Standish, Myles (DNB00)
|←Standish, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53
STANDISH, MYLES (1584?–1656), colonist, was born in Lancashire about 1584. In his will he states that his great-grandfather was ‘a second or younger brother from the house of Standish of Standish.’ As he named his estate in New England Duxbury, he was probably descended from the Duxbury branch of the family. It has been surmised that steps were taken to destroy the record of his descent to deprive him of a share in the family inheritance. The principal facts supporting this conjecture are that the page containing the births for 1584 and 1585 of the parish register of Chorley in Lancashire, where he was probably born, has been defaced, and that in his will he bequeaths to his son Alexander certain estates in the same county and in the Isle of Man, which he describes as ‘surreptitiously detained from’ him. But the claim put forward by some of his descendants that he was rightful heir to all the Standish property appears unwarrantable. Before 1603 Standish obtained a lieutenant's commission in the English force serving under the Veres in the Netherlands, and took an active part in the war against the Spaniards. After the conclusion of the truce of 1609 he joined the puritan colony settled at Leyden under the ministry of John Robinson (1576?–1625) [q. v.], and, on account of his experience, became their military adviser.
On 6 Sept. 1620 Standish, with the other pilgrim fathers, embarked on the Mayflower, with the intention of settling in America within the territories of the Virginia Company. Being driven from their course, they cast anchor on 11 Nov. in the bay of Cape Cod. To Standish was entrusted the command of the parties sent out to explore the country. They incurred considerable risks, and on one occasion in December were nearly cut off by the Indians, who took them by surprise. On 19 Dec. the colonists selected for their settlement a site on which they conferred the name of New Plymouth [see Carver, John]. During the first winter they suffered heavily from sickness, and Standish, who lost his wife, was especially distinguished for his humanity to the sick. In February 1621 he was unanimously chosen military captain of the colony. The force at his disposal was small (in November 1621 there were only thirty-two men in the settlement), and the scantiness of its numbers increased the responsibility of command. Standish showed himself equal to the requirements of his office. In August, with only fourteen men, he surprised by night an encampment of hostile Indians, and rescued a friendly native named Squanto, who served as interpreter to the settlement. In the following month, with ten Englishmen and three native guides, he explored Massachusetts Bay, and established friendly relations with the powerful tribes inhabiting its coasts. The arrival of the ship Fortune on 11 Nov. increased his meagre force by twenty-seven men. It was a timely reinforcement, for serious trouble soon arose.
In 1622 an independent settlement was founded at Wessagussett, now Weymouth, to the north of Plymouth, by a band of adventurers commanded by Thomas Weston [q. v.] They were a shiftless set, and soon earned the hatred and contempt of the Indians by their inability to provide for themselves and by their treacherous and profligate conduct towards the natives. The Massachusetts tribe, formerly friendly, resolved to exterminate Weston and his companions, and, so as to remove the chances of retribution, prepared to assail the Plymouth settlers afterwards. The neighbourhood of Wessagussett became the centre of a great Indian conspiracy, involving most of the native peoples of New England. Learning how matters stood, Standish marched to Weston's settlement, taking with him only eight men to avoid alarming the natives. On his arrival he was insulted by the hostile chiefs, Pecksuot and Wituwamat. Dissembling his resentment, he invited them, with a few followers, to a conference, allured them into a room, closed the door, and killed them all. An engagement followed, in which the Indians were defeated, and the settlers at Wessagussett enabled to retire in safety. This prompt action broke up the hostile league, and greatly enhanced the reputation of the English colony.
In the early years of the settlement the colonists found themselves much prejudiced by disputes with the merchant adventurers of London, who had furnished money for the enterprise. In consequence, in the summer of 1625 Standish journeyed to London to seek the intervention of the council of New England. His mission, however, bore no fruit, owing to the paralysis of public business by the plague, and he returned to Plymouth in the following April. The merchant adventurers finally, in November 1626, surrendered their claims in consideration of the payment of 1,800l., in nine annual instalments. Eight leading planters, of whom Standish was one, with four London friends, undertook to meet the first six payments, in return for a monopoly of the foreign trade.
The colonists were troubled by independent adventurers, attracted by their success, who intercepted their trade and prejudiced them with the Indians. In 1628 Standish arrested one of these, named Thomas Morton (d. 1646) [q. v.], who had established himself at Merry Mount, now Quincy, near Boston, where he sold guns and ammunition to the Indians, and instructed them in their use, contrary to the provisions of the royal charter. Standish, it is said, wished to have him shot, but was overruled by the governor, William Bradford (1590–1657) [q. v.], who sent Morton to England for trial (cf. Motley's Merry Mount, a romance).
Besides their troubles with their own countrymen and the Indians, the colonists were harassed by the French, who were jealous of their growing trade. In 1635 a fort which Standish's friends had established on the Penobscot for trading purposes was seized by the Seigneur d'Aulnay de Charnisé, a Canadian landed proprietor, and Standish was sent to dispossess him. In this he failed, owing chiefly to the misconduct of the captain of the vessel conveying him and his men, who fired away all his ammunition at long range. This was the last enterprise of importance undertaken by Standish. The fortunes of the colony grew more peaceful, and he passed the remainder of his days on his estate at Duxbury, on the north side of Plymouth Bay, whither he removed in 1632. In 1643 he commanded the force sent against the Narragansetts, and in 1653 he headed that raised to assail the Dutch; but in neither case was there actual conflict. In addition to his military office, Standish frequently filled the post of assistant to the governor, and from 1644 to 1649 he was treasurer to the colony. He died at Duxbury on 3 Oct. 1656. He was twice married. His first wife, Rose, died on 29 Jan. 1620–1. By his second wife, Barbara, who came out in 1623, and who by tradition was a younger sister of Rose, he had four surviving sons: Alexander, Miles, Josiah, and Charles, and a daughter, Lora. In religious matters Standish never belonged to the pilgrim communion, but the extraordinary conjecture that he was a Roman catholic is probably without warrant (Mag. of American Hist. i. 390).
No authentic portrait of Standish exists (Massachusetts Hist. Soc. Proceedings, xi. 478; Winsor, Memorial Hist. of Boston, i. 65). In person he was slender and of small stature, but strong and well knit. In character he was essentially a man of action, excitable and passionate, prompt in coming to a determination and unperturbed by sudden danger. Brought into constant contact with the most treacherous race in the world, he went among them alone or almost unguarded, and, though frequent plots were formed to destroy him, the respect inspired by his magnanimity preserved him in every case. The importance of his battles must not be gauged by the number of combatants. The success of the settlement at New Plymouth decided which of the European races should be dominant in North America. Standish was the most vivid and interesting of the ‘pilgrim fathers,’ and romance has always attached itself to his name. In modern times the legend of the ‘Courtship of Miles Standish’ has been versified by Longfellow. Although the poet's treatment of the subject is always interesting and frequently inspiring, he has marred his poem by inaccuracies and anachronisms which detract from its vraisemblance. Lowell has also celebrated the memory of the ‘pilgrim father’ in his ‘Interview with Miles Standish.’
The estate of Duxbury is still in the possession of his descendants. The present house was built by his son Alexander. In 1872 the corner-stone of the Standish memorial was laid at Duxbury. It consists of a granite shaft rising one hundred and ten feet, surmounted by a bronze figure of Standish.
[The chief authorities for Standish are: Bradford's History of Plimouth Plantation, ed. Deane, 1856; Winslow's Good Newes from New England in Young's Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers, 1841; and Mourt's Relation of the Beginning and Proceeding of the English Plantation, ed. Dexter; N. Morton's New England's Memorial, ed. 1855; T. Morton's New English Canaan (Prince Soc. publications, 1883) is hostile and untrustworthy. Of modern works, Abbot's Puritan Captain, though popular in character, embodies considerable research. The following may also be consulted: Johnson's Exploits of Myles Standish, 1897; Arber's Story of the Pilgrim Fathers, 1897; Winsor's Hist. of America, vol. iii. passim; Bartlett's Pilgrim Fathers of New England, 1853; Neale's Hist. of New England; Mather's Magnalia; Palfrey's Hist. of New England, 1866; Baylie's Hist. of New Plymouth, ed. Drake, 1866, vol. i. passim; Markham's Fighting Veres; De Costa's Footprints of Miles Standish, 1864; Winsor's Hist. of Duxbury; Belknap's American Biography; Savage's Geneal. Dict. iv. 152; New England Historical and Genealogical Reg. i. 47, ii. 240, v. 335, xxvii. 145; Mag. of American Hist. i. 258, 390.]