The Pilgrim Fathers, who founded New Plymouth on the eastern seaboard of what was to become the United States of America, are lauded as some of the most significant travelers in History. From a hundred or so religious refugees came the founders of a nation. Not of their church but very much one of their number, was one Myles Standish- or someone calling himself thus. He was their “captain” or military adviser and played a key role in the critical fledgling years of the new settlement.
Inevitably Myles is something of a hero in America. He is honoured by the second highest monument commemorating an individual in the United States. His statue stands proud on an obelisk of at least 110 feet atop the appropriately named Captain’s Hill at Duxbury, Massachusetts. Duxbury was his own farm and settlement, spawned from the original foothold. Myles himself is a star of several websites and museums preserving the record of the Pilgrim Fathers. ( 1)
In the probable land of his birth, England, Myles enjoys a lower profile. He is listed, along with his fellows of the “Mayflower”, on a plaque at Plymouth harbour in Devon and is also remembered in a stained glass window at St. Wilfrid’s Standish and an American flag at St. Laurence’s Chorley. He is generally a paragraph or a footnote in the history books.
The truth is that nothing from the time is definitely recorded about Myles before his journey with the bold Separatists. He is an enigma, a man of mystery and almost a virtual being. The chronic lack of evidence makes it nigh impossible to answer the obvious and interesting questions about Myles: o When was he born? o What family did he come from? o Where was he born? o What was he doing before 1620? o Why is there so little evidence about him in his pre-New England days?
These issues tend to become distilled into the key question about the family he was born into. A number of communities lay claim to his origin and there have been several theories advanced. Currently the following would seem worthy of mention:
o He was a Manxman as seemingly indicated by the claim in his will of 1655 which alleges he was deprived of lands in the Isle of Man. This theory was particularly developed by G.V.C Young, writer of Manx parliamentary legislation, publisher and historian. (2).
o He was a Standish of Duxbury as indicated by him choosing Duxbury as the name of his own settlement in New England. There are three possible Standish of Duxbury families he might descend from. Duxbury Hall is at Chorley, Lancashire. A recent committed case for Myles as a Standish of Duxbury is made by Helen Moorwood. ( 3 )
o As he says in his will, he was a Standish of Standish, possibly of another forename. For example there is an unfortunate seventeenth century member of this family, one Roger Standish, whose experiences may seem to mirror those of Myles. (4 )
o He was of yet another Standish family, for example of the Burgh near Duxbury, Lancashire or of those who had moved to other parts of England. (5 )
o He was an illegitimate and unrecognised Standish or a member of a very ordinary and unrecorded family named Standish. o He was not a Standish at all but someone who adopted a useful name.
It will be evident that even establishing his family of origin may still leave it difficult to fix upon his place of birth. The historian is hamstrung without written primary evidence. As G.F Willison wrote in 1945, “(Myles’ life) is virtually a blank page to the day when he and his wife Rose stepped on the deck of the Mayflower”.( 6 ) However that does not prevent worthwhile or interesting questions being asked, nor the fascinating if seemingly fruitless chase to move a least some distance along the hunt for Myles.
St Laurence’s Church is situated in the centre of Chorley. It is believed that there has been a Church on that site since Anglo Saxon times. St Laurence’s is a unique link with the past providing a vital sense of continuity and local identity.