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Myles Standish Speaks Out on NH's First Settler

 

Role player Scott Atwood as Myles Standish at Plimoth Plantation

Myles speaks out  

So who better to ask about the missing founder of New Hampshire than Myles Standish himself? Scott Attwood has been a role player at Plimoth Plantation for 22 years and currently inhabits the role of Captain Standish. Atwood is a few years older than his role model who was aged 44 in 1627. Besides appearing in countless thousands of tourist photos and films, Atwood plays his part in TV documentaries, travel brochures and lectures. In schools, he is Standish when wearing his hat. Removing his hat transforms him back to Scott Atwood in the 21st century. I interviewed both men who sometimes seemed at odds.  

Atwood has played other Pilgrim characters including Mayflower captain Francis Cooke, He tries to “humanize” the legendary Myles Standish in his public portrayal. Atwood defends the Indian massacre, noting that the pre-emptive attack was a way for the Pilgrims to firm up their alliance with Massasoit, who also wanted the famous Indian Squanto executed as untrustworthy, although Bradford refused to do so. Standish was a man of “high standing” elected to his office, Atwood says and these were dangerous times. Atwood compares the skirmishes among both white and Native groups in terms of “gangland” battles over waterways, game, taxes, land, and power.  

So what about the land dispute between David Thompson and William Trevore, a laborer hired by the Pilgrims? Standish apparently named the land in Boston HarborIsle Trevore” during a visit in 1621. Two years later Standish was on board the Pilgrim shallop with David Thompson when the first NH settler said he had previous claim to the same island dating to 1619. Three or four years later Thompson disappears. Is Standish involved?  

“I don’t think we want to get into that,” Atwood says. 

“Show me the body!” Myles Standish suddenly shouts. Roused out of 1627, Standish is annoyed by my suggestion that, as the Plymouth enforcer, he may have been involved in Thompson’s demise. No body was ever found.  

Atwood the role player cautions me. He says that it is against the law to slander a military captain. In 1627, even suggesting aloud that Standish was party to murder, Atwood says, could lead to my arrest, to a nasty trial in Pilgrim court, and to my banishment – or much worse.  

Standish interrupts. He insists that he was back in England in 1626 raising money for supplies for Plymouth Colony. Standish reels off a list of other more likely suspects who might have had a grudge against Thompson -- Roger Conant at Cape Ann, William Blaxton at what became Boston, Samuel Maverick on the Mystic River – all of whom had more means, motive and opportunity to dispatch Thompson than the Pilgrims.   

Atwood, always the mediator, politely refers me to a lengthy letter written by Thompson to the Earl of Arundel in 1625. In it Thompson complained of many dangers from an increasing number of Native “Salvages.” Thompson, who legend says kept an enslaved Indian as a servant, wrote that traders were driving up the cost of Indian goods, freelance fishermen were moving into disputed areas. Like the Wild West of later days, the New England coast was filled with drunken and dangerous white men in 1625. Some were trading weapons to the Indians. Thompson’s letter to England indicates a variety of hazards that might have gotten him killed on the frontier, not to mention disease, wild animals, or shipwreck.   

I make a final attempt to ask Myles Standish, point-blank, whether heknows more about Thompson’s death than he is telling.  

“Denying what?” Standish says with his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Who’s suggesting it, and what sort of slander is that?”  

Atwood indicates that I back off. This is a guy who never forgets a grudge and is capable of anything.  

If I continue this impertinent line of questioning, Standish says, he will be forced to take action.  

“And then it will out,” Standish says, brandishing his sword. 

I bow politely, and quickly exit the year 1627, leaving David Thompson’s disappearance as mysterious as before. 

Copyright © 2010 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson, who may be a Mayflower descendant, writes and lectures on NH history. His books are available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. He is editor and owner of the popular history Web site SeacoastNH.com where this column appears exclusively online

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