The Descendants of John Howland

It is my goal to find ANYONE who was descended from the passengers of the Mayflower and ate with the Native Americans on the very first Thanksgiving in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

This year is the 400th year anniversary of the Pilgrims arriving in Plymouth!

I've been searching through databases that got me nowhere. The only choice I have is Google Books and other internet archives. They have been super helpful for me since I created this blog. They provide almost everything I needed to fulfill my research. The best part is that it's free! Sometimes...

I simply researched "mayflower ambler pa" through Google Books, and I somehow found what I was looking for. It was only Ambler who had descendants from one of the Mayflower passengers. That passenger was John Howland.

The Mayflower Voyage

The Europeans who came to the New World had a reason why they left Europe: lack of religious freedom. When the Catholic Church in England was replaced with the Church of England, many English Puritans were not happy. They ended up moving to Holland (Netherlands) where they did find religious freedom. But it was difficult for them to navigate life in Holland. They were called "Separatists" when they moved away from the Church of England.

"For one thing, Dutch craft guilds excluded the migrants, so they were relegated to menial, low-paying jobs. Even worse was Holland’s easygoing, cosmopolitan atmosphere, which proved alarmingly seductive to some of the Saints’ children. (These young people were 'drawn away,' Separatist leader William Bradford wrote, 'by evill [sic] example into extravagance and dangerous courses.')"


It was their last straw, and that was when they decided to go across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.

Fun Fact #1: There were supposed to be 2 ships to sail across the Atlantic: We know the Mayflower, but did you know there was also the Speedwell? Unfortunately with the Speedwell, it leaked, causing them to sail back on shore. Every passenger who were supposed to go on the Speedwell ended up squeezing themselves into the Mayflower.

Due to the delay of the Speedwell, the Mayflower has no choice but to continue on sailing through the Atlantic during stormy weather. The voyage there was unpleasant: people got seasick and one fell off of the Mayflower and somehow made it back onto the ship.

After many months and days at sea, everyone finally made it to the New World. But... they ended up in the wrong place. They were supposed to be at the Virginia Company’s territory where they were given permission to establish a settlement. They ended up at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they found an abandoned Indian village and nothing else. Instead of finding their way to Virginia, 41 of the Saints and Strangers drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact.

Fun Fact #2: John Howland was one of the 41 signers of the Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact, 1620 (notice John Howland's signature on bottom right corner)

John Howland

John Howland (1592-1672) was born in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, England. He came to the New World as an indentured servant to John Carver, who eventually became the first governor of Plymouth County.

Fun Fact #3: It turns out that it was John who fell off the Mayflower during the stormy voyage. He was in his late 20s at that time. It was William Bradford's account and the voyage that made John a legendary figure.

“Howland Overboard” by Mike Haywood
"Pilgrim John Howland overboard" Illustration by H.B. Vestal (1966)
"In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce, and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot 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 a 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."

- William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

He lived with John Carver's family during the cold winters between 1620-21 since their arrival to the New World, and they all survived. However, in the hot spring 1621, John Carver and his family died. Ever since Carver's death, John became a freeman, and inherited the Carver's estate.

NOTE: I would assume he was part of the first Thanksgiving with the Native Americans in 1621.

As a freeman, John became successful in his career: he was a Plymouth Colony Assistant in 1632; elected deputy to the Plymouth General Court in 1641, and was in charge of the fur trading post at Kennebec River in 1634.

John married fellow Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Tilley few years after the Pilgrim's arrival to Plymouth. Elizabeth was 13 years old at that time, and came with her parents John and Joan Tilley along with her uncle and aunt. She was the youngest of 5 children, but she was the only child who came with her family. Her parents and relatives died during the first winter 1620. It was unknown if she lived with John Howland after her parents and relatives died.

Descendants of John Howland

John Howland Family Tree; Red box = Ambler/Philadelphia residents

Throughout all of my researches on family history of Wissahickon Valley, I always go through each generation and discuss about their accomplishments. In this case, I want to go further down the descendants, and focus on the people who are from Philadelphia and Ambler.

Overall, the family migrated from Plymouth, Massachusetts (from 1620 - late 1710s) to Cape May, New Jersey (late 1710s - 1840s). Few generations later, they migrated from Cape May to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1840s - late 1860s), then to Ambler, Pennsylvania (late 1860s - 20th century).

Lydia Jane Crowell Edmunds (1842-1905) was born in Philadelphia. She married Captain Eli Downs Edmunds (1841-1921) in 1866 and had 4 children. The children of Lydia and Eli raised their children in Ambler.

Fun Fact #4: Captain Eli Downs Edmunds was the Acting Master of the US Navy from 1862-1868. He was captain of Steamer Kennebec of the old Sanford line.

NOTE: Lydia and Eli were married in Philadelphia. They decided to move to Ambler possibly because they prefer to raise their children in a peaceful environment.

Remember, Ambler was not officially incorporated until 1888. Ambler was full of nothing but gristmills and lumber yards before the 1880s.

After Captain Eli Downs Edmund died, his estate in Ambler was given to his two daughters: Lydia Edmunds Hansell (1871-1954) and Harriet Celia Edmunds Posey (1877-1942). They were both named "executrices."*

*executrices: a female version of an "executor," which is a person who was appointed by a testator to execute a will

- Merriam-Webster

Clipping from Ambler Gazette (October 10, 1907): Page 1
Clipping from Ambler Gazette (July 21, 1921): Page 6
Clipping from Ambler Gazette (July 21, 1921): Page 6
Clipping from Ambler Gazette (May 18, 1922): Page 4
Clipping from Ambler Gazette (November 19, 1942): Page 3


"Elizabeth Tilley Howland." Pilgrim John Howland Society. Accessed October 27, 2020.

Howe, Paul Sturtevant. Mayflower Pilgrim Descendants in Cape May County, New Jersey: Memorial of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1620-1920; a Record of the Pilgrim Descendants who Early in Its History Settled in Cape May County, and Some of Their Children Throughout the Several States of the Union at the Present Time. (Cape May: Albert R. Hand, 1921): 97-98, 100, 197, 205, 252, 266, 303.

"John Howland." American Ancestors. Accessed October 27, 2020.

"John Howland, "Mayflower" Passenger." Geni. Accessed October 27, 2020.

LADYGUICE, "Pilgrim Swept Overboard!" Fascinating stories discovered along my heritage journey (blog), November 17, 2011,

Lynch, Jacqueline T., "Mayflower Compact - Plymouth, Massachusetts," New England Travels (blog), November 24, 2015,

"Pilgrim overboard." Marine Art from Mike Haywood. Accessed October 27, 2020.

Tennant, Amie. "John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley: Their Life and Legacy in Plymouth Colony." Family Search. Last modified August 28, 2020.

"The Mayflower." HISTORY. Last modified November 25, 2019.

"Wissahickon Valley Public Library's Ambler Gazette Collection." POWER Library: Pennsylvania's Electronic Library. Accessed October 26, 2020.

Year Book of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies. (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies, 1916): 95.

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