Birth: Between 1590 and 1599 in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, England
Death: February 1672 or 1673 in Rocky Nook, Kingston, Massachusetts
John Howland was born toward the end of the sixteenth century. The exact year is not known, but it is likely that he was in his early twenties in 1620. John was the son of Henry and Margret Howland. While many in his family were Quakers, John was a member of the Puritan faith.
In 1620, he boarded the Mayflower as the servant of Governor John Carver, another Mayflower passenger, whom he had been working with for some time. Azel Ames wrote in “The Mayflower and Her Log” that:
“John Howland was clearly a ‘secretary’ or ‘steward,’ rather than a ‘servant,’ and a man of standing and influence from the outset.”
En route to the New World, John Howland was swept overboard. Luckily, he was able to grab hold of some rope, which his shipmates then used to pull him back onto the boat. William Bradford writes of this event:
“In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to hull [lay-to] for divers days together. And in one of them, as they thus lay at hull in a mighty storm, a lusty young man called John Howland, coming upon some occasion above the gratings was, with a seele [roll] of the ship, thrown into sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length. Yet he held his hold (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hook and other means got into the ship again and his life saved. And though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth.”
William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, ed.
John Howland signed the Mayflower compact, and even helped explore the coast of Cape Cod before the final unloading of the boat.
In 1621, John carver died, making John Howland a free man.
In 1624, John married his fellow Mayflower passenger, Elizabeth Tilley. Together, they had ten children: Desire, John, Hope, Elizabeth, Lydia, Hannah, Joseph, Jabez, Ruth, and Isaac.
The lives of John and his family were well documented. To read some of the records relating to them, visit the link below:
John died in the 1670s leaving the following will:
“The Last Will and Testament of mr John howland of Plymouth late Deceased, exhibited to the Court held att Plymouth the fift Day of March Anno Dom 1672 on the oathes of mr Samuell ffuller and mr William Crow as followeth
Know all men to whom these prsents shall Come That I John howland senir of the Towne of New Plymouth in the Collonie of New Plymouth in New England in America, this twenty ninth Day of May one thousand six hundred seaventy and two being of whole mind, and in Good and prfect memory and Remembrance praised be God; being now Grown aged; haveing many Infeirmities of body upon mee; and not Knowing how soon God will call mee out of this world, Doe make and ordaine these prsents to be my Testament Containing herein my last Will in manor and forme following;
Imp I Will and bequeath my body to the Dust and my soule to God that Gave it in hopes of a Joyfull Resurrection unto Glory; and as Concerning my temporall estate, I Dispose thereof as followeth;
Item I Doe give and bequeath unto John howland my eldest sonne besides what lands I have alreddy given him, all my Right and Interest To that one hundred acres of land graunted mee by the Court lying on the eastern side of Tauton River; between Teticutt and Taunton bounds and all the appurtenances and privilidges Therunto belonging, T belonge to him and his heirs and assignes for ever; and if that Tract should faile, then to have all my Right title and Interest by and in that Last Court graunt to mee in any other place, To belonge to him his heires and assignes for ever;
Item I give and bequeath unto my son Jabez howland all those my upland and Meadow That I now posesse at Satuckett and Pamet, and places adjacent, with all the appurtenances and privilidges, belonging therunto, and all my right title and Interest therin, To belonge to him his heires and assignes for ever,
Item I Give and bequeath unto my son Jabez howland all that my one peece of land that I have lying on the southsyde of the Mill brooke, in the Towne of Plymouth aforsaid; be it more or lesse; and is on the Northsyde of a feild that is now Gyles Rickards senir To belonge to the said Jabez his heirs and assignes for ever;
Item I give and bequeath unto Isacke howland my youngest sonne all those my uplands and meddows Devided and undivided with all the appurtenances and priviliges unto them belonging, lying and being in the Towne of Middlebery, and in a tract of Land Called the Majors Purchase near Namassakett Ponds; which I have bought and purchased of William White of Marshfeild in the Collonie of New Plymouth; which may or shall appeer by any Deed or writinges Together with the aformentioned prticulares To belonge to the said Isacke his heirs and assignes for ever;
Item I give and bequeath unto my said son Isacke howland the one halfe of my twelve acree lott of Meddow That I now have att Winnatucsett River within the Towne of Plymouth aforsaid To belonge to him and said Isacke howland his heires and assignes for ever;
Item I Will and bequeath unto my Deare and loveing wife Elizabeth howland the use and benifitt of my now Dwelling house in Rockey nooke in the Township of Plymouth aforsaid, with the outhousing lands, That is uplands uplands [sic] and meddow lands and all appurtenances and privilidges therunto belonging in the Towne of Plymouth and all other Lands housing and meddowes that I have in the said Towne of Plymouth excepting what meddow and upland I have before given To my sonnes Jabez and Isacke howland During her naturall life to Injoy make use of and Improve for her benifitt and Comfort;
Item I give and bequeath unto my son Joseph howland after the Decease of my loveing wife Elizabeth howland my aforsaid Dwelling house att Rockey nooke together with all the outhousing uplands and Medowes appurtenances and privilidges belonging therunto; and all other housing uplands and meddowes appurtenances and privilidges That I have within the aforsaid Towne of New Plymouth excepting what lands and meadowes I have before Given To my two sonnes Jabez and Isacke; To belong to him the said Joseph howland To him and his heires and assignes for ever;
Item I give and bequeath unto my Daughter Desire Gorum twenty shillings
Item I give and bequeath To my Daughter hope Chipman twenty shillings
Item I give and bequeath unto my Daughter Elizabeth Dickenson twenty shillings
Item I give and bequeath unto my Daughter Lydia Browne twenty shillings
Item I give & bequeath to my Daughter hannah Bosworth twenty shillings
Item I give and bequeath unto my Daughter Ruth Cushman twenty shillings
Item I give to my Grandchild Elizabeth howland The Daughter of my son John howland twenty shillings
Item my will is That these legacyes Given to my Daughters, be payed by my exequitrix in such species as shee thinketh meet;
Item I will and bequeath unto my loveing wife Elizabeth howland, my Debts and legacyes being first payed my whole estate: vis: lands houses goods Chattles; or any thing else that belongeth or appertaineth unto mee, undisposed of be it either in Plymouth Duxburrow or Middlbery or any other place whatsoever; I Doe freely and absolutly give and bequeath it all to my Deare and loveing wife Elizabeth howland whom I Doe by these prsents, make ordaine and Constitute to be the sole exequitrix of this my Last will and Testament to see the same truely and faithfully prformed according to the tenour therof; In witness whereof I the said John howland senir have heerunto sett my hand and seale the aforsaid twenty ninth Day of May, one thousand six hundred seaventy and two 1672
Signed and sealed in the
prsence of Samuel ffuller John Howland
William Crow And a seale”
John Howland outlived all other Mayflower passengers, except one, in New England and he and Elizabeth together have one of the largest groups of progeny for the Mayflower passengers. He was remembered well by those he knew, one of which recorded this upon his death:
“The 23th of February, 1672/3, Mr John Howland, Seni'r, of the towne of Plymouth, deceased. Hee was a godly man and an ancient professor in the wayes of Christ ; hee liued vntill hee attained aboue eighty yeares in the world. Hee was one of the first comers into this land, and proued a vsefull instrument of good in his place, & was the last man that was left of those that came ouer in the shipp called the May Flower, that liued in Plymouth ; hee was with honor intered att the towne of Plymouth on the 25 of February, 1672/3.”
Plymouth Colony Records, Vol. 8, p. 34.