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The Pilgrim John Howland: A Family Curse?

Liz inherited the family history notes from an aunt and was hooked on genealogy. The hobby connects history to family for her.

John Howland Headstone

John Howland Headstone


John Howland cursed our family with the klutz gene.

Once upon a time, I fell off my tricycle. It happens to many children. But it did not stop there. Oh, no. There were oh, so many more instances of accidents that, luckily for me, did not turn out too badly.

There was the time when I found myself out of control coming down the block on roller skates, and decided that a good 'stopping block' would be a telephone pole. Bad idea. I missed hitting the pole square-on with my hands, and instead, both arms slid around the pole in an impromptu bear hug. I received splinters all the way up both arms, and a nice bruise on my cheek.

I spent my earliest years before skateboards were invented. Back then, there was 'riding a single roller skate with a board placed perpendicular across the skate.' You sat on the board, held your feet up in the air, and used your hands on the outside edges of the board to steer. Naturally, I learned the hard way that you should not grasp the board with your knuckles underneath; especially not when rounding a corner.

In school, hurrying to get indoors for lunch on a rainy day, it struck again.


I was not the only one so cursed. My mother had her share of clumsy accidents. She told of one when she, too, was of high school age, out on a boat dock with friends. They were playing a silly game, and as mother danced backwards, she tripped over something on the dock and fell, rear-end-first, into an open hatch on the dock. Cartoon-style, with only her legs and arms protruding, she was nicely stuck, much to the amusement of her friends. Of course. Something like that is hilarious when it happens to someone else.

Later in her life, when I was a child of about 10, we were going to re-decorate my bedroom. I wanted to carry the gallon of pink paint downstairs to the basement for my father to mix. "No," said my mother, "it's heavy: you might drop it," and down the stairs she started. No one is quite sure what happened next, but the paint can somehow flipped out of her grasp and somersaulted all the way down the stairs, popping open on the way and distributing pink paint puddles all the way.

I howled in dismay. And no, she never lived that incident down to her dying day. It came up at least once a year in family gatherings where funny stories were being told. "WHO was liable to spill the paint?????"

(We all worked to clean up the mess as well as possible, but for the record, there remained pink paint stains and splotches here and there on the basement stairs, stairwell walls, and studs for the rest of my days in that house, still there after my mother passed on, and the house was sold back in 2003.)


It all began back in 1620 with the voyage of The Mayflower bearing the English Pilgrims to the New World. One John Howland was among the passengers, signed on as a manservant to Governor John Carver.

As luck would have it, I am descended from that same John Howland.

I discovered this back in the mid-to-late 1980's when a great-aunt presented me with the carefully compiled family history records that had been in the family for generations. As I was the only one who had expressed any interest in genealogy, the data came to me. I loved the discovery of strange and interesting facts, and the way it made otherwise boring history lessons relevant to me on a more personal level. "Gosh! This ancestor was in the Civil War!" or "I never knew there were so many people who married thier cousins!"

Now why do I say, "as luck would have it?" Well, it seems that the illustrious Mr. Howland found himself overboard from The Mayflower one day during a storm. Luckily for his descendants, he was rescued.

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Curious About John Howland?

The unfortunate tumble overboard has been memorialized in a painting. The link is to a site that sells copies; therefore, according to copyright restrictions, I cannot post the photo here.

It is also documented in the book, Plymouth Colony, Its History and People; 1620 - 1691.

There is a society for the descendants of John Howland, specifically, in addition to the more general Mayflower Society, in which a much larger number of people are eligible for membership.

End Results

And that, dear readers, is why, every time I stumble or trip on something, bark my shins, or whack knuckles on a door jamb, I cry out, "Damn you, John Howland!"

Sad to report, that klutz gene is alive and well, and afflicts both my daughters and at least one of my grandchildren. And so I offer the one-finger salute to the memory of the infamous Mr. Howland.

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© 2010 Liz Elias


SDB from Australia on May 25, 2020:

Enjoyable article Liz.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 08, 2010:

Hi, habbee!

Thanks for stopping by! There is no doubt in my mind that the passengers all knew each other. It was a small, tight-knit group. Furthermore, once they landed, they were isolated in the New World, and at first, they had only members of their own group into which young people could marry.

Therefore, it is highly likely that you have more than Cook. In addition to Howland, I also have Cooks (both Francis and John), Warren, Tilley, and Soule. It is, then not only possible but probable that you and I are distant cousins! ;-)

Holle Abee from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Great story! I had a Cook ancestor on the ship, too. Wonder if they were pals??

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 02, 2010:

Thanks, iantoPF! Haven't heard that turn of phrase in quite a few moons! Glad you enjoyed the tale, and thanks for stopping by!

Peter Freeman from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales on August 02, 2010:

Loved this you are a great raconteur. I look forward to more.

Best Wishes.........ianto

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 27, 2010:

Hey, Karen--thanks for stopping by, kiddo--glad you enjoyed the tale! ;-)

Karen on July 26, 2010:

Yup!! That explains everything!! :)

Tony McGregor from South Africa on July 18, 2010:

Blame it on the Pilgrim Fathers, hey! Great story! Glad indeed that forefather John was rescued, otherwise we would not have had this good giggle!

Thanks - and watch those stairs - they can get back at you sometimes!

Thanks for the visit to my Hub and thanks also, Sally, for the recommendation!

Love and peace


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 17, 2010:

Thanks, Sally, for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the tale. I'll be sure to check out tonymac04's posts, too. ;-)

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 17, 2010:

LOL! If you haven't read tonymac04's latest Hub on empathy and life, you might like to. He presents a very logical case for why you have this inheritance from John Howland.

Clumsiness doesn't come from nowhere...we get it from others. In your case, at least you know who the other is.

What a delightful read.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 16, 2010:

Thanks, Sa'ge, for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the story. ;-)

Sa`ge from Barefoot Island on July 16, 2010:

very cute, i had to laugh before that paint took it's flip, I knew what was going to happen soon as I read it was your mother going down them stairs with that gallon in hand. LOL thanks for a grand story. I enjoyed it! ~aloha~


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