I am a fortunate girl. Members of my family have taken the time to compile our family tree. Because of this I know that John Howland, manservant, married fellow passenger Elizabeth Tilley five years after coming to America on the Mayflower. One of their children was a daughter, Desire Howland, and it is because of Desire that when I climb this tree I end up on a branch--three hundred years later with my mother's name on it.
During the voyage, John fell overboard and I imagine that it is my fortune that they were able to rescue him with a boathook. No doubt Governor John Carver was glad as well, for John Howland was his servant. In a writing by William Bradford, Howland was described as a "lusty young man." Young or not, he was old enough to sign the Mayflower Compact. Documents suggest he was 21 years old when he crossed the pond.
Elizabeth's journey was uneventful; unfortunately her first year at Plymouth wasn't. Her parents did not survive that first brutal winter and she was orphaned at 13. I imagine she was taken on as a servant in someone's household. She married John Howland when she was 18 and bore him ten children; of which the most important to me is Desire.
I am intrigued by their daughter Desire, for it is through her that my family ends up in the top branches of the Howland family tree. I can't help but wonder if John and Elizabeth named her with hope for a better life in their new country. And what kind of life did a man servant and his wife have here? Judging from the history books, it was difficult to say the least. So many died that first year. The Wampanoag people taught the pilgrims how to survive... it saddens me to know that it was the beginning of a terrible history for the native peoples.
I will continue on, however, and follow the "lusty young man's" lineage. Strangely enough I have learned that through John Howland, I am related to one of my favorite presidents--Franklin Delano Roosevelt and one of my least favorite presidents--George W. Bush. I can also thank John Howland's genes for my distant relationship to Alec and Stephen Baldwin, Humphrey Bogart, Christopher Lloyd, Sarah Palin, Joseph Smith, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as well as Winston Churchill. My head is swimming. Really? And I have to ask myself if it's okay to sort out the distant relations that I want to brag about from those that I wished didn't take up public service. I'll just let you guess who I may be referring to.
As for Elizabeth Tilley, I must thank her for the mitochondrial DNA that adds Ralph Waldo Emerson to a twig on this tree of mine. Admittedly, I am a bit delighted.
"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
· Cousin Anne's concerted family research, presented in a binder to the family when I was a teenager.