Howland (Y-DNA)

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Status summary

Completed as of May 18, 2019:

  • Big Y-500 (original Big Y) test completed for a descendant of "Pilgrim" John Howland
  • Y Elite test for Henry Howland Jr. descendant completed (kit E8PEF, tested previously at FTDNA as kit #37929).
  • Big Y-700 test completed for a male Howland who cannot trace his Y-DNA line (via the traditional "paper" trail) to one of the Howland brothers. This test confirms he descends from one of the brothers (and hints where he may descend from Arthur Howland, brother to "Pilgrim" John and Henry {II}).
  • Comparing the above tests, a SNP (A9705) has been found in a descendant of "Pilgrim" John Howland, which not found in the other Howland results. This SNP available for testing at YSEQ DNA Origins Project for $18.00 (plus an additional fee for the DNA swab) and may be available or for $15 (plus fee for the DNA swab) at Full Genomes Corp.
  • Recruiting additional Howlands for further SNP testing - anyone interested in submitting their DNA for testing should contact Raymond T. Wing (email: wing.genealogist AT gmail DOT com)

Still to do as of November 13, 2016

  • Identify where in the line of Pilgrim John Howland the A9705 SNP is found by testing select folks.
  • Next Generation Sequence (NGS) test other lines of Pilgrim John Howland to find other SNPs unique to descendants of Pilgrim John.


Speculative Origins

The Pilgrim John Howland Society has hired a noted Mayflower passenger origins researcher (Caleb Johnson) to trace the origins of the Howland family. His first report was printed in The Howland Quarterly MAR 2016, pp. 10-20.

Johnson reported he found no evidence of the Howland family in Fen Stanton prior to the time of Henry Howland (father of Pilgrim John). We know Henry was living there as early as 1604, when his son, Simon, was baptized (from the Bishop's Transcript records). Unfortunately both the Parish records, and the Bishop's Transcripts are mostly missing from this time period, so we cannot state when Henry moved to Fen Stanton, nor know whether any of the other children were born there or elsewhere.

Johnson did find Howland families in nearby Cambridgeshire. He was able to conclusively prove the Henry Howland of Ely, Cambridgeshire (who had a son John bp in 1602/3) was not the Henry Howland of Fen Stanton, but instead, likely a cousin to some degree.

Johnson did note there was a Howland family at Horningsea, Cambridgeshire in the early part of the 16th Century to the early part of the 17th Century. This family had a history of naming sons Henry & John, so it is possible this is the area where Henry (father of John) originally was from.

An early version of the Pilgrim John Howland Society website had the following under "John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley Biographies"

"An original letter from a genealogist in England, in 1879, mentions "the extraordinary fact that I find the surname of Howland in no other county in England than Essex, and originally in no other locality in that county except at Newport and Wicken and their immediate vicinity. Wherever at later periods I have found Howlands in other counties, as Hertfordshire, Surrey , Berks, etc., I have invariably traced them back to Newport and Wicken. It is clear that several families of the name were living there contemporaneously and equally so that they were all in some way connected ..."

In addition, DNA testing has shown the Howland Y-DNA to be a subclade of the A96 clade. This clade has, to date, been found in the following families: Maybury, Baldwin, Rogers, Bishop, Foat, Wing & Howland. Of these families Some (Foat & Bishop) have a tradition of having an origin from what are now the Low Countries of Belgium, Luxemburg & The Netherlands. Essex, England (supposedly the ancestral origin of the Howland surname) was settled by the Saxons during the Germanic invasion of the 5th Century, and the Wing family is thought to arise from Wing, Buckinghamshire, located in part of Alfred the Great's Wessex Kingdom (which was also of Saxon origin).


John Howland was the son of Henry Howland and his wife Margaret of Fen Stanton, Huntingdonshire (now part of Cambridgeshire), England. His death record[1] stated he died 23 Feb 1672[/3] in his "eightieth yeare". The Pilgrim John Howland Society as well as the General Society of Mayflower Descendants accepts an estimated birth date of 1592 for John based on this death record.

Per Caleb Johnson:

It has been traditionally reported that John Howland was born about 1592, based on his reported age at death in the Plymouth Church Records. However, ages at death were often overstated, and that is clearly the case here. John Howland came as a servant for John Carver, which means he was under 25 years old at the time (i.e. he was born after 1595). William Bradford, in the falling-overboard incident, refers to Howland as a "lusty young man," a term that would not likely have applied to a 28-year old given that Bradford himself was only 30. Bradford did call 21-year old John Alden a "young man" though. Howland's wife Elizabeth was born in 1607: a 32-year old marrying a 17-year old is a relatively unlikely circumstance. Howland's last child was born in 1649: a 57-year old Howland would be an unlikely father. All these taken together demonstrate that Howland's age was likely overstated by at least 5 years. Since he signed the "Mayflower Compact", we can assume he was probably at least 18 to 21 years old in 1620.

John came aboard the Mayflower as a servant to Gov. John Carver. Howland's incident during the voyage was duly cataloged by William Bradford:

In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce and the seas so high, as they could not bear a know of sail, but were forced to hull for divers days together. And in one of them, as they thus lay at hull in a mighty storm, a lusty young man called John Howland, coming upon some occasion above the gratings was, with a seele of the ship, thrown into the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length. Yet he held his hold (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with boat hook and other means got into the ship again and his life saved. And though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth.

Some speculate Howland came above board in order to get a breath of fresh air. However, others speculate he may have been used by Gov. Carver as an intermediary between the passengers and the crew. It is rumored their landing at Cape Cod (which clearly fell outside of the land the company was originally chartered) may have been a deliberate attempt to re-negotiate this charter for terms more favorable. If true, it is possible John Howland may have served a vital role in this decision.

John Howland survived the great sickness during the winter of 1620-21 and apparently took over as the head of Gov. Carver's household after the Governor's death in Apr 1621. At this time, "households" were not only family members, but was a means of housing the passengers in the new colony.

It is believed John married Elizabeth Tilley sometime after Aug 1623. This was presumably the fifth marriage in the colony (after Edward Winslow, Francis Eaton, John Alden & William Bradford [married 14 Aug 1623]). It is also believed they were married sometime prior to the 1623 division of land, which actually occurred during what we now consider the first three months of 1624 (Jan - Mar.) This date of marriage is also consistent with the births of their two oldest children (Desire ca 1625 & John who told Judge Sewell he was born 24 2[mo, Apr] 1627.) These two were also included in the 1627 division of cattle.

Nathaniel Morton's eulogy:
The 23th of February 1672 Mr. John Howland senir of the Town of Plymouth Deceased; hee was a Godly man and an ancient professor in the wayes of Christ; hee lived untill he attained above eighty yeares in the world, hee was one of the first Comers into this land and proved a usefull Instrument of Good in his place & was the last man that was left of those that Came over in the shipp Called the May Flower, that lived in Plymouth; hee was with honor Intered att the Towne of Plymouth on the 25 of February 1672.

It is said John was the first individual buried at Burial Hill[2], and likely in the area where a memorial stone for John was erected in 1897. This stone replaced a stone erected in either 1836 or 1844 (which incorrectly stated John's wife was a daughter of Gov. John Carver, so was replaced. This stone is said to have been buried under the new stone).[3]

  1. Plymouth Church records I:147(173)
  2. Handbook of Old Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts: Its History, Its Famous Dead, and Its Quaint Epitaphs by A.S. Burbank, 1896, p. 13
  3. John Howland bio

Y-DNA Descendants

John Howland had four sons, (Lieut.) John (II)(1627-1699), (Capt.) Joseph (1640-1703), (Lieut.) Jabez (1644-1711), and (Ens.) Isaac (1649-1723). Several descendants of (Lieut.) John have done Y-DNA testing as well as one descendant of (Capt.) Joseph. The DNA test results (primarily STR testing) show all of these descendants are genetic/biological cousins and have identified the Y-DNA haplogroup for the Howland family.

Second Generation:

(Lieut.) John had three sons, Isaac, Shubael & John (III). Descendants of Isaac & John (III) have tested

(Capt.) Joseph had three sons who survived infancy: James, Nathaniel & (Capt.) Thomas. However, both James & Thomas' lines eventually daughtered out and a descendant of Nathaniel has tested.

(Lieut.) Jabez had four sons who survived infancy: Jabez (II), Josiah, Samuel (Esq.) & (Lieut.) Joseph. However, Jabez (II) & Josiah's lines eventually daughtered out.

(Ens.) Isaac had three sons who survived infancy: Seth (no children); Isaac (II) & Nathan.

Previous Y-DNA testing

Several descendants of Pilgrim John Howland have had their Y-DNA tested at Family Tree DNA. In addition, one descendant of John's brother, Arthur, and several descendants of his brother, Henry, have also been tested. See the Howland Surname Y-DNA Project

Most of the descendants have only undertaken (to date) STR testing, but a couple of descendants of Pilgrim John have done Y-SNP testing as well. They fall under Haplogroup R1b-U106 where they have been classified as: Z9>Z30>Z2>Z7>Z8>Z1>Z344>Z6>A96>S10415>A9703

This last SNP is one of 9 SNPs (of which six are currently available for testing at discovered only in one individual (a descendant of John Howland) through a Big Y test. Of these 9 SNPs, the Y-Elite test of a descendant of Henry Howland was positive for 7 of these 9 SNPs (meaning they are ancestral to the Howland family). There were two Big Y SNPs (A9705 & Z18598) which were not found in the Y-Elite test, therefor, these two SNPs were found somewhere along the line of the John Howland descendant.

The A9705 SNP is available for testing at YSEQ, but the Z18598 SNP cannot be made available due to technical reasons. While any male Howland who tests A9705+ would be a descendant of Pilgrim John Howland, it is also likely that some Pilgrim John Howland descendants will be A9705-. The Big Y line comes down from (Lt) John Howland (II), the son of (Pilgrim) John Howland. Ideally, we would like NGS testing completed on descendants of other sons of Pilgrim John Howland to see what SNPs they would have different from the other known Howland SNPs.


We have a descendant of Henry Howland, Jr. (brother to Pilgrim John) who has volunteered for the Y-Elite 2.1 test. Kit #E8PEF (FTDNA 37929). We have compared this result with a prior Big Y test result of a descendant of "Pilgrim" John Howland. There were two SNPs found in the Big Y result which were not found in the Y-Elite test (Z18598 & A9705). These SNPs are found somewhere along the line of descent of the Big Y tester, and thus any Howland who is positive for either of these SNPs would be a descendant of Pilgrim John Howland. On the other hand, it is likely many descendants of Pilgrim John Howland may end up being negative for these SNPs as well. More Next Generation Sequence (NGS) testing is needed to discover other SNPs unique to the descendants of Pilgrim John Howland.

Summary of findings

Through Next Generation Sequence (NGS) testing, we found the following SNPs in a descendant of Pilgrim John Howland which was not found in a descendant of John's brother, Henry Howland (II). A9705 & Z18598. A9705 has been made available for individual SNP testing, but for technical reasons Z18598 is not able to be made available.

We now need to identify where along the line of descent the A9705 SNP occurred. The individual tested has the following line of descent:

  (Pilgrim) John Howland (1592-1672)
     (Lt) John Howland (II) (1627-1704)
        John Howland (III) (1674-1737/8)
           (Rev) John Howland (IV) (1720-1804)
              James Howland (1760-1850)
                 John Howland (1795-1870)
                    John Howland (II) (1834-1908)
                       John Anton Howland (1868-1959)
                          Arthur Eastman Howland (1893-1969)
                             _____________ Howland
                                (tester) Howland

Allied Families

The following families are connected to John Howland via marriage to descendants:

Gorham (Capt. John Gorham married Desire Howland)

Chipman (Elder John Chipman married Hope Howland)

Hawes (John Hawes married Desire Gorham). Y-DNA Predicted to fall under I-M253 based on the 37 STR markers for two descendants

Baxter (Thomas Baxter married Temperance Gorham)

External links and references

Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History biography of John Howland

Pilgrim Hall biography of John Howland

Wikipedia biography of John Howland

Pilgrim John Howland Society (PJHS)

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants

Howland Surname DNA Project

Mayflower Descendants (Y and mtDNA) Project

"Five Generations" Project (Silver Books & Mayflower Families in Progress)

(Download pdf file) Y-DNA descendants of Pilgrim John Howland

Pilgrim Hall Museum Howland documents

Probate Papers (from

Find-a-Grave for John Howland

John Howland of the Mayflower and Descendants

Wikitree bio for John Howland

Geni bio for John Howland

Y-DNA and mtDNA descendants of John & Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland

RootsWeb WorldConnect Project, with good citations

Full Genomes Corp. and Y Elite 2.1 test

YSEQ, which utilizes the traditional Sanger-sequencing for Y-DNA