Captain Myles Standish
Thirteen years after the first settlement at Jamestown a colony was planted in New England. We have seen that the rough-and-ready John Smith was the man who had to deal with the Indians in Virginia. So the first colony in New England had also its soldier, a brave and rather hot-tempered little man—Captain Standish.
Myles Standish was born in England in 1584. He became a soldier, and, like John Smith, went to fight in the Low Country—that is in what we now call Holland—which was at that time fighting to gain its liberty from Spain.
The Government of Holland let people be religious in their own way, as our country does now. In nearly all other countries at that time people were punished if they did not worship after the manner of the established church of the land. A little band of people in the north of England had set up a church of their own. For this they were persecuted. In order to get away from their troubles they sold their houses and goods and went over to Holland. These are the people that we now call "the Pilgrims," because of their wanderings.
Captain Standish, who was also from the north of England, met these countrymen of his in Holland. He liked their simple service and honest ways, and he lived among them though he did not belong to their church.
The Pilgrims remained about thirteen years in Holland. By this time they had made up their minds to seek a new home in the wild woods of America. About a hundred of them bade the rest good-by and sailed for America in the Mayflower in 1620. As there might be some fighting to do, the brave soldier Captain Myles Standish went along with them.
The ship first reached land at Cape Cod. Captain Standish and sixteen men landed, and marched along the shore looking for a place to settle. In one spot they found the ground freshly patted down. Digging here, they discovered Indian baskets filled with corn. Indian corn is an American plant, and they had never before seen it. The beautiful grains, red, yellow, and white, were a "goodly sight," as they said. Some of this corn they took with them to plant the next spring. The Pilgrims paid the Indians for this seed corn when they found the right owners.
Standish made his next trip in a boat. This time he found some Indian wigwams covered and lined with mats. In December, Captain Standish made a third trip along the shore. It was now so cold that the spray froze to the clothes of his men while they rowed. At night they slept behind a little barricade made of logs and boughs, so as to be ready if the Indians should attack them.
One morning some of the men carried all their guns down to the water-side and laid them in the boat, in order to be ready for a start as soon as breakfast should be finished. But all at once there broke on their ears a sound they had never heard before. It was the wild war whoop of a band of Indians whose arrows rained around Standish and his men. Some of the men ran to the boat for their guns, at which the Indians raised a new yell and sent another lot of arrows flying after them. But once the white men were in possession of their guns, they fired a volley which made the Indians take to their heels. One uncommonly brave Indian lingered behind a tree to fight it out alone; but when a bullet struck the tree and sent bits of bark and splinters rattling about his head, he thought better of it, and ran after his friends into the woods.
Captain Standish and his men at length came to a place which John Smith, when he explored the coast, had called Plymouth [plim'-uth]. Here the Pilgrims found a safe harbor for ships and some running brooks from which they might get fresh water. They therefore selected it for their landing place. There had once been an Indian town here, but all the Indians in it had died of a pestilence three or four years before this time. The Indian cornfields were now lying idle, which was lucky for the Pilgrims, since otherwise they would have had to chop down trees to clear a field.
The Pilgrims landed on the 21st day of December, in our way of counting, or, as some say, the 22nd. They built some rough houses, using paper dipped in oil instead of window glass. But the bad food and lack of warm houses or clothing brought on a terrible sickness, so that here, as at Jamestown, one half of the people died in the first year. Captain Standish lost his wife, but he himself was well enough to be a kind nurse to the sick. Though he was born of a high family, he did not neglect to do the hardest and most disagreeable work for his sick and dying neighbors.
As there were not many houses, the people in Plymouth were divided into nineteen families, and the single men had to live with one or another of these families. A young man named John Alden [awl'-den] was assigned to live in Captain Standish's house. Some time after Standish's wife died the captain thought he would like to marry a young woman named Priscilla Mullins. But as Standish was much older than Priscilla, and a rough-spoken soldier in his ways, he asked his young friend Alden to go to the Mullins house and try to secure Priscilla for him.
It seems that John Alden loved Priscilla, and she did not dislike him. But Standish did not know this, and poor Alden felt bound to do as the captain requested. In that day the father of the young lady was asked first. So Alden went to Mr. Mullins and told him what a brave man Captain Standish was. Then he asked if Captain Standish might marry Priscilla.
"I have no objection to Captain Standish," said Priscilla's father, "but this is a matter she must decide."
So he called in his daughter, and told her in Alden's presence that the young man had come to ask her hand in marriage with the brave Captain Standish. Priscilla had no notion of marrying the captain. She looked at the young man a moment, and then said:
"Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"
The result was that she married John Alden, and Captain Standish married another woman. You may read this story, a little changed, in Longfellow's poem called "The Courtship of Miles Standish."