By Bob (Monty) Doherty
“Just in the gray of the dawn, as the mists uprose from the meadows, There was a stir and a sound in the slumbering village of Plymouth; Clanging and clicking of arms, and the order imperative, ‘Forward!’” And so begins the famous poem The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Longfellow gives praise to Standish, the protector of the Pilgrims and the first European to explore what is now Somerville, Massachusetts. Standish was a soldier originally commissioned to protect the Pilgrims, who arrived in the year 1620. By the autumn of 1621, half of the colony had already perished at the hands of a brutal climate, disease and a drastic food shortage. It was that year that Standish was sent northward by the original Plymouth colony to attempt to make peace with the American Indians and request their help in order to survive.
Standish and his men arrived in Somerville and trekked through West Somerville, the location of the future Powder House, the oldest stone structure in Massachusetts and quite possibly the inspiration for the poem honoring Standish. Longfellow was known to go for long walks through the area quite frequently and was no stranger to the history of great explorers.
The achievements of Standish are substantial. He was not only the military protector of the Pilgrims, but also became the Lieutenant Governor and Treasurer of the colony. Standish helped to establish the town of Duxbury, the namesake of his birthplace in England. Currently, a 14-foot carved statue of the Plymouth leader stands on top of a memorial in his honor at the top of a 125-step staircase with a beautiful view of Plymouth bay in Duxbury.
Though his contributions to America were immense, his greatest accomplishment may have been that which resulted in one of our nation’s most revered holidays. When he came through Somerville, he was successful in his mission to explore and create friendships with non-hostile Indians. The colony, being in a particularly precarious way, truly needed that success if they were to continue to stay alive. It was at this time that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated. It was at this dinner that 90 Indians, Standish and 51 other colonists hailed their newfound friendship and partnership.
So when you sit down this year with your families to rejoice and be thankful for all of the blessings that we have, remember that what is now the City of Somerville played a small part in making this great holiday come to be. Happy Thanksgiving!