Howland (Y-DNA)

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Status summary

As of March 13, 2016:

  • Y Elite test for Henry Howland Jr. descendant pending (kit E8PEF, tested previously as kit #37929); in Batch 8004
  • Recruiting additional Howlands for Y Elite test - anyone interested in submitting their DNA for testing should contact Raymond T. Wing (email:



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 an indentured 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 oldest children (Desire ca 1625 & John who told Judge Sewell he was born 24 2[mo, Apr] 1627.) These two children 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 buried at Burial Hill, 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).[2]

  1. Plymouth Church records I:147(173)
  2. 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. Roughly 2/3rds of these SNPs are believed to be ancestral to John Howland, but we cannot know which ones are ancestral vs. which SNPs mutated in a descendant of John without other test results of Howland descendants.


(to be added)

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)

Summary of findings

(to be added)

External links and references

Wikipedia article on John Howland

Howland Surname Y-DNA Project

Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History biography of John Howland

Pilgrim Hall Museum Howland documents

Pilgrim Hall biography of John Howland

Probate Papers (from

Pilgrim John Howland Society (PJHS)

John Howland of the Mayflower and Descendants

Full Genomes Corp. and Y Elite 2.0 test

Mayflower "Five Generations" Project (Silver Books)

Find-a-Grave for John Howland

Wikitree bio for John Howland