World’s Richest Woman Dies – Genealogist Finds True Heirs (part 2)

Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry continues her story about how a genealogist was needed to determine the heirs of the world’s richest woman when she died. Melissa is a genealogist who has a website,, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.

Today I will continue with the story on the Howland heirs.

To recap: Henrietta Howland Robinson Green (1834-1916) – aka the “Witch of Wall Street,” the richest woman in the world, died in 1916. She was the daughter of wealthy whaling and oil merchant Edward Mott Robinson and Abby Slocum Howland Robinson.

Photo: Henrietta “Hettie” or “Hetty” Howland Robinson Green. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Photo: Henrietta “Hettie” or “Hetty” Howland Robinson Green. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

When Hettie’s father died in 1865, she inherited $1 million in cash and about $5 million in properties.

Also in 1865, Hettie’s aunt Sylvia Ann Howland died, leaving her $1 million from the Howland family estate. However, the inheritance from Sylvia was only for Hettie’s lifetime – upon her death it was to be dispersed among the living heirs of Gideon Howland Jr. of Dartmouth, Massachusetts – the father of Aunt Sylvia and Hettie’s mother, Abby Slocum Howland Robinson. Read more in Part 1.

William Morrell Emery, a historian, genealogist, newspaper editor, and author, was hired by the trustees to research the ancestral lines to disburse Sylvia’s inheritance. It was a complicated business, and he later published a book entitled “The Howland Heirs; Being the Story of a Family and a Fortune and the Inheritance of a Trust Established for Mrs. Hetty H. R. Green” in 1919.

As one can imagine, the buzz on the huge windfall hit the press. I found several newsclips in my searches in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Not all Howlands made the cut on Emery’s list of heirs.

Two Residents of Toledo, Ohio, Claim to Be Hettie Green Heirs

Two Toledo, Ohio, residents, Arthur A. Brown and his sister Mrs. Alfred Nauts (born Florence M. Brown), the children of Lorin Alonzo Brown and Elizabeth Delaney Howland, claimed they were heirs through their ancestor Rev. Ezra Howland, who married Betsey Howard and migrated to Ohio. However, the Browns were not entitled to any inheritance.

An article about Howland heirs, Blade newspaper 27 July 1916
Blade (Toledo, Ohio), 27 July 1916, page 4

Like many claimants the Brown’s believed they were descended from Mayflower passenger John Howland.

Howland Heirs Descended from Henry Howland, Not Pilgrim John Howland

Emery noted in his book that various newspapers had stated that Mrs. Green was descended from John Howland of the Mayflower, but it was not so. Rather, she was descended from Henry Howland, the brother of Pilgrim John Howland, who came to Plymouth Colony later.

Henry Howland was a Quaker and many of his descendants followed him into the faith, including Gideon Howland Sr.’s father Barnabus Howland – who married first Rebecca Lapham and second Penelope Tripp.

Barnabus resided at Round Hills Farm, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, the seat of the Howland family. His father Benjamin Howland, grandson of Henry Howland, was the progenitor of all the “Round Hills Howlands.”

Photo: Round Hills Farm, Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Credit: Digital Commonwealth.
Photo: Round Hills Farm, Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Credit: Digital Commonwealth.

Barnabus was imprisoned for a year for refusing to go to war. His records can be found in the Society of Friends, Dartmouth Monthly Meeting.

Recluse Is Found as Howland Heir

Some of the heirs on Emery’s list had to be tracked down by the trustees, like this fellow Alson W. Russell, son of Charles W. Russell and Emily Scarr. He descends from Gideon Sr.’s daughter Rebecca Howland, who married Jethro Russell, son of Joshua and Lydia (Spooner) Russell.

According to a report in the Nonpartisan Leader, Alson was working as a foreman for some of the Bernardy-Veil company’s farms in Fargo, North Dakota. The newspaper article reported that Alson “is taking quietly and as a matter of fact the knowledge that he is one of Hetty Green’s heirs.”

The article included this photo of Alson.

An article about a Howland heir, Nonpartisan Leader newspaper 15 February 1917
Nonpartisan Leader (Fargo, North Dakota), 15 February 1917. Credit: Library of Congress.

The Salt Lake Telegram gave more details.

An article about a Howland heir, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper 2 February 191
Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 2 February 1917, page 1

This article reports:

Sought as one of the 438 heirs to the $1,500,000 estate bequeathed in trust by Sylvia Ann Howland, an aunt of the late Hetty Green, Alson W. Russell, a recluse, who has been living here for several years, was found today by agents of the administrator after a week’s investigation. Russell, who is 58 years old, has lived in North Dakota since 1897 and has been employed most of the time as a farm supervisor.

Other Howland Heirs

A branch of Howlands living in California on Emery’s list descend from Capton Pardon Howland (1777-1821), son of Gideon Sr. and Sarah (Hicks) Howland, who married Hepzibah “Hepsey” Hathaway (1777-1856), a direct descendant of Mayflower passengers Francis and John Cooke, and Richard Warren.

Illustrations: miniature portraits painted by Solomon Polack of Hepzibah Hathaway Howland and Captain Pardon Howland. Credit: James D. Julia.
Illustrations: miniature portraits painted by Solomon Polack of Hepzibah Hathaway Howland and Captain Pardon Howland. Credit: James D. Julia.

A photo in the Oakland Tribune shows two sisters who were Howland heirs: (upper right) Mrs. C. S. Warner, born Paretta Church Howland, who married Charles Sherman Warner; and (lower left) Mrs. I. M. Green, born Isabella Gifford Howland, who married Isaac Michael Green.

An article about Howland heirs, Oakland Tribune newspaper 4 July 1916
Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California), 4 July 1916, page 6

Mrs. Warner and Mrs. Green were born to Mary C. Slauson and Benjamin Franklin Howland, son of Lydia Church Parker and Captain Pardon Howland Jr., son of Captain Pardon Howland Sr.

Other children born to Benjamin Franklin Howland are:

  • Edward Slauson Howland, married Johanne Grimme
  • Henry Franklin Howland, married Minnie S. Busch
  • Charles Judon Howland, married Victoria Veronica Shoo
  • Wesley Pardon Howland, married Edythe Mae Hutchins

I found an image of Wesley and Edythe from their wedding announcement.

A Howland wedding announcement, San Francisco Call Bulletin newspaper 3 August 1899
San Francisco Call Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 3 August 1899, page 10

Also on the list of Howland heirs were two daughters born to Jotham T. Howland Jr. and Annette H. Potter, daughter of Asa Potter and Adelaide Brownell.

The first daughter, Mrs. Williamson Finnell (born Harriet Perry Howland), was living at the Clairmont Hotel in Berkley, California. The second daughter, Mrs. Carrie Leacock (born Caroyn Elizabeth Howland), was the widow of Rev. Thomas Leacock of Tennessee. They had three children.

When Jotham T. Howland Jr. was a young man he sailed around the Horn to California, settling in Napa, where he engaged in farming. He descends from a double Howland line: his father was Captain Jotham Howland Sr. who married Bathsheba Howland, daughter of Captain Nathaniel Howland and Elizabeth Smith.

I found two very telling newspaper clips connected to the California Howland kin that reveal more, plus another claimant who tried to cash in. So, stay tuned!

Explore over 330 years of newspapers and historical records in GenealogyBank. Discover your family story! Start a 7-Day Free Trial

Note on the header image: close-up of Henrietta Howland Robinson Green. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Related Article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *