Howland namesake fell off the Mayflower

HOWLAND – If nothing else, do not fall off the boat. It is easy to imagine that this was the unspoken first rule for the Pilgrims traveling to America on the Mayflower in 1620.

A hired hand, John Howland was probably trying to follow it, but during a storm, he was thrown overboard and nearly drowned.

The story ends well though, and five generations later, his descendant, Joseph Howland, founded the present-day township in Trumbull County that shares his name.

“This is the story of an American family. This is what America is all about. You work hard, make a name for yourself and you’re successful,” said Louisa Howland Miller, 65, of Vienna.

She is a descendant of Howland and passed along William Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation,” which records a firsthand account of the Pilgrims’ journey on the Mayflower and their settlement. The following is what Bradford wrote on John’s accident (the original spellings are left intact):

“In sundrie of these stormes the winds were so feirce, and the seas so high, as they could not beare a knote of saile, but were forced to hull, for diverce days togither. And in one of them, as they thus lay at hull, in a mighty storme, a lustie yonge man (called John Howland) coming upon some occasion aboye the grattings, was, with a seele of the shipe throwne into [the] sea; but it pleased God that he caught hould of the top-saile halliards, which hunge over board, and rane out at length; yet he held his hould (though he was sundrie fadomes under water) till he was hald up by the same rope to the brime of the water, and then with a boat hooke and other means got into the shipe againe, and his life saved.”

Eleven generations later, John’s family was able to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast with a unique connection to the Pilgrims’ voyage.

“He basically should have drown. It was a miracle because in that day, people didn’t learn how to swim,” said Miller.

Miller was the first in the Howland line to move to the area. She came from New York City in 1970 without knowing the area’s history until her father pointed out that their family had once owned the township’s land. She then dug a little deeper.

“It was through my father who’s the family historian and genealogist and he was president of the Pilgrim John Howland Society…” she said. “He came to visit shortly after we arrived and said he wanted to go to Howland. We took a tour of the town and he was just thrilled to see the property that Howland had owned.”

According to Bradford, being thrown overboard took an effect on John’s health, but not enough to prevent his success in the new world.

“Though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after, and became a profitable member both in church and commone wealthe,” Bradford wrote.

John signed the Mayflower Compact and went on to have 10 children with his wife, Elizabeth Tilley, whom he married in America sometime before March 25, 1624, according to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

It was John’s great-great-grandson Joseph, born in 1749, who bought the land of Howland Township. He purchased 15,584 acres of land for $12,903 from the Connecticut Land Company as an investment in 1798. However, Miller said, Joseph never made it out to the area. He lived most of his life in Boston, Connecticut and New York City.

Harriet Taylor Upton, who compiled a history of the county, described Joseph as “a cultured gentleman,” in her historical account. She also noted that the first tract of 1,600 acres was sold in 1799 to John Hart Adgate, whose descendants began the well-known local florist company still in existence.

In 1812, the land was declared a separate township, Howland – or “The High Land” – by the Trumbull County Board of Commissioners. It is a place Miller said she holds dear.

“The people of Howland have been so welcoming. I feel like I’ve come home,” she said.

Enjoying this year’s Thanksgiving with her family, Miller said it would be a much different place if John had drowned. She is grateful for the ability to once again share the family’s story with her two young granddaughters.

“We’ve always been very proud of our heritage and I’m glad to be able to tell my grandchildren something about each of their ancestors.”

Editor’s note: Excerpts of “Of Plymouth Plantation” are taken from the Early Americas Digital Archives of the University of Maryland.