31_Ship 31_John_Howland_Grave_in_Plymouth_MA

By Bill Miller

It wasn’t easy for any of us to get where we are. Every family tree has had to survive many storms. While digging around some family roots I discovered that my family tree was once held together by only a piece of rope.

The year was 1620 and my 10th great-grandfather, John Howland, was coming to the “new world” on the Mayflower. He was a young man in his early 20s coming as a man-servant to John Carver, first Governor of the Plymouth Colony, and his wife Katherine. One day the little ship was sailing through troubled waters when an accident happened that could have killed our family tree. In his journal. “Of Plymouth Colony,” Gov. William Bradford described the event:

            “Once, as they thus lay at hull in a terrible storm, a strong young man, called John Howland, coming on deck was thrown into the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the top-sail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length; but he kept his hold, though he was several fathoms under water, till he was hauled up by the rope and then with a boat-hook helped into the ship and saved; and though he was somewhat ill from it he lived many years and became a profitable member both of the church and commonwealth.” (Of Plymouth Colony, p. 42)

At that moment my family tree was held together by a thread in the ocean. However, I suspect that every family tree has survived similar crises. If he had been lost at sea I simply would not be. Among those onboard who celebrated his rescue were fellow Pilgrims John and Joan Tilley and their 13 year old daughter, Elizabeth, and her Uncle Edward and Aunt Ann Tilley, all from Henlow, England.

Bradford later reports that all four adult “”Tillies…died soon after arrival.” Orphan Elizabeth was taken in by Gov. and Katherine Carver to live with men-servants, John Howland and Roger Wilder and three other children, Desire Minter, William Latham and Jasper More. Shortly thereafter, Bradford reports, both Carvers “died during the general illness.” Elizabeth was orphaned a second time. To shorten a long story, John Howland assumed leadership of the Carver home and the family of children. Several years later Bradford writes: “Howland married Elizabeth Tillie….They had ten children”

In fact, John and Elizabeth enjoyed a remarkable and very productive 48 years of marriage. They both lived until about age 80. They were the most prolific Pilgrims and their descendants number in tens of thousands, including the likes of FDR, both Bush presidents, Emersion, Longfellow and many more famous and ordinary people like me. In fact, there are Howland cousins living at Lake Lure and in Rumbling Bald Resort. We are all tied together by a piece of rope.

So, the moral of this story is, when you feel like you are at the end of your rope – hang on and yell for help! To find out more about those who held your family tree together you are invited to attend the Lake Lure Genealogy Club meeting the second Tuesday of each month in Mountains Branch Library at 3:00 PM.