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A Visit with Myles Standish

Duxbury, Massachusetts doesn’t have the same notoriety as its neighbor Plymouth, but the roots of history run nearly as deep here. To be fair, if people think of Duxbury at all, it’s usually as an upper class suburb of Boston. There’s plenty of wealth on display in this town. But step away from the massive homes with their perfectly manicured gardens and you’ll find a legacy that reaches back to the Mayflower. The most famous character on the Mayflower, Myles Standish, lived and died in Duxbury, and is buried in what is now known as the Myles Standish Burying Ground.

The burying ground was once adjacent to a meeting house, long gone, but marked with granite stones to indicate where it once stood. It is the oldest continuously maintained graveyard in the United States. The lay of the land is largely the same within the enclosure. The thing about graveyards is you’re walking on ground largely unchanged since the days when the people buried there were laid to rest. The entire area around a graveyard becomes housing developments and strip malls and paved roads, but these small graveyards are a time machine back to another time.

Captain Jonathan Alden, son of Mayflower passengers John and Priscilla Alden, is also buried in this graveyard, and his is the oldest gravestone in the burying ground. Standish, who died well before Alden, likely had small pyramid-shaped stones marking his interment initially, and the monument built around the spot in 1893 (you can see one of these stones behind the boulder engraved with Myles Standish’s name in the picture below). That engraved boulder, like Plymouth Rock, is something for the tourists. The monument itself, with a fieldstone wall surrounding it and four cannon mounted on each corner, projects the violent boldness of the man interred beneath.

Myles Standish was a military advisor to the Pilgrims. By all accounts he was brutal and decisive in his actions. He would preemptively attack when he heard trouble was brewing, and famously stuck the head of one rival, Wituwamat, on a pike as a deterrent to others. There seems to be no doubt that Wituwamat was lured into a room and murdered. Was this act of brutality something to be celebrated or scorned? Was there a legitimate threat to the Pilgrims, and could it have been resolved in a more diplomatic way? What’s clear is Standish believed he was fighting for the lives of the colonists, and used any method he could to intimidate those who he believed were threats to their safety. As with all history, we judge it from the comfort of distance.

At another spot in town, on a point of land jutting out into Kingston Harbor, there are four more granite stones laid out in a park amongst multi-million dollar homes overlooking the harbor. It was here that Myles Standish actually lived. I found this interesting, as a military man like Standish would normally seek the high ground. A review of a Google map later revealed a small pond nearby that would have been his source of fresh water. Perhaps Myles dined regularly on Duxbury oysters, which have become almost as famous as the town’s most notable resident.

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