Miles Standish


Little is known about Miles Standish’s early life, but he was likely born in Lancashire, England and later served as a soldier in Holland during the Eighty Years War. In 1620, he was hired by the Pilgrims living in the area to advise them in military matters in the New World—they had first contacted John Smith about the position, but they feared his fame and boldness might lead him to take over their new colony. Miles and his wife accompanied those living in Holland aboard the Mayflower, embarking on their journey in the summer of 1620.

The Mayflower first reached land at Cape Cod, near the Pilgrims’ original destination along the Hudson River. They did not have the provisions necessary to travel inland, however, so they settled illegally on the cape and drew up a system of rules to ensure proper order for the time being. Miles was the fourth to sign the Mayflower Compact. He then led a group ashore to search for a suitable resting place. He took two parties into the area, one in November and another in December, and the second group was surprised by a band of Native Americans while sleeping in the woods. Standish was able to calm the men and prevent them from firing their weapons, and the incident later became known as the First Encounter. The Pilgrims eventually found their home in present-day Plymouth Bay, but they were ill-prepared to face the oncoming winter, and only about half of the 100 settlers survived. Standish’s wife, Rose, passed away that January.

By February 1621, the Pilgrims had had several Indian sightings, and they looked to prepare themselves in case of attack. Miles was made commander of the Plymouth militia, as had been decided in Holland, and he continued to serve in this position throughout his life. Only a month later, the small army met with the chief Massasoit, leader of the local Pokanoket tribe. The Plymouth governor, John Carver, swore an allegiance with the Pokanoket, promising to help each other in any need. That same year, Carver passed away and William Bradford became governor. He and Standish were different in many respects, but they worked well together and created an effective government.

The Pilgrims’ first difficulties with the treaty began shortly after it was signed, when another Pokanoket chief, Corbitant, tried to turn the people against Massasoit. Corbitant captured the settlers’ interpreters as well, driving Standish to lead an attack on the Pokanoket city. Upon their arrival, they learned that Corbitant had fled, but the raid was nevertheless effective; shortly thereafter, the rebel chief and several others came to Plymouth to announce their future loyalty to King James. Later that year, the colonists received another threat, this time from the Narragansett tribe. Standish ordered that the settlement be surrounded by a wooden barricade equipped with platforms from which the men could shoot. Within four months, construction was complete, and Standish divided his men around the fort in case of an attack. The people’s greatest threat, however, came from the Massachusett tribe in the north. Another colony had been established by this time, a poorly organized village known for recklessness and thievery. The Massachusetts, fed up, determined to slaughter both colonies, and Standish’s interpreter advised him to attack first. Miles gathered a small troop and set off to kill those in charge of the plot. He arranged a meeting with one of the chiefs, then, at the signal, leapt forward and killed everyone in the hut. Many disapproved of Standish’s brutal methods, but Bradford, despite his own discomfort, defended the commander.

In 1625, another group, led by Thomas Morton, landed near Plymouth. The new colonists engaged in heavy drinking, refused religious rules, and sold weapons to the Native Americans. Standish was sent to arrest Morton, and when he encountered the man in question, he found that he was too drunk to even fight. Miles sent Merton back to England, where he later wrote a work slighting Standish for his conduct. That same year, Plymouth Colony leaders gave the commander leave to travel to England, where he tried on two occasions to negotiate terms with the company to whom the Pilgrims owed money for their land. His second attempt was successful, and the debt was soon paid off. Following his final return to America, Standish began to settle down. He moved to Duxbury, where he worked several administrative roles until his death in 1656.

Key events during the life of Miles Standish:

Travelled to England aboard the Mayflower.
Pilgrims drew up an agreement with the Pokanoket.
  Wife Rose passed away.
  Establishment of the Wessagusset colony.
  Launched an attack on the Massachusett Indians.
Married his second wife Barbara.
Arrival of the Merrymount settlers and arrest of Thomas Merton.
  Travelled to England to negotiate terms with the Pilgrims' debtors.
Pequot War.
  Establishment of Duxbury as a separate town from Plymouth.
Served as Treasurer of the Colony.

Book Links
Miles Standish  by  John S. C. Abbott

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
New England Indians  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis S. Drake
Captain Myles Standish  in  A First Book in American History  by  Edward Eggleston
Miles Standish  in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans
Plymouth Rock  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
Story of the Pilgrim Fathers  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
Sword of Miles Standish  in  Stories of the Pilgrims  by  Margaret B. Pumphrey

Image Links

Samoset, the Indian Visitor
 in King Philip

The First Thanksgiving
 in Massasoit

There was joy at setting foot on land once more
 in Massasoit

The footsore messenger from Weymouth fell fainting at the gate of the town.
 in Massasoit

Standish and his men find corn
 in Stories of American Life and Adventure
Departure of the Mayflower
Departure of the Mayflower
 in Back Matter

Miles Standish
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

The March of Miles Standish against the
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Short Biography
William Brewster One of the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed on the Mayflower. Elder in Congressional Church.
William Bradford Governor of the Plymouth Colony of Pilgrims. Wrote the Mayflower Compact.
Squanto New England Indian who helped the pilgrims their first year in Plymouth Colony.