One of the earliest memories of learning anything at Germantown Elementary School is the Longfellow poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish. I actually think we had at least part of the story read to us by Mrs. Basham in the first grade. Umpty-ump years later, it could have been the second grade, Mrs. Klopfer, but who knows, and really it doesn’t matter.
The story stuck with me.
Longfellow based his poem on family lore, he was a direct descendant of John and Priscilla Alden. Though some historians, philistines that they are, want to discount the story as an American legend created to deify the Pilgrims, Longfellow felt that he was telling family history, and believed it to be true.
Miles Standish, an English military officer, was hired by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock as a military advisor. The Native Americans were a tad testy about the encroachment of the pale faces from across the great water. Military action and military knowledge would come in handy. Ergo, Miles was hired.
A reticent dude, Miles had the hots for Priscilla Mullins/Mullens…it’s spelled both ways…a Pilgrimette who crossed the great water on the Mayflower. He asked his best bud, John Alden to court Priscilla and propose marriage to her.
John Alden was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, and is thought to be the first person to step from the ship onto Plymouth.
I wasn’t there, I can’t be sure. He was the last of the Mayflower Compact signers to die. He outlived his wife by several years.
But, back to the story.
John goes to see Priscilla, woos her on behalf of his good friend Miles, and sings the praises of her silent suitor.
Priscilla, realizing that things are just too real, speaks UP and says, “…speak for yourself John.”
As the poem says, “…into the open air John Alden, perplexed and bewildered, rushed like a man insane…”
Apparently, Miles worked out, John was a dweeby nerd, and knew he was in for an ass whippin’.
But, alas, true love ways have a way of winning, and eventually, John and Priscilla were married, Miles nursed his broken heart with a bottle of mead, killed a few Indians, acted all manly, grunted, farted…you know, guy stuff.
True or not, the poem is great, and you might want to check it out by clicking here.
History does tell us that John Alden DID marry Priscilla Mullens/Mullins, and they had ten children. One of them, John Jr. was accused of witchcraft and jailed during the Salem witch trials. He broke out of jail, skipped town, and later returned, where he was cleared of the charges by proclamation. John Jr. said, “…Salem had returned to reason…”.
And true or not…the story…the Aldens have many famous descendants, both gone and living today. Two Presidents, both John and John Quincy Adams, Longfellow of course, William Cullen Bryant, Marilyn Monroe, Orson Welles, Dan Quayle (also a descendant of Miles Standish), and Jodie Foster can trace their ancestry back to the couple.
We may not know what really happened, and it may not have been a scandal, but it was surely a love affair that lasted and had a lasting impact on all of us.