Myles and Me

The author, who according to family legend is a direct descendant of Myles Standish, surveys the checkered career of his pugnacious Pilgrim ancestor

"Because of my last name," writes David Standish, a freelancer based in Chicago, "Myles Standish has loomed larger in my life than I ever really wanted. For as long as I can remember, upon meeting me, people have smiled and said, 'Oh, like Myles?' Yes, like Myles. This had already gotten a little old by the time I hit kindergarten."

We recognize Myles Standish, of course, as a Pilgrim stalwart, immortalized in the 1858 Longfellow poem. (The one in which he's too shy and diffident about his love for Priscilla Mullins to tell her himself, and so sends his friend John Alden as an intermediary — and loses out on the romantic front.) In truth, the real Standish was nothing like this — "pugnacious," reports the writer, "touchy, short-tempered, aggressive, but no shrinking violet." He was, as it turns out, no religious zealot either — he signed up with the Pilgrims probably because, basically, he needed a job.

Unfortunately, it was the Native Americans who ended up on the wrong end of his bad temper. Standish headed up some bloody confrontations with the local tribes. And he was not reluctant to involve himself in altercations with other groups of settlers who had begun arriving on the shores of New England. (One of those adventurers, a certain Thomas Morton, dubbed the bellicose, and notably short, Standish as "Captaine Shrimpe.") The disparaging nickname must have annoyed Standish no end.

In the end, though, the author reports, things came full circle. One of Myles Standish's sons, Alexander, married Sarah Alden — daughter of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. "I especially like the notion," he writes, "that one of my ancestors might be, not blustery old Myles, but fetching Priscilla."

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