A Thanksgiving Surprise

I’ve known for some time that, in England, I can trace my ancestry (thanks to David Eaves) back as far as the Norman Invasion (sort of). 

Great (times 26) Granddad, Baron Ewyas, Robert I, Lord of Ewyas, Harold de Ewyas (Ewyas FtizHarold), having been born in 1085, put him within reach of the Battle of Hastings and the governmental reshuffle that occurred thereafter. This allowed me to surmise that he was the son of some French noble who fought with William and was rewarded with some land in the new kingdom for his efforts.

I have since discovered that I can connect him to a father, one Harold, Lord of Ewias de Sudeley (FitzRalph) 1050 – 1100, husband of Maud Avranches d’Avranches. So, my great (times 27) granddad, Harry, was (allegedly) born 16 years before the Battle of Hastings. Also, he appears to have been born in England, facts which throw a shadow over my “fought with William at the Battle of Hastings” notion. He does appear to be somewhat French, however, (I don’t know too many people with a “d’, de or del” attached to their names that aren’t) so even if he wasn’t in the battle, I can assume he was routing for the away team.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

The other day, I got yet another notification from my genealogy program. I get dozens a day, it seems, and they are always telling me they have found a 5th cousin living in Mozambique, or a tenuous connection to a great-great-great-grandmother I have never heard of. The only way to keep on top of these notifications is to delete them, which I did to this one.

As it was disappearing, however, I caught sight of the word Mayflower. Intrigued, I dug it out of the trash and opened it, expecting an article on founders of the Plymouth Bay Colony. Instead, I found a link to my family tree, with a direct connection to one of the passengers on the Mayflower, someone named John Howland.

I was giddy with delight and immediately notified my whole family. My son thought it was interesting, but he reported that the G-Kids were not as impressed as they ought to be. I was incredulous. If I had known this when I was in grade school, I would have been a legend. A relative, a great (times 8) grandfather, on board the Mayflower! How cool would that be?

Apparently, these days, not very.

My son, however, remained curious, and looked John Howland up on Wikipedia (something that, to my shame, never even occurred to me). Mr. Howland, it turns out, was not merely a passenger on the Mayflower, he was quite a force in the early days of The Colony. He also had ten children, and countless descendants, so I’m afraid my connection to him is not unique.

In brief, John Howland was born 1599, in Fenstanton, England and boarded the Mayflower, in 1620, as a manservant for Governor John Carver. Many notable individuals are among his descendants, including Joseph Smith, Jr., and Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush, and Theodore Roosevelt.

When governor Carver and his wife died, Howland is thought to have inherited their estate. In 1623 or 24, he married Elizabeth Tilley, whose parents had died during the first winter. By then he had prospered enough to bring his brothers Arthur and Edward to the colony as well, solidly establishing the Howland family in the New World.

In 1626, William Bradford selected Howland to lead a team building a trading station on the Kennebec river and in 1628, he was elevated to the post of Assistant Governor.

Finally, in 1633 Howland, then thirty-four, was admitted as a freeman of Plymouth. He and Elizabeth had by then acquired significant landholdings around Plymouth. Howland served at various times as Assistant Governor, Deputy to the General Court, Selectman, Surveyor of Highways and member of the Fur Committee.

John and his wife Elizabeth had ten children, all of whom lived and had descendants. Their four sons were officers of the Plymouth Colony Militia and served in other capacities.

Howland died on 23 February 1672. His gravestone states that he was the last male to die from the original pilgrims of the Mayflower.

So, quite a life, then. Supposedly, school children learn about him when studying the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving, but I don’t recall his name being mentioned. I don’t recall many things, however, so for all I know I did hear about him.

Even if I am sharing this pedigree with millions of others, I’m still chuffed. And despite the disinterest of my G-kids, I think having a line that stretches back to the Battle of Hastings in England, and to the Mayflower in the US, is pretty darned impressive.

When I eat my cobbled-together turkey dinner this year, I will be thinking of great (times nine) granddad Howland, and how he was at the very first Thanksgiving.

For those who are interested:

2 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving Surprise

  1. I have an extensive family tree courtesy of a distant relative and the Mormon Church’s extensive genealogical database. One of my ancestors is William the Conqueror.

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