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Myles Standish Speaks Out on NH's First Settler


The most dangerous man in New England  

So who to blame? The most dangerous man in New England in 1627 was likely Myles Standish, the military officer hired by the Mayflower Pilgrims to protect their colony. Standish (c. 1584 -1656) was a tough, some say haughty, ex-soldier with a fiery temper. He was likely born on the Isle of Mann on the coast of England and, some say, had a chip on his shoulder having been cut out of the Standish family fortune. Thee is only one known image of Standish, and it may not be accurate. 

Myles StandishHe is often depicted as short and stocky with reddish hair. He never made a “profession of faith” as a member of the Pilgrim church, but was likely a Protestant and a Christian. His fame comes largely from a romantic 19th century poem entitled “The Courtship of Miles Standish” written 200 years later by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Standish left no journal and still has no major biography, but is a key figure in the diaries of Pilgrim elders Edward Winslow and William Bradford. When Bradford wanted a threat eliminated, he called Myles.  

Despite our idyllic Thanksgiving view of white settlers and Native Americans feasting happily together, their relationship was fractious and their connection more political than social. The Pilgrims set up their town in the heart of a Wampanoag village, aligned with Native leader Massasoit. In 1622, fearing an Indian raid, Standish made a pre-emptive attack on a group of Native warriors. In the Wessagusset massacre Standish personally killed a Native leader, stabbing him in the heart after inviting him to dinner, and carrying his head back to Plymouth. Native villagers on Cape Cod were so fearful of the white warrior, that they were afraid to plant crops and died of starvation.   

Standish was tough on anyone who threatened the Pilgrims or showed disrespect for his military might. When the Plymouth colonists wanted to get rid of Thomas Morton of Merrymount – whose drunken followers danced around a maypole and sold guns to the Indians – it was Standish who drove him out of the region. Morton, who later called Standish “Captain Shrimp,” was banished to the barren Isles of Shoals. He survived long enough to hop a ship back to England. Settler John Oldham, who once unwisely pulled a knife on the captain of the militia, was later banished for plotting to take over the colony. Nobody messed with Myles.  


Thompson & the Pilgrims  

And it was Myles Standish who met David Thompson in 1623. By the third year in the New World, the Pilgrims were starving. Standish sailed a small shallop to Pascataway to purchase fish, probably salted cod, from Thompson’s new settlement. The two men traveled back to Plymouth and it was on their way that Thompson pointed out the island near Boston that he soon planned to inhabit. Thompson had reportedly claimed it during an earlier visit in 1619. But it was known to Standish and the Pilgrims as Trevore’s Island, claimed in 1621 by William Trevore.  

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I’ve written often about the “second Thanksgiving” that the Pilgrim fathers declared following Thompson’s fish delivery in 1623. He may have returned on other occasions. In 1626, according to William Bradford’s diary, Thompson accompanied the Pilgrim leaders by boat to Monhegan Island in Maine. The fishing colony there was going out of business and the two parties bought up all the supplies. Thompson, Bradford says in his journal, spent more than he could afford.  

That’s the last we hear of David Thompson. His wife Amais ended up marrying another man from Massachusetts. His son John appears to eventually inherit Thompson’s Island in Boston Harbor.  


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