When the Mayflower and Speedwell left Southampton in August 1620 on board one of the ships was a passenger called John Howland.
Surviving the crossing to America
William Bradford, one of the leaders of the Separatists and future Governor of the Plymouth colony referred to him as a ‘lusty young man’ when recounting the story of how he had fallen overboard from the Mayflower during a storm as they crossed the Atlantic. Howland managed to get hold of a rope and was hauled back on board.
Howland was one of those who survived the first winter when the strains of the long sea journey and harsh winter weather took such a heavy toll on the passengers and crew.
Living in America
John Howland was described as a ‘servant’ of John Carver by William Bradford. Carver died in the Spring of 1621 and his wife shortly afterwards and it is thought Howland became ‘head of the household’ and took responsibility for the other servants. Howland married fellow passenger Elizabeth Tilley in 1623. By 1626 John was one of the colonist who bought out the shares of the original joint-stock company. This made him a leading member of the Colony. By 1632 he was elected Assistant to the Plymouth Governor.
Elizabeth and John had a total of 10 children – all who survived to adulthood. He died in 1672/73. Elizabeth moved in with her son Jabez staying with him 1680. The house still exists and is today owned and maintained by the Pilgrim John Howland Society. She then moved in with her daughter Lydia who lived in Swansea and died in 1687. John and Elizabeth had at least 78 grandchildren, so the Pilgrim John Howland Society is today one of the largest and most active ancestor associations in the US.
Ongoing research into John Howland
Since becoming involved in the Mayflower 400 Project in April 2017 we have spent the time researching all aspects of the story but with a special focus on John Howland. Why John Howland? Simply co-incidence. I (Adrian Moss) live in Hemingford Abbots, a small village in Cambridgeshire called Hemingford Abbots.
The village and a sister village – called The Hemingfords – hold an annual rowing regatta. This has been held every summer (except during the war years and 2006) since 1901. The Hemingfords are just a few miles from Fenstanton which was the birthplace of John Howland and his brothers and sister.
In the 1950s, Mr Gibbs, a US relative of John Howland was visiting Fenstanton and happened to visit the Hemingfords and saw the regatta. He was made welcome and was so taken by the concept of the event and its heritage that he gave money for trophies to be given as a prize. The Gibbs-Mayflower Challenge Trophy for double skulls has been competed for ever since.
We contacted The Pilgrim John Howland Society to ask if put us in touch with Mr Gibbs. Sadly he was no longer alive but they did put us in touch with a descendant of John Howland – Tom Bartlett – who has been living in England for over 30 years.
Tom and I met and since then have been jointly researching the life of John Howland while he was in England before he left for the USA in 1620.
Areas of research
Over the last 18 months we have been focusing on three main areas:
Southampton – and its role in provisioning the Mayflower and Speedwell.
Cambridgeshire – and its role as a centre of Separatist thinking, discussion and home of the Howland family
London – and its role of the Guilds and Merchants in funding the voyage and its expansion and being home to a number of the Howland brothers
Over this time we have met and talked to many academics, fellow researchers and experts about a diverse range of topics covering everything from religious tolerance, to Tudor shipbuilding and provisioning, to Southampton and its role as an international port to London and the financing of overseas exploration and trading colonies. We have also been looking at East Anglia and its key role in the Great Migration to the US in the years after the Mayflower sailed.
Over that time we have produced a series of audio and video podcasts and blog posts covering our journey so far.
Our plans are now to produce a DVD by mid 2019 covering the story from the start of the reformation in the early 1500s that eventually led to the departure of the Mayflower and Speedwell and their passengers from Southampton in 1620.
It will be similar in scope and nature to the DVD we produced a couple of years ago about the Saxons in the Meon Valley. That was a really interesting heritage project involving the village communities along the Meon Valley in Hampshire as well as local schools and archaeological groups. To date over 2,500 DVDs have been sold helping raise valuable funds for local community groups.
Our plans are to do the same for the John Howland story as part of our contribution to the Mayflower 400 events. For a summary of our work on the project since early 2017 please see here.
At the moment the key areas being covered in the DVD include:
- The gathering storm – Luther and the battle of the bibles
- Cambridge – its role in the theological debate
- The English Reformation- its impact on Church architecture and forms of worship
- Exile in Holland – the Leiden years
- London Merchants – their critical role in funding and supporting New World exploration
- The Howland Family – life in rural Eastern England
- Southampton – and its role as a major sea port
The Mayflower 400 Documentary DVD includes interviews with experts and historians on the Mayflower back-story will be available early 2020.
Keep up to date with progress by registering your interest on the dedicated website.
Image of Jabex Howland House – is in the public domain as it was first published in 1921 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Howland_House.jpg)