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Myles StandishMyles Standish

military governor of Plymouth Colony

Myles Standish was born about 1584. No written record of his birth has survived, but it is likely that he was born on one of the family's estates, in either Lancashire or the Isle of Man. At the time of his birth, the Standish family had substantial land holdings in both Lancashire and the Isle of Man, but for reasons unknown Myles had been disavowed of any and all claims to the family estate by the early 1600's; whether the family lost its money through bad business deals or he was simply disowned by the family has never been determined.

How Standish spent his early years is unknown, nor is it known exactly when he entered the British Army. It is known, however, that he served with distinction during the war with Spain, most likely in Holland, and that he had been promoted to the rank of Captain in the infantry by the time he was 21 years old.

Sometime before 1620, Standish befriended a group of religious separatists who had fled persecution in England and settled in Holland. When that group offered him the position of military commander of their proposed colony in America, he readily accepted, despite not being a member of their faith (and may not have even been religious in any way), and when the Pilgrims sailed for the New World aboard the Mayflower in 1620, Standish was one of the very few passengers with military training.

Upon reaching America, Standish personally led the 16-man landing party that circled Cape Cod in a rowboat looking for the best landing site, and it was he who ultimately chose the area now known as Plymouth, Massachusettts. After directing the building of defenses, he was, understandably, elected commander of the Plymouth Militia, which at the time consisted of himself and eight men who could barely shoot a rifle. Although Standish' military skills served the Pilgrims well against hostile Native Americans, he also had enough diplomatic skill to establish and maintain peace and trade relations with friendly natives. He was also one of the very few colonists to not suffer from the plague that swept Plymouth during the first winter and claimed the lives of over half of them, including Standish's wife. In 1625, Standish sailed back to England in order to negotiate a better arrangement with the colony's investors, a mission he completed successfully.

In addition to serving as military commander of Plymouth until his death, Standish also served as Assistant Governor from 1631 to 1650, and as Treasurer from 1644 to 1649. Despite being occasionally mildly chastised by colony leaders for what they deemed as overly aggressive tactics against the Native Americans, the colonists always deferred to him regarding military and defensive measures. And, despite never being a member of their religion and, therefore, not eligible to vote on matters concerning civil law, Standish never questioned the colony's civil authorities.

In 1632, Standish moved north across the bay from Plymouth and established a large estate, which he named Duxbury after his ancestral estate in Lancashire. He died there on October 3, 1656, at the age of 72.

Standish's first wife, Mary, died in the plague that swept Plymouth in its first year. No children were born to this union. He married Barbara (who came to America with the second "batch" of Pilgrims) in either 1623 or 1624. Five children were born to this union -- Charles (who died young), Alexander, John, Myles, Lora, and Josias. All known living descendants of Myles Standish trace their ancestry back to either Alexander or Josias. Perhaps in hopes that he would someday actually be able to claim them, Myles Standish left all of his lands in England to his eldest son, Alexander.

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> New England >> Massachusetts

This page was last updated on January 12, 2017.