Myles Standish (c. 1584 – October 3, 1656; sometimes spelled 'Miles' Standish) was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims as military advisor for Plymouth Colony. One of the Mayflower passengers, Standish played a leading role in the administration and defense of Plymouth Colony from its inception. On February 17, 1621, the Plymouth Colony militia elected him as its first commander and continued to re-elect him to that position for the remainder of his life. Standish served as an agent of Plymouth Colony in England, as assistant governor, and as treasurer of Plymouth Colony. He was also one of the first settlers and founders of the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts.
A defining characteristic of Standish's military leadership was his proclivity for preemptive action which resulted in at least two attacks (or small skirmishes) on different groups of Native Americans—the Nemasket raid and the Wessagusset massacre. During these actions, Standish exhibited considerable courage and skill as a soldier, but also demonstrated a brutality that angered Native Americans and disturbed more moderate members of the Colony.
One of Standish's last military actions on behalf of Plymouth Colony was the botched Penobscot expedition in 1635. By the 1640s, Standish relinquished his role as an active soldier and settled into a quieter life on his Duxbury farm. Although he was still nominally the commander of military forces in the growing Plymouth Colony, he seems to have preferred to act in an advisory capacity. He died in his home in Duxbury in 1656 at age 72. Although he supported and defended the Pilgrim colony for much of his life, there is no evidence to suggest that Standish ever joined their church.
Several towns and military installations have been named for Standish and monuments have been built in his memory. One of the best known depictions of Standish in popular culture was the 1858 book, The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Highly fictionalized, the story presents Standish as a timid romantic. It was extremely popular in the 19th century and played a significant role in cementing the Pilgrim story in US culture.
By Dean Hanley
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