Myles Standish

Myles Standish (ca. 1584-1656), a professional English soldier hired by the Pilgrims to direct their military affairs, gave great service to New Plymouth in America and won personal glory.

Little is known of Myles Standish's early life, other than that he probably came from Lancashire, England, and had fought the Spaniards in the Netherlands. Hired by the Leiden Pilgrims to manage the military defenses of the prospective colony, Standish was not a member of the Leiden congregation, although he quickly became a loyal supporter of the Pilgrim venture.

When he arrived in New England, Standish's first responsibility was to give practical assistance in the explorations for a permanent place for settlement. Standish participated in the venture that discovered corn (later used as seed to save the colony from starvation) and in the expedition that made initial contact with the Indians and later landed at the future site of the colony. Once the colony was begun, he turned his attention to building its defenses. He supervised construction of the town fort and directed the organization and training of the local militia.

Standish also commanded military expeditions sent out from Plymouth to aid allies or to suppress enemies. Once he led a party of Pilgrims to aid Squanto and a group of friendly Indians. Another time he helped an English village at Wessagussett (Weymouth) threatened by Indian attack. There Standish demonstrated his personal courage when, in a conference with the Indians, he had the doors to the building barred and then called for an assault on the potential enemy, personally killing the Indian leader.

Perhaps the most entertaining example of Standish's military leadership was his seriocomic capture of Thomas Morton of Merrimount in 1628. Morton's emphasis on riotous living, selling firearms to the Indians, and paying high prices for furs threatened the piety and profit of New Plymouth. Standish led the assault on Merrimount. In a maneuver similar to the one used against the Indians at Wessagussett, he barred the doors and made ready to battle Morton. Morton and his two associates were "soe steeled with drink," however, that they could not resist capture.

Standish was the colony's first agent to return to England, and he also served as envoy to other New England colonies. He was known for his aggressiveness and quick temper. But it was as the Pilgrims' military adviser and commander that he made his greatest contribution. He developed a strong defensive posture for New Plymouth and directed the colony's militia with an exceptional degree of personal heroism and dedicated leadership. He died in Duxbury, Mass., on Oct. 3, 1656.

Further Reading on Myles Standish

There is no recent biography of Standish. One of the best sources of information is William Bradford, Of Plimouth Plantation, edited by Samuel Eliot Morison (1952). Specific information, as well as general background, is in George F. Willison, Saints and Strangers (1945); Bradford Smith, Bradford of Plymouth (1951); and George D. Langdon, Jr., Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691 (1966).