duxbury, Massachusetts, and helped found the town there. He died at the age of 72 at Duxbury, Massachusetts on 3 October 1656, and is buried at the Myles Standish Burying Ground, Duxbury, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.

Marriages and Children

The maiden names of Myles Standish's wives Rose and Barbara are not known. Rose Standish died on 29 January 1620/1 at Plymouth, and Barbara arrived on the ship Anne in July 1623. By the time of the 1623 Division of Land, Myles and Barbara were already married. This suggests a marriage arranged by Standish, to a Barbara he either knew from home or from his stay in Leyden. There is absolutely no evidence that either wife's maiden name was Mullens.

  1. Rose Standish (____ – 1621)
  2. Barbara Standish (1588 - 1659), married 1623
    1. Charles Standish (c1624 Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts – c1627)
    2. Alexander Standish (1625 Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts – 6 July 1702 Duxbury, Massachusetts); married (1) Sarah Alden, (2) Desire (Doty) Holmes as her third husband, circa 1688
    3. John Standish (born c1626 Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts) - died unmarried before 1650
    4. Lora Standish (born 22 May 1627 Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts) - died unmarried before 1651
    5. Myles Standish, Jr. (born 1629 Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts - 19 August 1661 lost at sea); married Sarah Winslow, daughter of John Winslow, on 19 July 1660
    6. Josiah Standish (born 1633 – 19 March 1690/1 Preston, Connecticut); married (1) Mary Dingley, on 19 December 1654 Marshfield, Massachusetts (2) Sarah Allen, daughter of Samuel Allen, after 7 March 1655/6
    7. Charles Standish (born c1634 Duxbury, Massachusetts - after 7 March 1655/6) - named in father's will but no further record

Biographical Sketch

Captain Myles Standish was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims as military advisor for Plymouth Colony. One of the Mayflower passengers, Standish played a leading role in the administration and defense of Plymouth Colony from its beginning.

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

After the Mayflower's New England landfall in late 1620, Captain Standish led most of the exploratory missions of wintry Cape Cod looking for a place to settle. He discovered an abandoned cache of corn in November 1620, which when planted the next spring may have saved the colony from extinction.

As military officer, Standish designed the colony's defenses against the Indians, as well as the French, Spanish, and Dutch. He also played a role in the initial negotiations with the neighboring Wampanoags and various other Indian groups around Narragansett and Massachusetts Bay. He organized the band for training, watching, and patrolling early in 1621 when it appeared that relations with the Narragansetts might deteriorate into war.

He was included in the informal council that first governed Plymouth Colony and then from 1624 he was formally elected to the colony's Court of Assistants (essentially a legislative upper house and judicial appellate court) virtually every year until his death. Standish served as an agent of Plymouth Colony in England, as assistant governor, and as treasurer of Plymouth Colony. He was also one of the first settlers and founders of the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts.

"The Strong Sword"

Standish was about forty years old when he and his wife Rose arrived at Plymouth on the Mayflower. He was short, sturdy, and stout, and had a quick temper. The Indians called him the "little pot that soon boils over," but they also called him the "strong sword," which shows how much they respected his valor.

Though one of the Pilgrims, he was no Puritan. He came of the old Roman Catholic family of Standish of Duxbury Hall, in the English county of Yorkshire. As a young man he went across the sea to Holland, and enlisted in a Dutch regiment. He made friends in the Separatist colony at Leyden, became interested in their plans, agreed to act as military advisor to the company of Pilgrims, and embarked with them on their voyage to the New World.

He signed the compact for mutual protection in the cabin of the Mayflower; he led the first exploring party at Cape Cod; and had headed the group who explored across the bay to Plymouth. Before the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, he had seen and dealth with an Indian attack at Eastham, in memory of which this place for years retained the name the Pilgrims gave it, the "First Encounter."

A defining characteristic of Standish's military leadership was his proclivity to preemptive action which resulted in at least two attacks (or small skirmishes) on different groups of Native Americans—the Nemasket raid and the Wessagusset massacre. During these actions, Standish exhibited considerable courage and skill as a soldier, but also demonstrated a brutality that angered Native Americans and disturbed more moderate members of the Colony.

The First Winter

After the Pilgrims had built the half-dozen log huts of their little settlement upon a street (now known as Leyden Street) starting from the rock and running up to the hill, Captain Miles Standish built a platform on the hill, upon which he mounted a cannons to protect the settlement. Their first winter was really not a terrible one, as New England winters go, but it was fatal to those English people unused to the climate, the changes, and the quick consumption and deadly pneumonia they led to.

Standish was one of the few that did not get sick. William Bradford wrote, "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."

During that first winter, Rose Standish died, as did many of the original settlers. In 1624 he married Barbara (maiden name unknown), who had arrived the year before on the Anne. They had six children, four of whom survived infancy. There is no foundation for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Courtship of Myles Standish" (the surrogate courting of Priscilla Mullins) in this sparse evidence of Standish's family life.

Squantum, "The Mouth of the Englishmen"

As soon as the ground could be worked in spring, the little remnant of fifty-two seasoned settlers set about planting and farming the plantation. They were greatly helped by Squantum, an Indian who had belonged to the tribe that owned and occupied the site of Plymouth; but a few years before he had been kidnapped by a roving party of English sailors, taken to Spain in captivity, rescued by a philanthropic Englishman, taken to London, where he had lived as a servant, and finally had come back to Plymouth.

While he had been abroad a fearful epidemic had killed or scattered all his tribe; so Squantum became a wanderer, and eventually joined the Wampanoags, who lived in what is now the region of Taunton, New Bedford, and Bristol.

Squantum proved a great help to these inexperienced Englishmen. He told them what to plant and how to plant it; he explained to them all about Indian corn, which was a new cereal to the Pilgrims, but which became the mainstay and salvation of the colony.

Squantum helped create friendly relations between the Pilgrims and Massasoit the Wampanoag. Captain Miles Standish and six musketeers followed

Squantum along the town brook to the point where Massasoit and his bodyguard waited to be received. A salute was fired, and Massasoit went back with Standish and Squantum to the town, where the governor met the chieftain and agreed upon a treaty of peace and friendship. This treaty was faithfully kept for more than fifty years. It was finally broken by newcomers in the colony, and thus brought about a bloody war.

Later, when Squantum was captured by some of Massasoit’s tribe who objected to his friendship with the white men, and proposed to kill Squantum, the "mouth of the Englishmen," as they called him, Captain Miles Standish led his soldiers against the rebels, and forced them to give up Squantum and obey Massasoit.

"We much damaged our trade"

In the second year at Plymouth, Standish led a force to Wessagusett to save the settlement from a reported native attack. Although they found that that there had been no actual attack, there was evidence that one was planned. He therefore decided on a preemptive strike.

Unfortunately, while Standish returned to Plymouth a hero after the raid, the impact of his attack had larger implications. Word quickly spread among the Native American tribes of Standish's attack; many Native Americans abandoned their villages and fled the area. Edward Winslow, in his 1624 memoirs "Good News from New England", reports that "they forsook their houses, running to and fro like men distracted, living in swamps and other desert places, and so brought manifold diseases amongst themselves, whereof very many are dead".

Now lacking the trade in furs provided by the local tribes, the Pilgrims lost their main source of income for paying off their debts to the Merchant Adventurers. Rather than strengthening their position, Standish's raid had disastrous consequences for the colony, a fact noted by William Bradford, who in a letter to the Merchant Adventurers noted "[W]e had much damaged our trade, for there where we had [the] most skins the Indians are run away from their habitations..." However, one positive effect of Standish's raid was the increased power of the Massasoit-led Wampanoag, the Pilgrims' closest ally in the region.

Merry Mount

The colony's survival assured by 1623, Standish was instrumental in defending Plymouth's authority against other Europeans, a role that remained important into the 1630s. In 1624 a dispute with John Oldham led Oldham to call Standish "a beggarly rascal" and threaten him with a knife. Standish disarmed him.

Standish's most famous deed in enforcing order came in 1628 with the suppression of Thomas Morton's rollicking trading post at Merry Mount, an incident that became embedded in New England myth and lore largely through Morton's scathingly sarcastic account published in Amsterdam in 1637.

His last major effort was at Castine, Maine, in 1635 after a French party from Acadia seized a Plymouth trading post. Standish's expedition failed because of the incompetence of the captain of the vessel that the Plymouth authorities had hired to support the mission. Plymouth found itself unable to resolve this problem with the French Acadians without the concurrence of the recently founded Massachusetts Bay Colony. After 1635, in essence, Plymouth could not conduct foreign or Indian policy independent of its larger neighbor.

Underwriting the Colony's Debt

Standish garnered less fame but accomplished more of lasting significance from his role in the financial and economic development of Plymouth Colony. In 1625-1626, after Isaac Allerton and Edward Winslow had failed to renegotiate the Pilgrims' convoluted relationship with the parent companies, Standish returned to England. Standish also failed to negotiate a new agreement but successfully secured new loans and supplies.

In 1627 he became one of the "Undertakers," eventually a dozen leading settlers, who personally assumed the colony's outstanding debts in exchange for local privileges in landholding and trading. In 1630 he was vested with power of attorney from the Council of New England to oversee the transfer of that organization's land rights to Plymouth. Over the next several years he was elected treasurer six times in addition to his duties as assistant.

Founding Duxbury

Beginning in 1631 Standish and John Alden began the development of what in 1637 officially became Duxbury, the first official new town in the Old Colony. The Duxbury Church, the first congregation separate from that of Plymouth town, was formed between 1634 and 1636. Standish lived there the rest of his life, farming and raising cattle. This initial dispersal of the first, original settlement was highly controversial because it was seen as potentially diluting the religious and social solidarity of the colony.

Standish and others, in response, sought ways during 1637 to merge the Plymouth and Duxbury settlers by moving both to better lands. Both churches, however, vetoed the proposal, which then spurred the settlers of Duxbury to officially incorporate as a town. In 1638 Standish headed a committee of the General Court to lay out lands for Taunton, an act that confirmed the trend toward dispersal.

The process of town formation on the Massachusetts Bay pattern continued to cause problems of social and political control, however. In October 1639 for instance, Standish and Thomas Prence, as assistants, heard and resolved disputes over the establishment of Sandwich, involving charges that liberal land grants had been made to reputed unsavory characters. The assistants insisted that legal inhabitants had to be approved by the minister and church of the new town. In 1645 Standish and others laid out Duxbury New Plantation, which became Bridgewater in 1656. Thus Standish played a prominent role, along with the leaders of the Bay Colony, in forming and developing New England's characteristic settlement pattern.

He fell asleep in the Lord

By the 1640s, Standish had relinquished his role as an active soldier and settled into a quieter life on his Duxbury farm. Although he was still nominally the commander of military forces in a growing Plymouth Colony, he seems to have preferred to act in an advisory capacity. He died in his home in Duxbury in 1656 at age 72, survived by his wife and four sons. His estate was valued in excess of £350, including one of the best farms in the colony.

Standish also left one of the largest and most diverse libraries in seventeenth-century English America. Although he supported and defended the Pilgrim colony for much of his life, there is no evidence to suggest that Standish ever subscribed to the Pilgrims' religious beliefs or joined their church.

Nathaniel Morton wrote of his death, "This year [1656] Captain Myles 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 faithful to their interest. He growing ancient, became sick of the stone, or stranguary, whereof, after his suffering of much dolorous pain, he fell asleep in the Lord, and was Honorably buried at Duxbury.

Standish’s last will and testament states even he had land in various parts of England. His will states: “I give unto my son & heir apparent Allexander Standish all my land as heire apparent by lawful Decent in Ormistick [Ormskirk], Borsconge [Burscough], Wrightington, Maudsley [Mawdesley], Newburrow [Newborough], Crawston [Croston] and the Ile of man [Isle of Man ] and given to me as right heire by lawful Decent but Surruptuously Detained from my great Grandfather being a second or younger brother from the house of Standosh [Standish] of Standish. March the 7th 1655 by me Standish.” These lands now make up the Lancashire towns of Chorley and Ormskirk.

Discussion

A lot of research has been done on the ancestry of Myles Standish, yet nothing conclusive on his parents has been found. Those who believe he was from Lancashire point to the following evidence: Nathaniel Morton, writing in his 1669 book "New England's Memorial", states that Standish was from Lancashire; Myles Standish owned a book about the former head of the Rivington Grammar School in Lancashire; and Standish named his American residence "Duxbury," which may have been a reference to his ancestral home, Duxbury Hall, Lancashire.

Those that believe he was from the Isle of Man point to the lands enumerated in his probate will that were "surreptitiously detained" from him (including lands on the Isle of Man itself); these lands all belonged at one time to Thomas Standish, of the branch of the Standish family from the Isle of Man. In September 2006, Jeremy D. Bangs supplied a very thorough and scholarly review of the evidence and controversy in "Myles Standish, Born Where?", Mayflower Quarterly 72:133-159.

G.V.C. Young has suggested Myles Standish's great-grandfather was Huan Standish of the Isle of Man. However, more recent research has undermined this theory. Thomas Morton of Merrymount, in his 1637 book "New England's Canaan", mentions that "Captain Shrimp" was bred a soldier in the Low Countries. The will of Myles Standish mentions numerous lands both in Lancashire and on the Isle of Man.

The maiden names of Myles Standish's wives Rose and Barbara are not known. Rose died on 29 January 1620/1 at Plymouth, and wife Barbara arrived on the ship Anne in July 1623. There is absolutely no evidence at all to suggest Barbara's maiden name was Mullins, as is sometimes claimed, nor that either Rose or Barbara were his cousins as occasionally claimed.

There is also no evidence to suggest Myles Standish pursued Priscilla Mullins, as depicted in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Courtship of Myles Standish". This poem was intentionally fictional and should be considered as such.

Legacy

Several towns and military installations have been named for Standish and monuments have been built in his memory. Chorley has a road and visitor centre in his honor. The former Fort Standish, located on Lovell's Island, Massachusetts, was named in his honor, as well as the town of Standish, Maine.

One of the best known depictions of Standish in popular culture was the 1858 book, "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Highly fictionalized, the story presents Standish as a timid romantic. It was extremely popular in the 19th century and played a significant role in cementing the Pilgrim story in American culture.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Arnoux, Annie. Signers of the Mayflower Compact. Clearfield Co, 1998. eBook.
  • Bradford, William. "Of Plymouth Plantation", ed. Samuel Morison (New York: Random House, 1952).
  • Bradford, William and Edward Winslow. "A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plymouth . . ." (London: John Bellamie, 1622).
  • Goodrich, Merton Taylor. "The Children and Grandchildren of Capt. Myles Standish", New England Historical and Genealogical Register 87(1933):149-153.
  • Johnson, Henry. The Exploits of Myles Standish. London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1897.
  • Langdon, George D. "Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691" (1966).
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot, editor. "William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647". 1952; repr. 1967.
  • Morton, Nathaniel. "New England's Memorial" (Cambridge, 1669).
  • Morton, Thomas. "New English Canaan" (Amsterdam: Frederick Stam, 1637).
  • Russell, L., Edna Waugh, and General Society. Mayflower families through five generations: descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Volume 14 Myles Standish. Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1997. Print.
  • Shurtleff, Nathaniel B. and David Pulsifer, eds., "Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England" (12 vols., 1855-1861).
  • Standish, Myles. The Standishes of America. Boston, MA: Priv. Print. for the Author by S. Usher, 1895.
  • Standish, Norman Weston. "Standish Lands in England," Mayflower Quarterly 52:109.
  • Stratton, Eugene Aubrey. "Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691" (1986).
  • Sumner, William Hyslop, "An Inquiry Into the Importance of the Militia to a Free Commonwealth: In a Letter from William H. Sumner ... to John Adams, Late President of the United States; with His Answer", Cummings and Hilliard, Boston, 1823
  • Wakefield, Robert S. "Mayflower Families for Five Generations: Myles Standish, volume 14" (Plymouth: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1994).
  • Winslow, Edward. "Good News From New England" (London: John Bellamie, 1624).
  • Young, George V.C. "Myles Standish: First Manx American" (Isle of Man: Manx-Svenska, 1984).
  • Young, George V.C. "More on Pilgrim Myles Standish: First Manx American" (Isle of Man: Manx-Svenska, 1986).
  • Young, George V.C. "Myles Standish was Born in Ellenbane" (Isle of Man: Manx-Svenska, 1988).

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Capt Myles Standish, "Mayflower" Passenger's Timeline

1584
1584
England
1609
1609
Age 25
England
1620
December 21, 1620
Age 36
Mayflower Passenger
1620
Age 36
Plymouth, MA
1620
Age 36
1621
February 17, 1621
- present
Age 37
Massachussetts
1623
March 23, 1623
Age 39
Plymouth, (Present Plymouth County), Plymouth Colony (Present Massachusetts), (Present USA)
1624
1624
Age 40
Plymouth, Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, USA
1627
May 22, 1627
Age 43
Plymouth, Plymouth
May 22, 1627
Age 43
Plymouth, Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, USA