Brief History: First of all, I know this isn’t my usual fairy tale/folk tale blog, but I thought I’d try something more Americana in honor of the football season. . . or something. Second, I promise that since this blog is about the group known as the Pilgrims I won’t get on my many colonial America soapboxes such as the difference between the strict, hypocritical Puritans and the religous-diverse Plymouth colonists or the broken agreements with the Wampanoag people or the lack of cultural acknowledgement for Tisquantum (a.k.a. Squanto) who is the only reason why we have Thanksgiving. Nope. Nor will I go into the history Thanksgiving not being celebrated in U.S. until the Civil War as a morale booster and really had nothing to do with the Pilgrims and Wampanoags. [Deep breath] Now, on to the story.
In 1858, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the king of historical inaccuracies (i.e. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere), wrote a long poem called The Courtship of Miles Standish. In the midst of battles against the indigenous people and bad harvests, Miles Standish had an eye for the young, pretty Priscilla Mullins. As a military leader, Standish naturally was not a romantic (as according to the big book of stereotypes) so he asked his friend, John Alden, to speak on his behalf. However, John and Priscilla grow close and by the time he tries to propose for Miles, Priscilla says, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” So, they get married, Standish gets over it, and they all eat turkey.
Analysis: Everyone likes history better when it has a love story involved. Case in point - Titanic. (And they could have both fit on the door. Just saying.) In reality, historians don’t know if there really was any triangle between the political assistant, the military advisor, and the daughter of a shoemaker. This is what is known:
The major events from the poem like the Nemasket raid really did happen, but over many years instead of a few months.
Myles (correct spelling) Standish really did remarry when his first wife died after arrival in Plymouth, but he married a woman that came over on a separate ship about three years later. His first wife died very shortly before Alden and Mullins married so if he really did want Priscilla for his wife, he must not have waited long.
John Alden originally joined the colonists as a barrel mender and became a part of the standing military and a secondary governor. He sounded more ambitious than his literary counter-part.
Priscilla Mullins was one of the only members of her family to survive the voyage on the Mayflower and married John Alden when she was about 19 years old. They had at least 10 children, one of whom grew up to be accused during the Salem Witch Trials.
Blame It on the Victorians: Longfellow was a descendant of the Aldens and claimed the story of the love triangle was a family legend passed down through generations. An upside to all of the fame his poems gained by being more dramatic than historical is that Longfellow used some of his fame towards his support for the abolitionist movement. Focusing on a positive here.
Last Thoughts: “Didn’t it reeeeeeeeally happen that way, Grandpa?” Ever seen the Elmer Fudd cartoon where he’s John Alden? Huh. Huh.