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Captain Miles Standish: Facts & History

Instructor: Crystal Daining

Crystal has a master's degree in history and loves teaching anyone ages 5-99.

Miles Standish was an important member of the Pilgrims who helped establish Plymouth Colony in North America. Learn about the many ways Standish helped this colony become successful.

Who Was Miles Standish?

Miles Standish (1584-1656) was a soldier in the English army. Historically, his first name was spelled 'Myles;' 'Miles' is the modern spelling. He was stationed in Holland (a western region in what is now The Netherlands), and while there he became acquainted with the Pilgrims. Standish was hired by the Pilgrims to be their military captain in North America and to help coordinate their future colony's defenses. Miles Standish is known today for signing the Mayflower Compact as well as for his leadership and military strength in the new Plymouth Colony.

Portrait of Miles Standish
Standish Portrait

Miles Standish, the Pilgrims, and the Mayflower

Miles Standish was a soldier stationed in Holland when he became introduced to the Pilgrims there. Pilgrims, also known as Separatists, were a religious group who had fled to Holland from England because they had wanted to separate themselves from the Church of England. This produced tensions with the Church of England and the Pilgrims fled to Holland for their own safety.

When the Pilgrims heard about the New World, they knew that they wanted to permanently settle there. The Pilgrims knew that they needed a good military soldier to be their captain. The New World was full of enemies and dangers: Native Americans, other European competitors such as the French and Spanish, wild animals. and diseases.

Miles Standish was hired as captain by the Pilgrims, and he and his wife Rose left for the New World with the Pilgrims on their ship called the Mayflower. The Mayflower set sail in 1620 with 102 passengers. Not all of the passengers on the Mayflower were Pilgrims, and soon two groups became distinguished on the small boat: the 'Saints' were the Pilgrims and the 'Strangers' were everyone else.

Both the 'Saints' and the 'Strangers' realized that they needed to work together once they reached America in order to survive, so while still out at sea, the two groups wrote a document called the Mayflower Compact to help organize their future colony. The signers of the Mayflower Compact served as the government of the colony and helped make and keep the laws of the new colony. Miles Standish was the fourth person to sign the compact, which signifies his importance in the group.

Signature of Miles Standish on the Mayflower Compact
Standish Signature

Miles Standish and Plymouth Colony

When the Pilgrims got to the New England coast, Standish led all of the exploratory missions on land in order to find the best place to settle. On the third expedition, he and his men found some land that had previously been cleared by Native Indians and this was where they decided to start Plymouth Colony. During the first winter in the colony, almost 50% of the people who came over on the Mayflower died from illnesses or malnutrition. Standish's wife, Rose, was most likely one of the ones who passed away during this time. Standish, however, was one of the very few who did not get sick during that first harsh winter, and he actively took care of the sick and helped keep order in the colony.

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