...in 1872, a crowd of 10,000 climbed to the top of Captain's Hill in Duxbury to watch the cornerstone being laid for the Myles Standish Monument. Military leader of the Plymouth Colony, Standish became a popular national hero when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his fictionalized poem, "The Courtship of Myles Standish," in 1858. The Massachusetts state government and private individuals, including President Ulysses S. Grant, contributed to the memorial. It took 28 years to raise all the money needed. When it was finally finished in 1898, the 116-foot tall shaft, with a 14-foot statue of Standish at the top, was rivaled only by the Washington Memorial as a U.S. monument to an individual citizen.
In1872, Myles Standish was a hero not only in Massachusetts but to the whole nation. With the rapid growth of industrialization and immigration, the decades after the Civil War brought a period of dramatic change for the United States. Many Americans responded by making the founders of the colonial period into national heroes. Chief among these was Captain Myles Standish.
According to family tradition, Longfellow's "Courtship of Myles Standish" tells a mostly fictional story of the middle-aged captain losing the hand of lovely Priscilla Mullins to the dashing young John Alden. Although Myles Standish was not in fact the hero of a great romance, he was an experienced and capable military leader who was widely respected by the Plymouth colonists for his success defending the young colony from internal and external threats. Looking back from the late nineteenth century, Americans found in Myles Standish a worthy figure to revere.
He was born around 1587 in Lancashire, England, near his ancestral home of Duxbury Hall. After an education at the local grammar school, he was sent to Holland where the Dutch were fighting for independence from Spain. It was a good place to learn soldiering. Standish became acquainted with a group of English Pilgrims who, seeking to separate themselves from the Church of England, had settled in the Dutch city of Leyden. When the English community decided to leave Holland for the New World in 1619, they chose Standish to be their military leader.
Standish played a near-mythic role in Plymouth Colony. He led the first party to come ashore when the Mayflower reached Massachusetts. He commanded exploring parties, directed defense against occasional Indian actions, and was instrumental in sustaining the group through the hunger, sickness, and death that afflicted them during the first winter in Plymouth. Later, he led rescue missions, put down rebellions, and rebuffed French traders who were encroaching on the Pilgrim settlement.
Standish was not only a military leader but, like the rest of the Pilgrims, he was also a farmer. He farmed 100 acres in the southern section of Plymouth, in an area that later became Duxbury. Both his farm and his family prospered.
His detractors caricatured the short-statured Standish as hot-tempered "Captain Squirt," but most of the colonists respected him. As one said, he "bore a deep share of their first difficulties, and was always very faithful to their interest." In time, he was chosen treasurer and later commander-in-chief of the colony.
The monument to Myles Standish was built on the hill that was the highest point on what was once Standish's farm. From its base at 200 feet above sea level, the monument rises another 116 feet from foundation to parapet and offers panoramic views over the original Plymouth Colony. The monument is crowned by a statue of Standish, holding the charter of Plymouth Colony in his hand and gazing eastward across Massachusetts Bay.
The Myles Standish Monument and grounds have been owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1920; managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, they are open to the public on a seasonal basis.
"Captain Myles Standish: Separtist Pilgrim, or Roman Catholic Soldier of Fortune?," by David Beale, in Faith Pulpit, November, 2001.
The Duxbury Book, 1637-1987, by Francis D. Leach (Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, 1987).
"Pilgrim Father Captain Myles Standish of Duxbury, Lancashire, and Massachusetts," by Helen Moorwood, online.