John Howland (1592-1672)

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John Howland was born circa 1592 in Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire, England, United Kingdom to Henry Howland (c1564-1635) and Anna Margaret Aires (c1567-1629) and died 23 February 1673 in Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States of unspecified causes. He married Elizabeth Tilley (1607-1687) 1624 in Massachusetts, United States. Notable ancestors include Henry II of England (1133-1189), William I of England (1027-1087), Charlemagne (747-814), Hugh Capet (c940-996), Rurik (c832-879), Alfred the Great (849-899). Ancestors are from the United Kingdom, England, France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Israel, Byzantium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belarus, the Byzantine Empire, Italy.

John Howland is widely believed to have the greatest number of American descendants of any of the original passengers of the 1620 Mayflower that founded Plymouth_Colony. Descendants included numerous dignitaries, presidents and celebrities.

Vital statistics

  • Son of Henry Howland and Anna Margaret Aires
  • 1592 - Approximate Birth Date in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, England.
  • 1620 - Voyage on Mayflower
  • 1626 - Marriage to Elizabeth Tillie (1607-1687)
  • 1672-Feb-24 (80 years old) Death at Rocky Nook, Plymouth Co, Massachusetts


Howland was born in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire (now part of Cambridgeshire), England around 1592. At the age of twenty-eight, he was employed by John Carver (1565-1621), a Puritan minister who joined with William Bradford in bringing his congregation from Leiden, Netherlands to the New World. Howland, formally a servant, was in fact Carver's assistant in managing the migration.

Voyage of the Mayflower


Mayflower at Provincetown Harbor

The Mayflower, originating from London with a group of Adventurers bound for the New World rendezvoused on 22 July with the Speedwell just arriving from Holland with a group of religious refugees from Leiden. Originally intended to sail jointly to the English Colony in Virginia it soon became evident that Speedwell was not seaworthy. Passengers and cargo were combined onto Mayflower (with many left behind) for the journey, finally departing on September 9.

During the voyage fierce storms blew the ship off course, arriving at Cape Cod on the Eastern Massachusetts coastline on November 9th. For two days they attempted to sail south to Virginia but exhausting supplies and fierce storms caused them to abort this effort and drop anchor at what is now Provincetown Harbor. On November 11th, the group decided to settle here and start their own colony. They wrote a governmental contract called the Mayflower Compact, John was the 13th of the 41 signers on this document.

At one point in the voyage John narrowly escaped death when a fierce storm blew him overboard but he kept a tight grip on a loose topsail halyard until other crewmen were able to pull him back out of the ocean.

Mayflower compact 2016

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899

About the middle of December 1620, the ship moved and dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor. All the while the pilgrims were conducting several exploring missions of the area and negotiations with the local natives. Almost half of the passengers died, suffering from an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. In the spring, they built huts ashore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers disembarked from the Mayflower into their new settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Carver Family Servant

Although he had arrived on the Mayflower as a servant to the Carver family, Howland was a young man determined to make his mark in the new world, arriving as neither a "stranger", nor a "saint" as the Pilgrims termed themselves. The arduous voyage very nearly ended his life as he was thrown overboard, due to turbulent seas, but managed to grab a topsail halyard that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely.

The Carver family with whom John lived, survived the terrible sickness of the first winter, during which many Pilgrims died. But 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 had no children. For this reason, Howland is thought to have inherited their estate. It has been said that he immediately "bought his freedom" but no record has survived.

In 1623/24, Howland married Elizabeth Tilley, by then a young lady of seventeen and the daughter of John Tilley and his wife Joan (Hurst) Rogers. Her parents had died the first winter and she had become the foster daughter of Governor Carver and his wife who were childless. By then he had prospered enough to also bring his brothers Arthur and Henry to the colony as well, solidly establishing the Howland family in the New World.

The following year Howland joined with Edward Winslow exploring the Kennebec River, looking for possible trading sites and natural resources that the colony could exploit. The year after that he was asked to participate in buying out the businessmen who had bankrolled the settlement of Plymouth ("Merchant Adventurers" was the term used at the time) so the colony could pursue its own goals without the pressure to remit profits back to England.

Then in 1626 the governor, William Bradford, selected him to lead a team building a trading station on the Kennebec river, and in 1628 Howland was elevated to the post of Assistant Governor.

Finally, in 1633 Howland was admitted as a freeman of Plymouth. He and Elizabeth had by then acquired significant landholdings around Plymouth, and after he was declared a freeman they diligently acquired more. Howland served at various times as Assistant Governor, Deputy to the General Court, Selectman, Surveyor of Highways and member of the Fur Committee.

John and his wife Elizabeth had ten children, all of whom lived and had descendants. Their four sons were officers of the Plymouth Colony Militia, and served in other capacities.

Howland died on 23 February 1673, and was "with honour interred" on Burial Hill. This was accorded only to the leaders of the Colony, and meant that a squad of soldiers fired a volley over his grave. He is described in the records as a "godly man and an ardent professor in the ways of Christ."

Marriage & Family

John's wife, Elizabeth Tilley (1607-1687), was the daughter of a fellow mayflower passenger, John Tilley (1571-1621), who did not survive the first winter in America.

John and Elizabeth were married ca 1624 at Plymouth Colony. All 10 Children are listed in John's will dated 1672-May-29:

  1. Desire Howland (1625-1683) - md Gorham
  2. John Howland (1626-1704) - - oldest son md Mary Lee in 1651
  3. Hope Howland (1629-1684) - md John Chipman
  4. Elizabeth Howland (c1631-1691) - Md Dickenson
  5. Lydia Howland (c1634-1711) - md Browne
  6. Hannah Howland (c1637-1708) - md Bosworth
  7. Joseph Howland (1640-1704)- son md Elizabeth Southworth in 1664
  8. Jabez Howland (1644-1712)
  9. Ruth Howland (1646-1679) - md Cushman
  10. Isaac Howland (1649-1724)


Offspring of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley (1607-1687)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Desire Howland (1625-1683) 13 October 1625 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States 13 October 1683 Barnstable, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States John Gorham (1621-1675)

John Howland (1626-1704) 24 February 1626 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts 1 January 1704 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts Mary Lee (1630-1693)

Hope Howland (1629-1684) 30 August 1629 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States 8 January 1684 Barnstable, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States John Chipman (1621-1708)

Elizabeth Howland (c1631-1691)
Lydia Howland (c1634-1711)
Hannah Howland (c1637-1708)
Joseph Howland (1640-1704) 1640 Kingston, Plymouth County, Massachusetts 1704 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts Elizabeth Southworth (1647-)

Jabez Howland (1644-1712) 1644 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts 7 April 1708 Bristol, Bristol County, Rhode Island Bethiah Thatcher (1645-1725)

Ruth Howland (1646-1679) 1646 Plymouth County, Massachusetts October 1679 Plymouth County, Massachusetts Thomas Cushman (1637-1726)

Isaac Howland (1649-1724)

Notable descendants

See also Descendants of John Howland

Vital Records

Bradfords Passenger List

Passenger List compiled c. 1651 by Gov Wm Bradford of early Mayflower passengers includes:

Mr. John Carver; Katherine, his wife; Desire Minter; and 2 manservants, John Howland, Roger Wilder; William Latham, a boy, and a maid servant, and a child that was put to him, called Jasper More.

His servant, John Howland, maried the doughter of John Tillie, Elizabeth, and they are both now living, and have 10 children, now all living; and their oldest daughter hath 4 children. And ther 2nd daughter, one, all living; and other of their children mariagable. So 15 are come of them.


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Sources and notes

‡ General
Ω Birth
  • County was Huntingdonshire until the 20th century.
¶ Death
  • Year 1672 O.S.
  • Headstone


  MainTour, Robin Patterson

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