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Senior Advisor

Thanksgiving story

Pretty cool.



John Howland may not be as famous as William Bradford, John Carver and Myles Standish, notable passengers on the Mayflower that landed in Massachusetts in 1620.

Yet Howland, who boarded the ship as Carver's servant, probably had a greater impact on the history of the United States than any of them. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will sit down for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday unaware that they owe their very existence to Howland, who almost never even made it to the New World.

Howland fell overboard in the middle of the Atlantic during a gale but grabbed a trailing rope and was hauled back aboard by sailors using boat hooks. His remarkable story is the subject of a new children's book, "The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland's Good Fortune," by Irish illustrator and author P.J. Lynch.

Howland and his wife, fellow Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Tilley, had 10 children and more than 80 grandchildren. Now, an estimated 2 million Americans can trace their roots to him.

Howland's descendants include three presidents - Franklin Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush - as well as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin; poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; actors Alec Baldwin, Humphrey Bogart, and Christopher Lloyd; Mormon church founder Joseph Smith; and child care guru Dr. Benjamin Spock.

"The idea that the existence of all these people hinged on that one guy grabbing a rope in the ocean and holding on tight totally caught my imagination," Lynch said in a phone interview from his Dublin home. "Many of these people have made America what it is."

There are so many Howland descendants that they have their own club - The Pilgrim John Howland Society - with about 1,200 members.

Gail Adams, a Howland descendant and editor of the society's publication, "The Howland Quarterly," was thrilled when she first found out about her lineage two decades ago.

"To think, if he hadn't made it, I wouldn't even be here," she said from her home in Virginia.

Lynch developed an interest in the story of the Pilgrims and Howland when he read Nathaniel Philbrick's book, "Mayflower." It was mostly new to him because he hadn't gone to school in the U.S., where the story of the Pilgrims is taught to every child.

He acknowledges his book - written in the first person from Howland's point of view - isn't a 100 percent accurate account, and he has taken some liberties in telling and illustrating the story. For example, Howland was actually a young man on the Mayflower trip, not a boy as the book title suggests.

But that's OK with the experts - and Howland's very large extended family.

"He did a great job on it," said Richard Pickering, deputy executive director of Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, that preserves the story of the Pilgrims. "There is very little documentation about Howland's early years, but Lynch imagines them beautifully."

"He's right on," Adams said.

The book even describes the beginnings of a romance between Howland and Tilley, which isn't so farfetched, Adams said.

Tilley was left an orphan after the first winter in Plymouth yet chose to stay even though she had family in England and her best friend returned.

"My theory - no proof - is that when handsome John fell overboard and had to be nursed back to health, she was smitten," Adams said.

6 Replies
bruce MN

Re: Thanksgiving story


Re: Thanksgiving story

I read that this morning and was going to post it to spoil your thunderbut..........anyway the only right thing to do is for all caucasian people to vacate the country immediately and  only let people of color  (I thought white was a color but what do I know) live in the United States. I'll be right behind you Bruce to buy my ticket outta here.


Re: Thanksgiving story

Oh by the way, here is your fearless leader telling us the Pilgrims are just like Syrian refugees


Maybe according to your article we ought to keep them outta here.Smiley Happy

Senior Advisor

Re: Thanksgiving story

@bruce MN wrote:


Another intersting Thanksgiving story:



Thank you for reminding us of the dangers of emigrants not here to assimilate into our culture.

Red Steele
Veteran Advisor

Re: Thanksgiving story

The story of Squanto is a great story at many levels......human drama, not the least. The man lived though unbelievable tragedy, being captured by evil men, transported to Spain as a slave, and survived the attempt to sell him into lifetime bondage when Christian Spanish Friars stopped the slave auction and took the young boy into their home and taught him Christianity and also farming.


Almost unbeliveable how God turn this evil act into a blessing for the starving Pilgrims as they took the man into their midst as one of them eventually. There is no Squanto....there is not a successful Plymouth Colony, there are not the same mix of early Americans (and later ones, too...I think one of my own ancestry lines goes back to one of them, too). Just a another failure when the colonists starved to death without Squanto teaching them how to grow crops, and fertilize with wasted fish bodies and bones.


Squanto's journey to England...his work as a servant for years , and the resultant skill of knowing English....I guess you can look at all of this and say, wow, what a coincidence. Captain John Smith getting him back to his birthplace on a subsequent voyage to America.....all remarkable coincidences if you choose to look at it that way and not believe in the power of God.


And still, the overwhelming wait all those never give up hope to see his friends and loved ones, and finally to get home and find nothing....everyone dead from disease. I guess it's convenient to label what killed his tribe a "french disease" , but it could just as likely have come from the group that Squanto later saved.


As we celebrate today, let's all give thanks to God for blessing America from the getgo. 

Veteran Advisor

Re: Thanksgiving story

As we sit down for our Thanksgiving Day thanks for our bounty, let us also give a very big thanks to those Americans that took in and fed that boat load of undocumented immigrants.  BTW, my neice, the geneologist of our family, has determined through records and dna that her 8th great grandfather and my 9th was Miles Standish.  Pretty interesting!