Notes for John Howland


Mayflower Passenger

John Howland came on the Mayflower as a servant to John Carver. He is best remembered for having fallen off the Mayflower during a mighty storm, as recorded by Bradford:

"In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce and the seas so high, as they could not bear a know of sail, but were forced to hull 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 of the ship, thrown into the sea; butit 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 fathomsunder water) till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water,and
then with 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."

The early days for the first settlers were harsh, to the point of being lethal. The voyage across the Atlantic took much longer, and was much more difficult than the pilgrims, who were mostly Dutch, had anticipated. By the time they reachedthe New World, many were sick with scurvy, and several had already died. Onesuch Puritan image that fact has shattered deals with drinking alcohol. Sincewater had a tendency to stagnate on board ship, it was exchanged for beer, which was the primary source of fluids of the seafarers. Upon arrival in the New World, the settlers made a command decision that would forever change thecourse of the country. Having arrived north of their preferred destination ofVirginia, and faced with the fast approaching winter, the settlers decided to form their own government and make their own laws. The edict was called theMayflower Compact.

The voyage took 66 days across a less than friendly Atlantic, and once the "Saints" as they were called, arrived on the shores of the new world, it was another month before they dropped anchor in Plymouth harbor. For the first 3 days that followed, the pilgrims roamed the shores of Plymouth. But the harshest of times lay ahead. The winter of 1620-21 was an open one for New England, with little frost or snow, but miserable rain. Theywould have gotten along alright except for the "Great Sickness" . January andFebruary of 1621 were the worst months at Plymouth. On some days two or three died, and at other times there were only six or seven healthy people to care for all the others of the colony.

About half of the Mayflower passengers died by the arrival of spring. Three families had died. Only four bachelors remained alive, and of the 18 married women who crossed the ocean, only three survived.

It wasn't until March 16, 1621 that the colonists made anything but violent contact with the local Indians. On that day an Indian walked into the settlement, called out "Welcome Englishmen!" to the first man he encountered. The Indian was Samoset of the tribe that lived around Pemaquid Point. That part of the wilderness, which is today the state of Maine, had been frequented by English fishermen and Samoset had made friends with them and learned their language.

The first "Thanksgiving Feast" was probably celebrated around the middle of October, 1621.

John Howland was an active contributor to the Plymouth Colony. In 1633 he was an assistant to Governor Bradford, and in 1635 was appointed to aid the governor "to asesse men towards the charges of soldiers" for the Pequot War. (History of Duxbury...by Edward Windsor) Also, in 1635, he was a member of the Colony Court held at Plymouth at which time he was a party for Duxbury in a conference about uniting that church with the church of Plymouth. He was a Selectman of Plymouth and was Deputy to the General Court from 1652 to 1672. He was by that time 80 years of age and refused to allow his name to be submitted again. He was one of the original purchasers of Middleboro in 1661, a purchaser of Dartmouth in 1652, of Duxbury and of a number of New England towns. In the witch trial of Mary Ingham, John Howland was the presiding magistrate. Mary was acquitted and her accuser, Dinah Sylvester, was fined ยน5 and was whipped. That was the last of the witch trials in Plymouth Colony.

Family History: First Families of America Sec 1 Ch 1-pg 8587- Virkus
13th signer of the Mayflower compact; asst., 1633-35; dep. Gen. Ctl, 1641-69; in the "First Encounter", 1620; in command of Kennebec Trading Post, 1634; m at Plymouth, MA, before 1624, Elizabeth (ca 1607-1687) , daughter of John Tilley.

John Howland is buried on Burial Hill in Plymouth. Nathaniel Morton wrote, "The 23th of February, 1672, Mr John Howland, Senir, of the towne of Plymouth, deceased. Hee was a godly man and an ancient professor in the wayes of Christ; hee lived untill hee attained above eighty yeares in the world. Hee was one of the first comers into this land, and proved a usefull instrument of good in his place, & was the last man that was left of those that came over in the shipp called the May Flower, that lived in Plymouth; hee was with honor intered att the towne of Plymouth on the 25 of February, 1672.

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