Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pilgrim Overboard

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I wanted to take a moment to share some history I have recently learned. We know the general story of how the Pilgrims came to the Americas in search of religious freedom and landed at Plymouth. We’ve heard of the hardships they faced once they arrived, and how about half of the group didn’t survive the first winter because they weren’t able to finish building their homes or find enough food before the weather grew too cold and the snow came. I would like to share with you the story of one of those Pilgrims.

John Howland was about 27 or 28 years old in 1620 when he boarded the Mayflower to come to the Americas as a servant of John Carver. On the voyage across the Atlantic, there was a storm and John was swept overboard. He was able to grab a rope and hold on until he was rescued.

Pilgrim Overboard – by Mike Haywood

When I learned of John Howland’s story, I thought of his storms (both literal and figurative). He left the home he’d always known to voyage to an unfamiliar world, and as we know, the unknown can be exciting but also very scary. On the way, he was swept overboard and nearly lost his life. He was rescued and made it to his destination, only to endure such a brutal winter that half of his group didn’t survive. I’d imagine it was hard to not wonder if things were ever going to start improving.

I’d imagine that first spring was a welcomed sight, even if the hardships didn’t end there. Sources say that John Carver died that spring, and his wife died not long after. John Howland then married Elizabeth Tilly, a servant from the Carvers’ household who was about 15 or 16 years old and had lost her parents and an aunt and uncle during the harsh winter.

John and Elizabeth experienced their share of loss and uncertainties. I’m sure there were days that they felt overwhelmed, discouraged, and exhausted, but they kept moving forward. I know God had a plan.

John and Elizabeth had 10 children and 88 grandchildren. As I was looking for more information about John Howland, I learned from his monument on Burial Hill that he was known as a "godly man and an ardent professor in the ways of Christ" when he died in his 80’s. Talk about a legacy.

John faced many storms in his life. But I am reminded… God knew what would happen next, because God has a plan.


Jeremiah 29:11-13

New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

It seems, even from that one line etched in his memorial stone, that John was able to learn from the storms and rely more heavily on his relationship with Christ. I think about what may have happened if he hadn’t been rescued when he was swept overboard, and now is when it seems appropriate to note a few of John Howland’s descendants.

According to (which is a good place to learn more about John Howland), “It is reported that currently there are over 10 million living descendants of the 52 Mayflower Pilgrims who had children.”

The site goes on to list the following as a few of John Howland's descendants you may recognize:

Maude Adams (stage actress)
Humphrey Bogart (film actor)
Phillips Brooks (wrote "O Little Town of Bethlehem")
George Herbert Walker Bush (41th U.S. President)
Barbara Bush (U.S. First Lady)
George W. Bush (43nd U.S. President)
John Ellis "Jeb" Bush (Florida Governor)
Nathaniel Gorham (Continental Congress President)
Esther Allen Howland (produced the first American Valentines)
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (U.S. Senator)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd U.S. President)
Lillian Russell (stage & film actress)
Joseph Smith (founder, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)”

As a final thought, I’d like to note that John Howland was my 13th great grandfather. I learned about his story from my mother, who made the discovery in her years of genealogy research. It’s a good reminder that regardless of what storms we’re facing, there is life after the rain.

1 comment:

Mattie said...

I've been learning more about the pilgrims as well recently (funny how they left a lot of this story out in school...) and it is amazing their faith and their determination to be somewhere they could teach their children the Word line by line. At all cost they did what they did to leave that legacy. Amazing. And how awesome is it that you can trace that back!