MAYFLOWER-L ArchivesArchiver > MAYFLOWER > 2004-11 > 1101302566
From: Bardling <>
Subject: Mystery of Miles Standish - from Wall Street Journal
Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 08:22:47 -0500
*Front page, top and near center of the Wall Street Journal this morning*
Could DNA Tests Solve the Mystery Of Miles Standish?
Finding His Birthplace Has Descendants Bickering;
Suspect Church Records
By ROBERT TOMSHO and EMILY NELSON
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 24, 2004; Page A1
PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- In 1620, Miles Standish led 101 other Mayflower
colonists ashore here. He battled Indians, took part in the first
Thanksgiving and inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic poem
about his unrequited love for a Pilgrim maiden.
Although historians recorded much about the bantam old soldier, he
took one piece of vital data to his grave 348 years ago: the
whereabouts of his birth.
By all accounts, the Pilgrim was an Englishman, but because his birth
records can't be found, it's unknown precisely where he was born in
about 1584. Multiple branches of the Standish family lived in England
then. Now, researchers and Standish descendants are fighting over
which one produced Miles in a battle featuring DNA tests, suspect
church records and the plotting of a commemorative golf tournament.
Helen Moorwood, a genealogist who has researched the matter for years,
maintains the Pilgrim patriarch hailed from Lancashire, the northwest
English county where she grew up. There, in what is now the small town
of Chorley, one branch of the Standish family had an estate called
Duxbury Hall. Miles Standish eventually built his own home in Duxbury,
Mass., a town he co-founded.
"I have never been able to come across any reason why he should name
it Duxbury unless he was related to the Standishes of Duxbury,"
declares Ms. Moorwood, who supports an effort by Chorley to use the
Standish legacy as a tourist attraction.
That doesn't wash with retired chemist Norman Standish, a
10th-generation, direct descendant of Miles and owner of the Standish
Bed and Breakfast, in Lanark, Ill. Known for dressing up in Pilgrim
garb for local Thanksgiving events, he grew up believing that Miles
was a Manxman -- as natives of the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, call
themselves. Miles Standish's will mentioned a place by that name, and
old land records show a Standish family lived on an island farm,
Ellenbane, around the time of his birth.
"There is no question his mother and father lived in Ellenbane," says
Mr. Standish, a former president of the North American Manx
Association, who has led a long-running effort to buy Ellenbane and
turn it into a monument.
The man at the center of the wrangle was a more complex character than
the awkward suitor described in "The Courtship of Miles Standish,"
Longfellow's fictional 1858 poem. The poem, and accounts written in
Standish's time, praise his military prowess and devotion to fellow
But the pint-sized Pilgrim is also said to have invited an Indian who
had insulted him to a feast and then used the warrior's own knife to
kill him. "A little chimney is soon fired; so was the Plymouth
captain, a man of very little stature, yet of a very hot and angry
temper," wrote William Hubbard, a clergyman who arrived in
Massachusetts a few years after the Mayflower.
[Caroline Lewis Kardell]
"He was a crusty, bad-tempered old guy," says Caroline Lewis Kardell.
She spent 15 years as chief genealogist of the General Society of
Mayflower Descendants, in Plymouth, Mass., whose 26,000 living members
can trace their lineage directly back to one of the original
colonists. When someone applied to join the Mayflower society, it was
up to Ms. Kardell to review the files and make a ruling.
After retiring in 2002, Ms. Kardell volunteered to head an
experimental DNA project for the Mayflower society to track down the
birthplaces of Miles Standish and a half-dozen other Pilgrim men. Male
members of the Mayflower Society directly descended from such
colonists were asked to submit swabs from their inner cheeks to test
for certain chromosomes that are passed only from father to son. The
plan was to conduct such testing among Englishmen with the same last
names, looking for matches that might link the Americans to a
But by last year, Ms. Kardell had turned up only three Standishes in
this country who could trace their lineage, father-to-son, all the way
back to Miles. And when asked to volunteer a DNA sample, one of them
told her to get lost.
Then, in the fall of 2003, a letter arrived from John Cree, the
Anglican rector of Chorley, a faded market town of 20,000. The Rev.
Cree had a church pew used in centuries past by members of the
Standish family, an unknown number of whom are buried in a crypt
beneath his altar. Because local tradition had it that Miles Standish
had been born in the area, Chorley was hoping to hold some sort of
Sensing an opportunity to jump-start her Standish search, Ms. Kardell
replied to the rector, asking whether there were any Standish men from
Chorley willing to part with a tad of tissue from their cheeks. Mr.
Cree went to the local newspapers. "DNA tests set to prove Pilgrim
Father's heritage," read one headline in the Chorley Guardian last
Soon there was talk of a Miles Standish heritage trail, a
commemorative festival and maybe even a golf tournament. "I'm the
rector of the church that is sitting on this," says Mr. Cree. "I'd be
negligent if I didn't stir it up."
Actually, Chorley had been stirred before. Convinced they had a claim
to lands in town, some of Miles's U.S. descendants sent a
representative in 1846 to establish a definitive link. The man
returned complaining that local church records had been ripped out or
effaced until they were unreadable, perhaps by locals seeking to
thwart a Yankee land grab.
Miles's will mentions claims to several plots of ancestral land. Many
are in the Chorley vicinity, including acreage now occupied by a golf
course that was once home to Duxbury Hall, a sprawling estate owned by
one group of Standishes. But the will also refers to claims to
property at an "Isle of Man." That is the name of a large farm that
still exists in Lancashire -- but also the name of the island where
another branch of the Standish family lived.
The Standish boosters in Chorley aren't ruffled. "We've got a pew, a
few dead bodies under a church and a defaced record," says Chris
Mellor, cultural services manager for the Chorley Borough Council.
"That's more than the Isle of Man."
Still, Chorley's campaign has run into hurdles. Some English branches
of the Standish family have simply died out. Most male Standishes who
have volunteered to take DNA tests can't document their heritage.
One exception is Benjamin Standish, a 46-year-old Benedictine monk who
lives near Reading, in the south of England. As a boy, Father Standish
says, his parents told him ancestors lived in Chorley. The monk can
document part of his family tree, albeit only as far back as 1780,
more than a century after Miles Standish died.
A sample of his DNA shows close kinship to the two samples gathered in
the U.S. by Ms. Kardell. The specimens from the three Standish men are
not exact matches but are close enough to indicate with a high degree
of probability that the trio had a common ancestor, says Max
Blankfeld, a vice president of DNA Family Tree, the Houston lab that
tested them. But if that common forebear came generations before Miles
Standish, all three men might be only distant cousins of the Pilgrim.
Benjamin Standish will be among the honored guests at a five-day
festival in Chorley in March commemorating the signing of Miles
Standish's will. It will include plays, lectures and concerts -- as a
warm-up for a bigger celebration in 2006 to mark the 350th anniversary
of his death. There's also talk in town about trying to open the
Standish family crypt to gather additional DNA samples, although Mr.
Cree thinks that may involve getting the permission of the Pilgrim's
nearest living relative, whoever that might be.
|Mystery of Miles Standish - from Wall Street Journal by Bardling <>|