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Many have heard of the famous Pilgrim love triangle involving Myles Standish, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. It is immortalized in the classic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858).
In Longfellow’s poem, Priscilla famously says to John who is there to court by proxy on behalf of Myles:
“Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”
It was Longfellow who impressed the love story that would become John and Priscilla Alden upon the American consciousness. But the story itself was first published by a descendant of theirs, Timothy Alden, Jr. (1771-1839), in 1814. Born in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, Timothy went to live with his uncle at the age eight. It was his uncle who told him stories about the Alden family heritage all the way back to the Mayflower experience, Leyden and England. One of those stories involved the notable union of his direct ancestors. Alden later became a noted historian and antiquarian, the first president of Allegheny College and a Congregationalist-turned-Presbyterian minister. It was in 1814 that he published A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions in five volumes, which included the very account which inspired Longfellow’s poem. It is from the third volume that we may obtain his version of what really transpired.
Note. — The hon. John Alden was one of the pilgrims of Leyden, who came, in the May Flower, to Plymouth, in 1620. He was about twenty-two years of age, when he arrived, and was one of those, who signed the original civil compact, formed and solemnly adopted by the first adventurers at Cape Cod harbour, on the 15 of November. This was a few days previous to their finding and selecting a place for the commencement of their settlement in this western world. He was a single man and appears to have been an inmate in the family of captain Myles Standish. He was the stripling, who first leaped upon the rock, as mentioned by president Adams in a certain communication.
It is well known, that, of the first company consisting of one hundred and one, about one half died II six months after landing, in consequence of the hardships they were called to encounter. Mrs. Rose Standish, consort of captain Standish, departed this life, on the 29 of January, 1621. This circumstance is mentioned as an introduction to the following anecdote, which has been carefully handed down by tradition.
In a very short time after the decease of Mrs. Standish, the captain was led to think, that, if he could obtain Miss Priscilla Mullins, a daughter of Mr. William Mullins, the breach in his family would be happily repaired. He, therefore, according to the custom of those times, sent to ask Mr. Mullins' permission to visit his daughter. John Alden, the messenger, went and faithfully communicated the wishes of the captain. The old gentleman did not object, as he might have done, on account of the recency of captain Standish's bereavement. He said it was perfectly agreeable to him, but the young lady must also be consulted. The damsel was then called into the room, and John Alden, who is said to have been a man of most excellent form with a fair and ruddy complexion, arose, and, in a very courteous and prepossessing manner, delivered his errand. Miss Mullins listened with respectful attention, and at last, after a considerable pause, fixing her eyes upon him, with an open and pleasant countenance, said, prithee John, why do you not speak for yourself? He blushed, and bowed, and took his leave, but with a look, which indicated more, than his diffidence would permit him otherwise to express. However, he soon renewed his visit, and it was not long before their nuptials were celebrated in ample form. From them are descended all of the name, Alden, in the United States. What report he made to his constituent, after the first interview, tradition does not unfold; but it is said, how true the writer knows not, that the captain never forgave him to the day of his death.
For a few years, the subject of this article lived in Plymouth and then settled in Duxborough on a farm, which, it is a little remarkable, has remained in the possession of his descendants ever since and is one of the best in the town. He built his house on a rise of land near Eagle Tree Pond, where the ruins of his well are still to be seen.
He had four sons and four daughters, who lived to enter the marriage state, who had many children and most of whom lived to a good old age.
Timothy’s family tradition led to Longfellow’s narrative poem, and there you have the background for an American Pilgrim legend.