What do we know of the real Myles Standish of Mayflower fame? In truth, not as much as one might think. Much of his life before he traveled to America with the Pilgrims is laced with speculation. For example, where was Standish born? We believe he was born somewhere between 1584 and 1587 and likely in Lancashire, England, (OR) on the Isle of Man. We make the assumption he had at least a basic education, for he signed several documents sent to the Bay and must have been conversant with figures to be colony treasurer. His inventory included several dozen books, valued at £9 3s.; although there were three Bibles and a number of other theological volumes, Standish also owned such titles as Homer’s Iliad and Caesar’s Commentaries.
Those who purport the idea he was from Lancashire point to Nathaniel Morton’s book New England’s Memorial (1669), which lists Lancashire as Standish’s birthplace. Morton claims Standish owned a book from the head of the Rivington Grammar School in Lancashire. He also logically claims that the town that Standish help found and his residence there was named “Duxbury” because Standish was part of the Standishes of Duxbury Hall in Lancashire. According to the tales told, Standish was an heir to a fairly sizable estate in Lancashire, but his lands were lost during the English Civil War, and neither he nor his son Alexander were ever able legally to regain control of the estate.
Yet, his last will and testament speaks of lands “surreptitiously detained” from him. These lands were on the Isle of Man and, at one time, were owned by Thomas Standish, of the Standishes of the Isle of Man.
“In his will, dated 7 March 1655[/6] and proved 4 May 1657, “Myles Standish Senior of Duxburrow” asked that “if I die at Duxburrow my body to be laid as near as conveniently may be to my two daughters Lora Standish my daughter and Mary Standish my daughter-in-law” and bequeathed to “my dear and loving wife Barbara Standish” one-third of his estate after all debts are paid; to “my son Josias Standish upon his marriage” cattle to the value of £40 (if possible), and “that every one of my four sons viz: Allexander Standish, Myles Standish, Josias Standish and Charles Standish may have forty pounds apiece,” to “my eldest son Allexaner … a double share in land,” and “so long as they live single that the whole be in partnership betwixt them”; “my dearly beloved wife Barbara Standish, Allexander Standish, Myles Standish and Josias Standish” to be joint executors; “my loving friends Mr. Timothy Hatherley and Capt. James Cudworth” to be supervisors; to “Marcye Robinson whom I tenderly love for her grandfather’s sake” £3; to “my servant John Irish Jr.” 40s. beyond what is due him by covenant; and to “my son & heir apparent Allexander Standish all my lands as heir apparent by lawful descent in Ormistick, Borsconge, Wrightington, Maudsley, Newburrow, Crawston and the Isle of Man and given to me as right heir by lawful descent but surruptuously [sic] detained from me my great-grandfather being a second or younger brother from the house of Standish of Standish” [MD 3:153-55, citing PCPR 2:1:37-38].” [Miles Standish Biography]
Unfortunately, a document that recorded something of his military career was lost in the 1920s and never stood up for accuracy. We do know he was part of Queen Elizabeth’s army and was stationed in Holland, where he became acquainted with John Robinson and the Pilgrims living in Leiden. The Pilgrims hired him to be their military “captain” and establish the defensive lines to protect the colony against the French, Dutch, and Spanish, as well as the Native Americans.
It was Standish’s job to lead exploratory missions of the area about the Pilgrims’ settlement. He oversaw the construction of the fort at Plymouth and the placement of the cannons brought along for a defense in a “savage” country. Along with his military duties, he was charged with trading expeditions, for the Pilgrims required supplies and food. “He made several trips to England to bring trading goods back and to negotiate with the Merchant Adventurers who had financially sponsored the joint-stock company that funded the Pilgrims’ voyage.” [Mayflower History]
During the first winter at Plymouth, many of the Pilgrims took sick and died, including his wife Ruth, who had traveled to America with him. It is said he assisted in tending many of the sick and won praise for his kindness.
Yet, Standish was not known to be exceptionally kind. He led attacks on the Indians in the Massachusetts Bay area after learning they planned to attack and destroy the Plymouth and the Wessagussett colonies. Those captured were executed in what was termed “heavy-handed” ways.
He was charged with assisting to keep the law of the community. “He was on the receiving end of John Billington’s verbal wrath in 1621 (Billington refused to follow the captain’s orders), and was called a ‘silly boy’ in a letter that was sent out during the Oldham-Lyford scandal of 1624, and was noted for his short stature and for his quick temper. He was sent to arrest Thomas Morton in 1628, for which he received the nickname ‘Captain Shrimp’ from Morton. William Hubbard reported Standish’s temper was like a ‘chimney soon fired.'” [Mayflower History]
Even so, he held many positions of authority over the years. He married Barbara, a woman who arrived on the second ship to land at Plymouth Rock the Anne, in 1623, Together they helped to found the town of Duxbury. They had seven children:
- CHARLES, b. say 1624; living 1627; d. by about 1635.
- ALEXANDER, b. say 1626 (died 6 July 1702 “being about 76 years of age” [NEHGR 87:153]); m. (1) by about 1660 Sarah Alden, daughter of JOHN ALDEN; m. (2) by 1689 as her third husband Desire (Doty) (Sherman) Holmes, daughter of EDWARD DOTY [PM 177].
- JOHN, b. say 1627; no further record.
- MYLES, b. say 1629; m. Boston 19 July 1660 Sarah Winslow, daughter of JOHN WINSLOW [PM 511; BVR 76].
- LORA, b. say 1631; d. by 7 March 1655[/6], unm. (from father’s will).
- JOSIAS, b. say 1633; m. (1) Marshfield 19 December 1654 Mary Dingley [MarVR l]; m. (2) after 1655 Sarah Allen, daughter of Samuel Allen (in his will of 2 August 1669 Samuel Allen bequeathed to “my son-in-law Josiah Standish” [SPR 6:27]).
- CHARLES, b. say 1635; living 7 March 1655[/6] (named in father’s will); no further record.
“On 1 July 1633 through 20 March 1636/7 Captain Standish was allowed to mow land he had formerly mowed [PCR 1:14, 40, 56]. On 4 December 1637 Captain Myles Standish was granted the surplusage of land on “Ducksborrow side” in consideration of the “want of lands he should have had to his proportion [PCR 1:70]. On 2 July 1638 Captain Myles Standish received three hundred acres of uplands [PCR 1:91]. On 1 October 1638 he was granted a garden place at Duxborrow side, which was formerly laid forth for him [PCR 1 :99]. On 4 March 1650/1 “whereas Captain Miles Standish hath been at much trouble and pains, and hath gone sundry journeys into Yarmouth aforesaid in the said town’s business, and likely to have more in that behalf, in respect whereunto the Court have granted unto the said Captain Standish” about forty or fifty acres [PCR 2:164].” [Miles Standish Biography]
Standish lived out his later years in Duxbury, dying in 1656 “after his suffering of much dolorous pain,” apparently from kidney stones.
“Myles Standish, Born Where?”, Mayflower Quarterly 72:133-159.
Captain Stanwick’s Bride: Tragic Characters in Classic Lit Series Novel [Arriving February 19, 2021]
“Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur everyday than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” – Benjamin Franklin
Captain Whittaker Stanwick has a successful military career and a respectable home farm in Lancashire. What he does not have in his life is felicity. Therefore, when the opportunity arrives, following his wife’s death, Stanwick sets out to know a bit of happiness, at last—finally to claim a woman who stirs his soul. Yet, he foolishly commits himself to one woman only weeks before he has found a woman, though shunned by her people and his, who touches his heart. Will he deny the strictures placed upon him by society in order learn the secret of happiness is freedom: Freedom to love and freedom to know courage?
Loosely based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish” and set against the final battles of the War of 1812, this tale shows the length a man will go to in order to claim a remarkable woman as his.
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Thank you, MaryAnn.
This sounds awesome! Looking forward to this new release..