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John Howland

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Title: John Howland  
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Subject: Burial Hill, Elizabeth Tilley, John Carver (Plymouth Colony governor), William Bradford (Plymouth Colony governor), Pilgrim Fathers
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John Howland

John Howland
Photo of a maker for John Howland on Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Marker for John Howland on Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Born c. 1591
Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, England
Died February 23, 1672/3
Plymouth Colony
Nationality English
Known for Signing the Mayflower Compact

John Howland (c. 1591 – February 23, 1672/3) was a passenger on the Mayflower. He was an indentured servant and in later years, the executive assistant and personal secretary to Governor John Carver[1] and accompanied the Separatists and other passengers when they left England to settle in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

He signed the Mayflower Compact and helped found Plymouth Colony.[2] He signed the Mayflower Compact which is considered the first written constitution for a representative government 'of the people, by the people, for the people'. After the passengers came ashore John Howland became assistant to the governor over the new independent state created under the compact. The act of Governor Carver in making a treaty with the great Indian Sachem Massosoit was an exercise of sovereign power and John Howland was the assistant."[3]

John Carver, the first governor of the Plymouth Colony, died in April 1621.[4] In 1626, Howland was a freeman and one of eight settlers who agreed to assume the colony's debt to its investors in England in exchange for a monopoly of the fur trade.[5] He was elected deputy to the General Court in consecutive years from 1641–1655 and again in 1658.[6]


  • English Origins 1
  • Speedwell and Mayflower 2
  • The Voyage 3
  • In Plymouth Colony 4
  • Elizabeth Tilley 5
  • Children 6
  • Death and burial of John Howland and his wife Elizabeth 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

English Origins

John Howland was born in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, England around 1591.[7][8] He was the son of Margaret and Henry Howland, and the brother of Henry and Arthur Howland, who emigrated later from England to Marshfield, Massachusetts.[7] Although Henry and Arthur Howland were Quakers, John himself held to the original faith of the Puritans.[9]

Speedwell and Mayflower

William Bradford, who was the governor of Plymouth Colony for many years, wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation, that Howland was a man-servant of John Carver. Carver was the deacon of the Separatists church while the group resided in Leiden, Netherlands. At the time the Leiden congregation left the Netherlands, on the Speedwell, Carver was in England securing investments, gathering other potential passengers, and chartering the Mayflower for the journey to North America. John Howland may have accompanied Carver's household from Leiden when the Speedwell left Delfshaven for Southampton, England, July, 1620. Ansel Ames in Mayflower and Her Log, said that Howland was probably kin of Carver's and that he was more likely a steward or a secretary than a servant.[10]

The Separatists planned to travel to the New World, on the Speedwell and the Mayflower. The Speedwell proved to be unseaworthy and thus most of the passengers crowded onto the Mayflower.[1]

In order to finance the voyage to the New World, the Separatists had investors in England. They also had accepted non-separatists to join them on the journey. These passengers, whom the Separatists referred to as "strangers", made up half of those on the Mayflower.

The Voyage

William Bradford's transcription of the Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower departed Plymouth, England on September 6/16, 1620. The small, 100-foot ship had 102 passengers and a crew of about 30-40 in extremely cramped conditions. By the second month out, the ship was being buffeted by strong westerly gales, causing the ship's timbers to be badly shaken with caulking failing to keep out sea water, and with passengers, even in their berths, lying wet and ill. This, combined with a lack of proper rations and unsanitary conditions for several months, attributed to what would be fatal for many, especially the majority of women and children. On the way there were two deaths, a crew member and a passenger, but the worst was yet to come after arriving at their destination when, in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.[11] During the voyage there was a turbulent storm during which John Howland fell overboard. He managed to grab a topsail halyard that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely.[1] There is a painting depicting this called "Howland Overboard" by maritime artist Mike Hayward.

On November 9/19, 1620, after about three months at sea, including a month of delays in England, they spotted land, which was the Cape Cod Hook, now called Provincetown Harbor. And after several days of trying to get south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, where they anchored on November 11/21. On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed. John Howland was the thirteenth of the 41 "principal" men to sign.[11][12]

In Plymouth Colony

The first winter in North America proved deadly for the Pilgrims as half their number perished. The Carver family with whom John lived, survived the winter of 1620-21. However, the following spring, on an unusually hot day in April, Governor Carver, according to William Bradford, came out of his cornfield feeling ill. He passed into a coma and "never spake more". His wife, Kathrine, died soon after her husband. The Carvers' only children died while they lived in Leiden and it is possible that Howland inherited their estate. In 1621, after Carver's death, Howland became a freeman.[4] In 1624 he was considered the head of what was once the Carver household when he was granted an acre for each member of the household including himself, Elizabeth Tilley, Desire Minter, and a boy named William Latham.[13]

In the several years after becoming a freeman, he served at various times as selectman, assistant and deputy governor, surveyor of highways, and as member of the fur committee. In 1626, he was asked to participate in assuming the colony's debt to its investors to enable the colony to pursue its own goals without the pressure to remit profits back to England. The "undertakers" paid the investors £1,800 to relinquish their claims on the land, and £2,400 for other debt. In return the group acquired a monopoly on the colony's fur trade for six years.[14]

The Jabez Howland House in Plymouth, Massachusetts, built c. 1667 and photographed in 1921. Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland lived there for five years.

Howland accompanied Edward Winslow in the exploration of Kennebec River (in current day Maine), looking for possible fur trading sites and natural resources that the colony could exploit. He also led a team of men that built and operated a fur trading post there. While Howland was in charge of the colony's northerly trading post, an incident occurred there that Bradford described as "one of the saddest things that befell them."[15] A group of traders from Piscataqua (present day Portsmouth, New Hampshire) led by a man named John Hocking, encroached on the trading ground granted to Plymouth by a patent, by sailing their bark up the river beyond their post. Howland warned Hocking to depart, but Hocking, brandishing a pistol and using foul language, refused. Howland ordered his men to approach the bark in a canoe and cut its cables setting it adrift. The Plymouth men managed to cut one cable when Hocking put his pistol to the head of Moses Talbot, one of Howland's men, and shot and killed him. Another of the Howland group shot Hocking to death in response.[15][16]

In Plymouth the Howlands lived on the north side of Leyden Street. They lived for a short time in Duxbury[17] and then moved to Kingston where they had a farm on a piece of land referred to as Rocky Nook. The farm burned down in 1675 during King Philip's War.[18] By that time, John had died and Elizabeth moved in with her son, Jabez.[19]

Before moving to Rhode Island, Jabez Howland owned a home in Plymouth at 33 Sandwich Street. The house was built by Jacob Mitchell about 1667 and was sold to Jabez Howland. John and Elizabeth had wintered in the house, and Elizabeth lived there from 1675, when the Rocky Nook farm was burned down, until Jabez sold it in 1680. It is the only house standing in Plymouth in which Mayflower passengers lived.[19]

Elizabeth Tilley

Until Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation was discovered in 1856, it was presumed that John Howland's wife, formerly [22] In 1623/24, she married John Howland.[5]


  • Desire was born about 1624 and died in Barnstable October 13, 1683. She married John Gorham in Plymouth by 1644 and had eleven children. She was buried at Cobb's Hill Cemetery, Barnstable, Mass.
  • John was born in Plymouth on February 24, 1626/7 and died in Barnstable after June 18, 1699. He married Mary Lee in Plymouth on October 26, 1651 and had ten children.
  • Hope was born in Plymouth about 1629 and died in Barnstable on January 8, 1683. She married John Chipman about 1647 and had twelve children. She was buried at Lothrop Hill Cemetery, Barnstable, Mass.
  • Elizabeth was born about 1631 and died in Oyster Bay, New York in October 1683.
  • Lydia was born about 1633 and died in Swansea January, 1710/11. She married James Brown(e) about 1655 and had four children.
  • Hannah was born about 1637. She married Jonathan Bosworth in Swansea on July 6, 1661 and had nine children.
  • Joseph was born about 1640 and died in Plymouth in January 1703/04. He married Elizabeth Southworth in Plymouth on December 7, 1664 and had nine children.
  • Jabez was born about 1644 and died before February 21, 1711/12. He married Bethiah Thatcher by 1669 and had eleven children.
  • Ruth was born about 1646 and died before October 1679. She married Thomas Cushman in Plymouth on November 17, 1664 and had three children.
  • Isaac was born in Plymouth on November 15, 1649 and died in Middleboro on March 9, 1723/4. He married Elizabeth Vaughn by 1677 and had eight children. He was buried at Cemetery At The Green, Middleboro, Mass.[22][23]

Death and burial of John Howland and his wife Elizabeth

John Howland died February 23, 1672/3 at the age of 80, having outlived all other male Mayflower passengers except John Cooke, son of Mayflower passenger [23][24]

Elizabeth Tilley outlived her husband by 15 years. She died December 21 or 22, 1687, in the home of her daughter, Lydia Brown, in Swansea, Massachusetts, and is buried in a section of that town which is now in East Providence, Rhode Island.[25][26]


  1. ^ a b c d Philbrick, Nathaniel (2006). Mayflower: a story of courage, community, and war. New York: Viking. pp. 32–37. 
  2. ^ William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, ed. by Samuel Eliot Morison, The Modern Library, (New York: Random House, 1967),pp. 59, 68, 195, 263, 400-3, 415-417
  3. ^ Howland, Charles Roscoe (1946). Hawley, Emma Boutelle, ed. A brief genealogical and biographical record of Charles Roscoe Howland, brothers, and forebears of Roscoe Howland. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing Company. p. 14. Retrieved October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Philbrick. Pg. 102
  5. ^ a b Philbrick, Pg. 168
  6. ^ Hurd, Duane (1884). History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts. J. W. Lewis & Co. p. 103. 
  7. ^ a b Roser, Susan E. (1997). Mayflower Increasing. Genealogical Publishing Company. p. 68. 
  8. ^ Pilgrim Hall Museum
  9. ^ Pilgrim John Howland Society (1911). The Howland Homestead. Society of the Descendants of Pilgrim John Howland, of the Ship Mayflower. pp. 7–8. 
  10. ^ Ames, Ansel (2008). Mayflower and Her Log. BiblioBazaar. p. 36. 
  11. ^ a b Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 413
  12. ^ George Ernest Bowman, The Mayflower Compact and its signers, (Boston: Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1920). Photocopies of the 1622, 1646 and 1669 versions of the document pp. 7-19.
  13. ^ a b Marble, Anne Russell (1920). The women who came in the Mayflower. Pilgrim Press. pp. 85–88. 
  14. ^ Stone. Pg. 7
  15. ^ a b Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Plantation, Edited by Harold Paget. (E.P. Dutton & Company. 1920), Pg. 253-256
  16. ^ Stone. Pgs. 7-9
  17. ^ Hurd. Pg. 357
  18. ^ Beaudry, Mary C. (1993). Documentary Archeology in the New World. Cambridge University Press. p. 86. 
  19. ^ a b "The Jabez Howland house". The Pilgrim John Howland Society. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  20. ^ Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and Her Passengers, (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., 2006), pp. 237-238
  21. ^ Charles Edward Banks, The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers (New York: Grafton Press, 1929), p. 87
  22. ^ a b c A genealogical profile of John Howland, (a collaboration of Plimoth Plantation and New England Historic Genealogical Society accessed 2013) /
  23. ^ a b Robert Anderson, Pilgrim Village Families Sketch: John Howland (a collaboration between American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society)/
  24. ^ Memorial of John Howland /
  25. ^ Memorial for Elizabeth Tilley
  26. ^ "Elizabeth Tilley Howland". The Pilgrim John Howland Society. 
  27. ^ Register of Members: Philadelphia Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 1996, p. 57.
  28. ^ William Stocking and Gordon K. Miller. The city of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume 5, pg 562-563.  
  29. ^

External links

  • Pilgrim John Howland Society
  • Howland Family Tree 1
  • Howland Family Tree 2
  • Pilgrim Hall Museum
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