"He was an iron-nerved Puritan who could hew down forests and live on crumbs."
Myles Standish is one of those high school curriculum staples that hapless teenagers across the country are forced to read about in U.S. History 101 (you can usually find him buried among a gigantic unintelligible clusterhump of names, dates, and whatever-the-fuck else the school board deems boring enough to be featured in a history textbook), and, if anybody remembers him at all, it's probably just as "that beard dude with the funny-looking ascot that apparently was made out of a paper party favor". Most Americans recognize the name, sure, but the majority of them still probably couldn't tell you the difference between Miles Standish and Sacajawea's horse if the fate of the free world depended on it. Besides, it's not like the Plymouth Colony of Pilgrims is really something that screams "BADASS!" at the top of its lungs through blood-stained teeth while leaping face-first through a plate-glass window – the early settlers of Northeastern America were a small cadre of ultra-conservative pacifist religious types who wore funny hats, dorky shoes with shiny buckles on them, and gorged themselves on turkey at Thanksgiving, and aside from that, who really gives a shit? These guys were so disinterested in the finer arts of battle, glory, and combat that when they set sail from England they packed a couple dozen ministers into the hold but only brought one soldier with them. That might not sound like the most well-thought-out strategy for establishing a colony in a land surrounded by indigenous natives who probably weren't too happy with a new group of people landing on their territory, but it turns out that when that one soldier is Miles Standish, that's all you need.
Like all great mysterious Batman-style action heroes, nobody really knows for sure where Standish came from. While his origin story is the sort of modern-day mystery that keeps professional historians in business these days, pretty much everybody can agree that he was from some part of England (or possibly the Isle of Man, which, as far as I'm concerned, is basically the same thing), and that at early in his life he had a lot of money, land, exotic cars, more-exotic babes, and enough purebred hunting Beagles that he could have strapped them to a dog sled and ridden them around town, but that his dickhead greedy relatives screwed him over, stole his inheritance, kicked him out of the house, and promptly erased all traces of his name from the family register.
|Standish's sword, complete with awesome rune-style markings. As a side note, I'd like to point out that the Isle of Man has one of the most awesome-looking flags I've ever seen. Something about the sight of three torso-less armored legs running about in a circle strikes me as being oddly hilarious for some reason.|
Regardless of his obscure and mysterious Boba Fett-esque background, Myles (whose name is also sometimes written "Miles" – I chose the spelling I did because it's the way he spells it in his signature and I generally like to take peoples' own words as authoritative, particularly when it applies to the correct spelling of their own names) soon found himself stripped of his inheritance and out on his ass in the cold, unforgiving wilderness of whatever part of England it was that he came from. Since Myles was far more well-adept at firing musket balls through peoples' eyes than he was at playing bullshit political games or dealing with any issues that couldn't be resolved by shanking his enemies in the larynx, Standish told his jackass family to get fucked, gave everyone the finger, upper-decked all the toilets in his old house, left town forever, and enlisted the British Army. Again, we don't know much about his military service to the Crown, but most folks believe he was stationed in Holland and Belgium, where the British and the Dutch were fiercely battling the expansionist armies of Spain. Standish is believed to have fought at the Siege of Ostend, an epic three-year death-binge believed to be one of the longest battles since the Trojan War, and during his tenure as a British officer he distinguished himself as such a seriously badass motherfucker that by the time he was 21 he had already been promoted to a Captain in the infantry – a rank the British Army didn't just hand out to any douchebag capable of waving a pike in the general direction of his enemies.
What we do know for sure is that Captain Standish was still living in Holland in 1620 when he befriended a colony of British religious separatists who had moved to Holland to escape persecution from the Anglican Church. This rag-tag group of uber-devout Puritans had come to the Netherlands in search of freedom of religion, and a nice place to practice their faith without being beaten and tortured,, but not long after they arrived they came to the realization that freedom of religion really wasn't all that great because it meant that there were a bunch of morons running around smoking hash and believing a bunch of heretical bullshit that the Puritans were totally against. So, rather than sit around in the anarchy of Amsterdam, the Puritans made the obvious decision to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and establish a colony in the New World where they would be free to follow their religion and persecute anyone who didn't believe what they believed. Interestingly, despite being perhaps the greatest hero of Plymouth Colony, Standish wasn't even a Puritan – shit, we don't even know if he was religious in any way at all – but as an experienced military commander with more than one severed enemy's head on his resume the Puritans offered him plenty of money to journey on the Mayflower and defend them from whatever unknown dangers lay before them in the New World. Standish figured, hey, what the hell, I've got nothing else going on, and agreed to sail across the ocean with a hundred religious fanatics he'd only sort of met before and make sure that they all didn't die horrific deaths at the hands of bears or wolves or Native Americans.
You can always tell which one is Standish in these old paintings
because he's usually the only guy wearing armor and carrying a rifle.
And, in the end, isn't that how we all want posterity to remember us?
Standish quickly took charge and asserted his leadership over the Pilgrims on their journey. He was the third man to sign the Mayflower Compact, a document that basically said, "hey when we get to the New World let's act like civilized people and not go all Lord of the Flies on each other", and when land was sighted in the New World he personally led a 16-man landing party that circled Cape Cod in a rowboat looking for a good place to land. The rowboat landing party explored this mostly-uncharted territory, and Standish himself fought off an Indian ambush (it helped that they were totally freaked the fuck out by the sound of musket fire), discovered corn, and was the guy who decided that Plymouth Rock was the place to rock for setting up new colonies. When the Pilgrims landed and started building their colony, Standish ordered the construction of defenses such as a wooden palisade, and when the Pilgrims built their first Church he hauled a couple cannons up onto the roof and positioned them in the most advantageous positions for defense.
"Expedition party ready for action, sire!"
Standish was understandably elected commander of the Plymouth Militia, a massive, formidable fighting force comprised of Standish himself and eight pacifist civilians barely qualified to lift their pikes and muskets. Despite fielding an army comprised of fewer people than the starting Defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Standish led countless expeditions out to explore uncharted territory, hunt wild animals, chase off the "bad" natives who were looking to kill colonists, and befriend and establish trade with the "good" natives who didn't seem to mind a bunch of white people living on their lands. In the winter, when a nasty plague swept through Plymouth killing half the population, Standish was one of the only people in town who didn't get sick – as a battle-scarred hardass he'd already seen every disease you could throw at him and was so tough a little thing like microbial parasites wasn't going to make him start retching violently until he died of it. In diplomacy with the natives, he was the enforcer that the Pilgrims desperately needed him to be – this guy didn't take shit from anyone, never backed down, and responded to anything even remotely threatening with the threat extreme mega-violence and the resolve to follow up on it when needed. Like, one time a native tribe sent him a bunch of arrows wrapped in a snakeskin – an ancient threat of impending war among the tribes of this region. Standish didn't flinch. He pulled the arrows out, snapped them over his knee, filled the snakeskin back up with some fucking bullets, and sent it back to the guys who delivered it (quite possibly with a message indicating where exactly his enemies could stick the bullets). Another time, when a rival tribe captured Squanto, the awesome native hero who had helped the Pilgrims get through that difficult first winter, Standish personally went out into the woods in the middle of the night, snuck into the rival tribe's, broke into the chief's tent, freed Squanto, and then created a diversion by screaming like a madman and shooting an enemy warrior with a musket. His distraction was so effective that the entire camp fled, allowing Standish and Squanto to casually walk back home.
Standish's most famous outward display of badass behavior happened a few years later, when another rival tribe openly threatened to ambush Plymouth Colony in the middle of the night and massacre everyone they could get their tomahawks on. When Standish went to talk some sense into their chief, the guy started saying a bunch of shit about how short the British officer was. Standish, who was in fact a really short guy (with a temper that led the natives to refer to him as "The Little Pot that Boils Over Quickly"), also had a hell of a Napoleon complex going on, and didn't take well to being dissed by anyone. The British Captain didn't say anything, but the next day, when the two men got together once again to talk business, Standish snaked the knife out of the dude's hand and stabbed him to death with it. When the chief's two bodyguards jumped in, Standish killed both of them as well in one knife-swinging rampage of steel-tipped destruction. After fighting his way out of the enemy camp, he marched back to Plymouth with the enemy chief's head on a pike, and then posted the head on the city wall as a warning. Who else wants to talk shit?
Surveying the pike-laden head.
Sure, you can say what you want about the ethics of stealing your enemy's knife in the middle of negotiations and killing three men with it. The Pilgrims certainly did – they thought he was too hardcore and ultra-violent, and suggested that he should have tried to convert them to Christianity rather than stab them in the eye. But they didn't hire Standish to preach the faith – they brought him along to keep their people alive, and that's exactly what he did. Later on, as the makeshift only police officer of the settlement, he arrested a guy named Thomas Morton, who was accused of selling guns to the Indians and engaging in "riotous behavior" (the fact that Morton once referred to Standish as "Captain Shrimp" earned the prisoner a few extra kicks to the head), and as a British military representative in the New World he did his country proud by leading an expedition against a nearby colony of snooty Frenchman who were accused of being rude to some of the Pilgrims once. He didn't end up killing anyone in the raid, but the Frenchies got the point.
Standish was elected militia commander every single year for the rest of his life, was assistant governor once, worked as Treasurer for 16 years, and participated in every single military expedition undertaken by Plymouth during his lifetime. He got married, had five kids, built a huge house (possibly naming it after the old manor in which he used to live), and, most importantly, personally oversaw the success and survival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. When he died in 1656 at the age of 70 he not only left his sons the honor of being related to the most famous warrior the American colonies had yet to see, but he also sarcastically willed them all the property he had been screwed out of by his dickhead family in England.
Horne, Charles F. Soldiers and Sailors. Kessinger, 2003.
Jenks, Tudor. Captain Myles Standish. The Century, 1905.
Morris, Charles. Primary History of the United States J.B. Lippincott, 1899.
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