Myles Standish

Myles Standish – Mayflower Military Leader

Myles Standish met the English religious refugees when they emigrated to the Netherlands. Their Pastor John Robinson befriended the young soldier when the group settled in Leiden, Holland. Standish enlisted in Queen Elizabeth’s army as a young boy and was stationed in Leiden when these Northern England Separatists settled there in 1609. In 1623 Pastor Robinson sent Plymouth Plantation Governor William Bradford a letter referring to Standish as, “whom I love.” Thirty years later Standish left 3 pounds to Mercy Robinson with the note, “whom I tenderly love for her grandfather’s sake.”

In 1619 the Separatists decided to take their chances on establishing a colony of their own in the New World. It took months of planning to prepare for such an adventure. Part of those plans included hiring young Standish as their military advisor and protector. Most of the Separatists were farmers in rural England before emigrating to Holland. In their new country they took whatever jobs they could find, mostly in the various fabric industries. They needed someone with military experience to protect them from pirates on the open sea and then Spanish, French, and Dutch settlers once they reached land again. And of course, they worried about trouble from the Natives. They offered the job to Captain Myles Standish and he accepted.

Standish’ Early Years

Standish was born sometime in the 1580’s, possibly 1584, though more recent research indicates it may have been a few years later. He was likely born in Lancashire, England where he was heir apparent for a great estate of lands, indicating he came from wealth.

He began his life-long military career as a young boy as a drummer. He was probably already stationed in the Netherlands at the time of the 1609 truce between Netherlands and Spain. That year the Separatists group from Scrooby, England relocated from Amsterdam to Leiden. In  1618 Standish married Rose, whose last name is unknown. He and his young bride sailed with the other hundred passengers on the Mayflower in 1620.

In Search of Home

The ship anchored off the coast of Provincetown November 11. Captain Standish signed the Mayflower Compact along with all the other men on board, then took charge of their first exploration of the Cape Cod terrain in search of a suitable place to establish their settlement. They brought a shallop from Europe, which they had taken apart to store on the Mayflower. Two days after anchoring, they dragged it ashore and began reassembling it.

Meanwhile Captain Standish led a group of sixteen men, dressed in protective corselets and armed with muskets and swords, on a second expedition to further explore the area. They spotted a half dozen Natives and a dog, but were never able to catch up with them, though they trailed them for ten miles.

They did find a stash of three dozen buried ears of corn and a source of fresh water. They drank the water and took the corn for seed and food. They came upon other mounds they suspected might contain buried corn. However, these turned out to be graves. Most likely the Natives observed them taking the corn and digging into Native graves.

Finding Home – and Challenges

Finding no suitable place to establish their settlement, Captain Standish and Mayflower Captain Christopher Jones led another exploration party of around thirty men. This time they sailed along the coast in the reassembled shallop and the ship’s long boat. They still didn’t find a suitable place to start building their new community. However, they did find a shallow grave containing bows and arrows. They also found a skull with blond hair still attached, a sailor’s canvas cassock and breeches, and a European knife.

On December 6 Captain Standish, two ship crewmen, and fifteen others set out again in search of the best place to settle. Standish led the group as they sailed around the coast line of the Cape. They observed several Natives cleaning a large fish on shore, but the low tide prevented them getting close. The camped on the shore that night. Early the next morning they were attacked by Nauset Natives who showered with them arrows and loud whoops and hollers. It is likely these Natives were retaliating after seeing them take their stash of corn and digging in their grave sites.

Standish and two others got off a couple of shots before the Natives receded out of sight. On this trip they finally found a good place to establish their new home: Plymouth. Plymouth was site of an abandoned Native village. All the former residents either died or left following the plague that swept through the area a couple of years earlier.

The Mayflower sailed the short distance across the Cape Cod bay and dropped anchor a mile off the coast from Plymouth. The passengers continued living on board as men began putting up their first building. The women stayed busy nursing the many people who became critically ill due to a combination of their poor diets, hard work, and severe cold winter weather. Miles wife Rose was among the many who died the first winter.

Standish’ Later Years

Two years later a young woman named Barbara arrived on the Anne. She and Standish married in 1624. Given that it was highly unusual for a woman to travel unaccompanied, it is likely she and Myles knew each other back in Leiden and that she came after learning his first wife had died. They raised seven children together.

Captain Standish led the settlers through several skirmishes with the Natives. In the spring of 1621, the English settlers and the Wampanoag leaders made a treaty that they would come to each other’s defense. As a result, a few Wampanoag warned the Plymouth settlers other Natives were after them. Standish led a group of men to kill them. Though it was assumed the killing was necessary to protect their lives, Pastor John Robinson admonished the act via a letter sent to Governor William Bradford when learned of the incident.

In the early 1640’s, as a result of the same 1621 treaty, it fell to Captain Standish to assist Wampanoag Sachem Woosemaquin. A Narragansett leader named Miantonomo, led an attack against Woosemaquin and stole many of his goods. Standish took a group of men to demand the Narragansett’s return everything they’d stolen – or else. Miantonomo returned every item taken, down to a wooden dish.

Captain Standish served the Plymouth Plantation as their military leader and in various civic and administrative roles for many years. He served as their treasurer in 1644; again 1646 – 1649; and again from 1651 – 1655. He even served as acting Governor briefly in 1653. Though he moved his family to Duxbury, he remained an active and significant member of the Plymouth community. He died October 3, 1656 and is buried in the Myles Standish Burial Ground in Duxbury, MA.


Information for this blog comes in part from The Mayflower and Her Passengers, by Caleb Johnson, Mayflower History web site, and Mayflower.americanancestors.org. You may enjoy reading Pilgrim and Native Peace Talks or Mayflower Governor John Carver.


Thank you for taking time to read about this early New England military leader. I hope you found it interesting and inspiring. Please take a minute to forward this to a friend. If you got this from a friend, you can sign up for your very own free subscription at HowWiseThen. I’m currently giving tips for recognizing and coping with dementia in memory and honor of my older brother who passed away recently after struggling with dementia issues for several years.

One Comment

  1. It’s fascinating to be reminded of the remarkable journeys (literal and figurative) that our forefathers and mothers took to colonize the land that became our country.

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