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Monday, October 6, 2014

Visiting Howland House in Plymouth, Massachusetts

I recently took a trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts and visited an ancestral home belonging to the son of the Mayflower pilgrim, John Howland. John Howland and his wife Elizabeth Tilly, also a Mayflower pilgrim, lived in this house with their son Jabez and his family during winters, Indian uprisings, and for six years after Elizabeth became a widow until she moved in with her daughter. This is the only surviving house belonging to one of the original pilgrims who came to Plymouth in 1620.

Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock.

The original house was built by Jacob Mitchell in 1666, son of my other pilgrim ancestors and purchased by John Howland's son, Jabez. I'm honored to be able to claim descent from 9 Mayflower pilgrims (my husband claims 14!). I'm truly blessed because Jacob Mitchell and his wife were killed in an Indian raid in Dartmouth in 1675 leaving behind three children who fled for safety and John Howland washed off the Mayflower on voyage to America, but was rescued. In fact, Jacob Mitchell's granddaughter married John Howland's great-grandson. If not for providence, I wouldn't be here today to write this blog post!

Howland family crest and tankard.
This ink pot would have been filled with iron gall ink.

John Howland was an indentured servant of John Carver, the first Governor, and acted as his bookkeeper and assistant. After Gov. Carver and his wife died the first winter,John Howland inherited his home and guardians -- the orphaned minors who the governor had taken into his household including Carver's granddaughter, Elizabeth Tilly, whose parents had passed away. He later married Elizabeth and all of their ten children survived to adulthood. John Howland's headstone reads: “Hee was a goodly man and an ancient / professor in the wayes of Christ. Hee was / one of the first comers into this land and / was the last man that was left of those / that came over in the Shipp called the / Mayflower that lived in Plymouth.”

From the hearth hung various lamps including a mullein torch,rush lamp, kizzie lamp, betsey (better) lamp,  pierced tin (with markings that identify the bearer), various pots, a dutch oven, and a swivel toaster. The butter mold is intended to stamp the butter and indicate the type of butter, such as "sweet clover" for what the cows grazed.

The hall chambers (bed rooms) were so lovely, despite the primitive setting. The crewel embroidered bed rugs with geometric designs were beautiful. No quilts here. In the 17th century rugs were bed coverings and clothing was quilted. Note the trundle under the bed in the top bedstead. People were not so much less tall than we are today, but their frames were smaller. A woman might be 5 foot 3 inches, but petite, and a fellow might be tall at five foot eight, but compact. Privacy was not a concern the way it is today either. So four adults would easily fit into this bed (trundle included) and possible others as well. Mother would have a rope attached to the cradle warmed by the hearth and give it a tug to rock the babe back to sleep. Hopefully the baby would not continue to cry and upset the mother also, hence mother reaching "the end of her rope."

One special item in the room was an intricately carved Bible box sitting atop a chest of drawers which belonged to the Howland family. I was surprised how large it was and the docent told me that the Bibles often were not very large at all and that the boxes were also used to hold important papers and other items. The picture doesn't do it justice since the room was so dim and flashes were not allowed, but perhaps this will give you an idea.

An interesting item displayed is a charred iron tasset (pictured below). The tasset, a thigh plate from a suit of pikeman's armor, is one of two pieces that have ever been found believed to belong to pilgrims. It was excavated from the hearth of another home belonging to John Howland. A fireback is one way to make use of an old armor.

I hope you enjoyed the view of Howland House. I so enjoyed it and it was fun sharing it with you.
What are some house museums that you've enjoyed visiting? Have you ever been to Plymouth?


  1. Interesting post, Carrie!! Beautiful house!! Glad those ancestors of yours survived their trials and left us "sweet YOU" - we certainly would have missed out on one amazing lady, otherwise!!

    I have visited numerous house museums - Thomas Jefferson, among them. I HAVE been to Plymouth - however, it was probably 25 years ago. There are numerous house museums within 20 miles of me - one being Locust Grove, home of George Rogers Clark (for whom Laura Frantz based the hero of one of her books), another is My Old Kentucky Home - home of Stephen Foster. It is located within a state park, there is an outdoor musical/drama about his life - on the grounds.

  2. It's neat you've been able to trace your ancestry back. And that the three children survived! You bless us!
    I am in the process of tracing part of my family back. You have to be so careful to get the right people when you don't have family records to go by. I think this branch came over from England around 1513 or so.

  3. I enjoyed your post about Plymouth House and your ancestors. I have not been there but would like to visit there one day.
    I am also tracing my ancestors, have not gone back that far yet.

  4. I Looooooooove this kind of stuff!!!! Wonderful post and excellent pictures!! :)

  5. Missed that house, when I visited Plymouth. Wish I had known it was there. I did have a great time wandering through the Mayflower and Plimouth Plantation, though. It is amazing to learn how life was at that time. I want to revisit some of those places, again. I will keep this one on my Must See List.

  6. This was very.very interesting. I think that cradle rope should be included in todays baby care. Much better than jumping up so much just to find they are settleing already. Who would ever guessed Carrie that you both have ancestors from the Mayflower? . Or, we might just put the cradle close to mother's side of the bed so she can just reach down and rock a minute. My maiden name started in Wales, and Ireland. I would love to know more about my family.Would be nice to visit some of these places. GOD bless, Maxie

  7. Hi Cuz. Thanks for clearing that all up. However, you should know by now that if you trace your lineage to Jacob Mitchell, his mother was Mary, Experience Mitchell's second wife. She did not come over on the Mayflower, as did Jane Cooke, his first wife. It's one of those family secrets we only share on the internet. Jacob "the First" was my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. Try to say that eight times fast. regards, John Mitchell


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