Mayflower Pilgrim Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland: Orphan, Survivor, Foremother

Mayflower pilgrim Elizabeth Tilley (1607-1687), along with her parents John and Joan (Hurst) Tilley, came over on the Mayflower. Elizabeth was one of five children, but was the only one of her siblings to accompany her parents onboard the Mayflower.

She was born this summer 410 years ago.

According to

“Elizabeth Tilley came on the Mayflower, at the age of about thirteen, with her parents John and Joan (Hurst) Tilley. Her parents, and her aunt and uncle Edward and Agnes Tilley, all died the first winter, leaving her orphaned in the New World. She soon married, about 1624 or 1625, to fellow Mayflower passenger John Howland, who had come as a manservant, or apprentice, to Governor John Carver who died in April 1621.”

A survivor in her own right, Elizabeth became the mother of 10 children, and many Americans (me included) can trace their family lines back to this strong woman. Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland is my 10th great-mother.

So, her descendants have at least four Mayflower passenger ancestors: herself, her parents and her husband John Howland.

It is painful to see this 1920s spin in the Omaha World-Herald stating that “since his [John Tilley’s] sole survivor was his daughter, Elizabeth, his descendants generally reckon the line as headed by her husband, John Howland.”


An article about Mayflower Pilgrim Elizabeth Tilley, Omaha World-Herald newspaper article 21 November 1920
Source: GenealogyBank, Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 21 November 1920, page 43

She was a strong woman.

According to FamilySearch, Elizabeth died at her daughter’s home in Swansea, Bristol, Massachusetts, on 31 December 1687, but her story doesn’t end there. Her legacy is carried on by many notable descendants, including U.S. President George H.W. Bush and his son President George W. Bush, and poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Photo: Elizabeth Tilley's tombstone
Source: Find-a-Grave, Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland’s grave in Ancient Little Neck Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island.

The inscription on her tombstone reads:

“Here ends the pilgrimage of Elizabeth Tilley Howland who died Wednesday 31 December 1687 at home of her daughter Lydia & husband James Brown in Swansea. Elizabeth married Pilgrim John Howland who came with her in the Mayflower December 1620. From them are descended a numerous posterity.”

In Elizabeth’s will she gave this inspiring counsel to her children and descendants:

“It is my will and charge to all my Children that they walk in the fear of the Lord and in Love and Peace toward each other.”


Honored to have her as one of my Mayflower ancestors.

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4 thoughts on “Mayflower Pilgrim Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland: Orphan, Survivor, Foremother

  1. A fellow researcher notified me that my 2X great grandfather, Joel Olds (1792-1846) who married Clarissa Hamilton (1792-1846) was a descendant of “The Tilley Bros., 6th 6X. As Elizabeth was the only Tilley survivor of the Mayflower, I have to assume the ancestry is from one of her ten children, etc. by those numbers (which are unclear to me as to their meaning). I have the lineage of before and after their births as to parents, but what I need to know is from which of the ten children I descend. I am assuming it is 6 generations from the numbers given.
    ALSO: This same 2X great grandfather, Joel Olds is a descendant of Edward Winslow (1595-1655) 4th 6X. I have no other information on him, Edward Winslow, (wife, children, etc.) down to Joel Olds.
    Does anyone know of these connections and/or where I may learn of the needed information? I’m 85+ years old and would really like to know before too long. I have been working on the various “trees” for over 40 years and only two have been completed to a satisfying conclusion. This one is the most important to me to complete as much as possible to leave my grandchildren. Thank you.

  2. Aloha Thomas,

    I too descend from John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley.

    Desiree Howland + John Gorham > Mercy Gorham + George Denison > Thankful Denison + Thomas Stanton > Elizabeth Stanton + Captain Phineas Stanton > Martha Stanton + Christopher Gallup > Betsey Stanton Gallup + Warren Williams. …et al et al et al.

    So wonderful to engage another relative who cherishes our Mayflower history. Visiting Plimouth Plantation this spring.

    1. Thank you for letting us hear from you cousin.
      Are you documenting your family tree online? If so, where?

      What stories have you discovered about them in the old newspapers?
      All the best in documenting and preserving your family history – so it will be easily found by generations on into the future.


  3. Joan Tilley is my 10x great-grandmother. I have traced our line back through eight English Kings, including William The Conqueror (my 27x ggf), who invaded England in 1066 and even further back to my 32x gaff Rollo the Viking (860 – 930). Also, other Joan descendents include Sir Winston Churchill, Humphrey Bogart, Alec Baldwin and his three brothers and Sarah Palin.
    If anyone would like further details, just email me at
    Good luck distant relatives.

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