The Evidence of W.H. BARLETT.Author of “The Pilgrim Fathers” – 1853.
One of the most prominent individuals hereafter connected with the Pilgrims—-although he did not join them until their retreat to Leyden—was Captain Myles Standish, a man whose iron nerve and dauntless energy of character went far towards, carrying the infant society through the perils with which it was menaced;—short of stature, but sinewy and robust, and with a constitution of iron and an intrepidity that no peril could quail. His temper is said to have been somewhat too soldier-like— " sudden and quick in quarrel;" but, on the other hand, his promptitude and decision in an alarming crisis proved, probably, the very salvation of the colony. He was an offshoot of one of the oldest families in Lancashire—the Standishes, as we are informed by local historians, having flourished there from about the time of the Conquest, and, as will be seen from the following details, played no obscure part in English history.
John Standish was one of the king's servants, and one of the first who wounded Wat Tyler after he had been felled by the Lord Mayor of London, for which he was knighted, together with the Mayor and citizens. (4th Richard II.)
Sir Ralph Standish was a commander under Henry V. and VI., in the French wars, and fought at the battle of Agincourt; and Sir Alexander Standish was knighted for his valiant behaviour at Hutton Field, in Scotland, 1482. Ralph Standish, of Standish, married Philippa, daughter of Henry duke of Norfolk, and, being found in actual rebellion against his Majesty King George, his estate was seized; but he escaped with his life, and his estate was afterwards restored.
Henry Standish, of this family, a Franciscan friar, Bishop of St. Asaph, 1519, was esteemed a very learned man. He accompanied Sir John Baker, ambassador to Denmark from 1526 to 1530, and was one of the bishops who assisted and directed Queen Catherine in the suit concerning her divorce from Henry VIII.
Myles Standish inherited in a pre-eminent degree the military spirit of his ancestors, but nothing else; for, according to Morton, " he was heir-apparent unto a great estate of lands and livings, surreptitiously detained from him ; his great-grandfather being a second or younger brother from the house of Standish." Compelled thus to seek his fortune, he chose the profession of arms, and served in the troops sent over by Queen Elizabeth to assist the Dutch in maintaining their struggle for liberty and Protestantism against the Spaniards. Here he fell in with the Pilgrims, and, though not a member of their church, yet, admiring their principles, and attracted by the love of adventure, he resolved to cast in his lot with theirs, and share their enterprise to America.
There are many memorials of the Standishes still existing. From the windows of my quiet retreat at Newchurch I could see Standish church and the long ridge of Rivington Pike above Duxbury, a land-mark to all the country round. A very short run on the railway brought me to the manufacturing town of Wigan, where one of the streets still retains the name of " Standish Gate." Soon after, we were deposited at the Standish station—a little Gothic cottage, with its neat garden and trailing flowers, such as can only be seen in England. Scarcely a stone's throw distant is the rectory—one of the best in Lancashire, and the advowson of which has belonged to the Standishes for 700 years. It should be remarked here that there are two branches of this family—the one at Standish, and the other at Duxbury—and that there has been no end of litigation and dispute with regard to the property, so that, as an old man in the neighbourhood observed, " it seemed as if there were a spell hanging over it." Passing the rectory-house, we soon reached the church, which stands adjacent to the town on a bold rising ground, commanding what must once have been a magnificent prospect. But the aspect of this district has greatly altered since the days of Myles Standish. The manufacturing system, which has since attained such stupendous development, was then in its infancy, and where tall chimneys and coal-pits vomit forth clouds of sable smoke, there was nothing but the greenness and freshness of pastoral nature. The parish of Standish abounds in these pits, which are a considerable source of wealth; and nothing can be more dingy than the town, unless, perhaps, its still more dingy denizens, who, begrimed with the smoke and coal-dust of the pits, seem as though they had just emerged from the infernal regions.
Standish church is handsome and extensive, and bears on its battlements the shield of the family, which consists simply of three standing dishes argent, on a field azure. We were disappointed at not meeting with any monuments of its more illustrious members. We glanced for a moment at a picturesque old cross and stocks in the marketplace—the latter, as we were assured, not having been made use of for fourteen years. Hence we proceeded across meadows and through groves to Standish Hall, the ancient seat of this branch of the family, who are Roman Catholics; and it was here that the "Lancashire plot" of 1694 was concocted, for replacing the Stuarts on the British throne. Of the old hall, which was in the timber style peculiar to this part of England, but a mere fragment is remaining; the rest is modernised, and contains numerous family portraits of warriors in corslet and buff, lawyers with peaked beards and starched ruffs, and handsome courtiers with slashed dresses and flowing lovelocks. As Myles Standish, however, gave the name of Duxbury to his estate in America, it is evident he must have sprung from the branch of the family settled there, whose burial-place is Chorley old church, about four miles distant. Thither we accordingly repaired, and found a picturesque ancient edifice, the chancel of which was appropriated to this family, bearing on the exterior buttresses the above-mentioned armorial bearings.
Inside the church is the Standish pew, capacious enough to contain a large family, and having a very unique ornamental screen, elaborately carved in oak with quaint figures and escutcheons, while between the supporting columns two seats of honour for the master and mistress of the family. The chancel window bears the arms of the Standishes, and the Widdringtons, with whom they intermarried. But here, also, with the exception of a modern tablet, we were disappointed at finding no monuments of consequence, though informed that the vaults below contained the ashes of many generations of the Standishes of Duxbury.
There is a curious memorial concerning this church in the MSS. of the British Museum. " Be it known to all men, that I, Thomas Tarleton, vicar of the church of Croston, beareth witness and certify, that Sir James Standish, of Dokesbury Hall, hath delivered a relic of St. Lawrence's head in the church of Chorley, the which Sir Rowland Stanley, knight, brother to the said James, and dame Jane his wife, brought out of Normandy, in the worship of God and St. Lawrence for.... said church to the intent that the oversaid Sir Rowland Stanley and his wife, the said James and his wife, may in the said church be prayed for, &c. Written at Croston, 2nd day of March, 1442, 21st Henry VI."
Saint Lawrence's head has disappeared, and masses are no longer offered up for the souls of the pious donors. Yet Chorley still possesses a "relic"—no doubt equally authentic—in the shape of several bones, white with antiquity, preserved in a recess to the right of the chancel window. From their great size they have been popularly supposed to belong to some famous saint or giant; but science has dispelled the illusion by pronouncing them to be the uppermost joints in one of the hind limbs of either horse or cow species ; but what the animal had done to deserve canonization must ever remain a mystery.
Within two miles of Chorley is Duxbury Hall, a splendid modern mansion which has succeeded to the ancient one, containing a fine collection of Spanish and Italian pictures, and a whole-length portrait of Louis Philippe, presented by himself to Mr. Frank Hall Standish, the present proprietor of the estate, who, it should be observed, assumed the name of Standish on succeeding to the property.
The park is bold and open, adorned with clumps of timber, and overlooked by the noble ridge of Rivington Pike, upon which is a beacon tower, which was kept in readiness to be lighted during the panic of a Spanish invasion in Elizabeth's reign, and also during the meditated attempt of Napoleon.
Here or in the neighbourhood were doubtless passed the youthful years of Myles Standish; and there can be no doubt that he often fondly reverted to them amidst the then dreary wilds of America, since he sought to preserve their memory by giving the name of "Duxbury" to the estate there allotted to him.
- W H BARLETT. 1849