Donate to PJHS via Paypal

Donate Now

By Clinton W. Sellew

Captain John Howland (1776-1849), from New Bedford, MA went to sea as a twelve-year-old cabin boy and was a captain by the time he was twenty, sailing on three-year whaling voyages to the Pacific Ocean.Through the years there has been much written about Pilgrim John Howland, making it difficult to introduce any new material about our ancestor, leaving avenues that touch on him very narrowed.

In searching for something different I set out to find something somehow related to his name. In doing so I discovered that there were numerous John Howlands in and adjacent to New Bedford, Mass., who were captains, other officers and seamen. Some were owners, part owners, and crewmen of various whaling ships.

The New Bedford-Fairhaven-Dartmouth area abounds in Howlands who appear to be descendants for the most part of John’s brother, Henry Howland. As these men were descendants of Henry they most likely were named for their uncle, John Howland of Mayflower fame. But some of them probably were direct descendants of the Pilgrim.

The men who owned and manned the whalers came from many parts of the United States but the majority were from New Bedford and vicinity, seeking adventure in their youth. Sometimes they were away from home for many years on a single voyage.

It took a lot of brave men to man the wooden whaling ships for the voyages were dangerous and many an expedition never returned.

The whaling industry America got its start about the middle of the 17th century, centered in Long Island and Cape Cod. New Bedford soon became the hub of whaling activity, with this dominance lasting until the mid-1850s.

With the capture of a sperm whale in 1712 by a Nantucket fisherman the superior qualities of sperm oil were discovered and American whalers started sailing farther south, and then into the Pacific Ocean.

The young fishing industry was set back by the American Revolution, but after the War of 1812 British competition declined rapidly and from 1820 to about 1860 American Ships—some of them named John Howland—sailed the world in search of whales.

Then with the discovery and development of petroleum, the Civil War and the decline in whale population, the industry faced some hard times. And when the transcontinental railroad was built in the coming industrial age changed the maritime east into a manufacturing area. New Bedford shifted from a whaling port into a great cotton mill center. The Iron Horse had outdone the whale.

The New Bedford whaling industry peaked about 1846 with about 735 vessels engaged in the trade in the United States.

There were many a John Howland who shared the hardships and reaped the rewards of the whaling voyages. These John Howland names can be found today in several categories such as crew lists, whalemen’s shipping papers, seamen’s protection papers and in such research volumes as the Melville Whaling Index, Starburck’s History of the American Whale Fishery, plus logbooks, ship registers, custom house papers and other material found at the Old Dartmouth Historical Society of New Bedford.

Records give the following information about captains named John Howland:

In 1768 one sailed on an unnamed ship out of Nantucket, and in 1772 another out of Dartmouth. John Howland sailed in 1832 on the Milton out of New Bedford. John G. Howland went out on the Kedka in 1853. Also sailing from New Bedford were John S. Howland in 1857 on the Franklin 2nd, John S. again in 1863 on the Annawan and in 1865 on the Petrel.

Our records show:

John Howland, master of the sloop Reliance of Dartmouth, sailing in 1767-78 in the north Atlantic, and again from 1789-91.

In 1853 when more than 300 whaling vessels were registered, close to 10,000 men were needed for the crews. Crew lists were required by the federal government which had jurisdiction over foreign trade and fisheries. The crew lists gave a physical description of the mariner, along with information on place of birth and residence.

Ship logbooks also recorded much information about the crewmen, often giving hair color, height, etc.

Seamen’s Protection Papers provided data too. These also are known as citizenship papers and identified a man as an American citizen. They were introduced during the 1790s when England was impressing men from American ships.

The protection papers listed name, age, physical description and place of birth.

 

The Seaman’s Protection Papers picture the following John Howlands:

From
Registration Date
Age
Height
Comp.
Hair
Eyes
Dartmouth, MA
Aug. 14, 1838
16
5'7"
Dk.
Dk.
Dk.
Dover, NH
Apr. 8, 1850
21
5'7"
Lt.
Br.
Blue
Dover, NH
Apr. 8, 1850
26
5'7"
Lt.
Br.
Blue
NH
Sept. 7, 1854
25
5'8"
Ash.
Ash.
Br.
NH
Sept. 7, 1854
16
5'8"
Ash.
Ash.
Br.
Dover, NH
July 12, 1856
26
5'7"
Dk.
Dk.
Blue
Phila., PA
July 12, 1850
16
5'4"
Lt.
Lt.
Gray
Westport, MA
Sept. 25, 1845
16
5'11"
Lt.
Lt.
Blue
Rutland, NY
Oct. 16, 1844
23
5'9"
Lt.
Br.
Gray
Dartmouth, MA
Mar. 31, 1849
23
5'4"
Lt.
Br.
Gray
New Bedford, MA
Aug. 8, 1848
15
5'1"
Lt.
Br.
Gray
Mass.
July 13, 1850
17
5'3"
Lt.
Br.
Blue
New Bedford, MA
July 27, 1852
22
5'4"
Dk.
Dk.
Gray
Dartmouth, MA
July 1, 1841
15
5'1"
Lt.
Br.
Blue
Westport, MA
May 17, 1856
21
5'5"
Lt.
Br.
Blue

 

The New Bedford ship logbooks list the following information about men named John Howland:

From
Ship
Age
Height
Comp.
Hair
Eyes
Rate
Dartmouth
Russell
20
5'7"
Lt.
Lt.
Br.
---
New Bedford
Falcon
---
---
---
---
---
---
St. George
Gen. Pike
21
5'6"
---
Dk.
---
---
---
Cortes
---
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Metacomb
---
---
---
---
---
Seaman
New Bedford
James Allen
---
---
---
---
---
---
Mattapoisett
America
---
---
---
---
---
Greenhand
New Bedford
Franklin
---
---
---
---
---
Greenhand
New Bedford
Steamer Jeanette
---
---
---
---
---
Greenboy
New Bedford
James Maury
---
---
---
---
---
Seaman
New Bedford
Milta
---
---
---
---
---
3rd Mate
Fairhaven
Pacific
---
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Adeline
---
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Wm. C. Nye
---
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Montezuma
---
---
---
---
---
Cook
New Bedford
Barque Pamella
27
5'111/8"
Lt.
Br.
---
---
Western Island
Hunter
---
---
---
---
---
---
Phila., PA
Desdemona
16
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Hunter
---
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Barque Millwood
---
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Brunswick
---
---
---
---
---
Seaman
Burned by the Shenanda Jun. 1, 1865 - Civil War)
New Bedford
Hunter
---
---
---
---
---
---
Western Island
Hunter
---
---
---
---
---
---
Western Island
Barque Corhing
---
---
---
---
---
---
New Bedford
Bark Java
---
5'7"
Dk.
Bk.
---
---
New Bedford
Onward
---
---
---
---
---
---
---
John Dawson
45
5'7"
Lt.
Gray
---
Shipkeeper
Dartmouth
Francis
22
5'2½"
Lt.
Brown
---
---
Dartmouth
Com. Rogers
25
5'6½"
Lt.
Brown
---
---
---
Olympia
---
---
---
---
---
Carpenter
New Bedford
Robert Edwards
---
---
---
---
---
2nd Mate
New Bedford
India
---
---
---
---
---
Greenhand
New Bedford
Canton
---
---
---
---
---
Boatsteerer
New Bedford
Bark Nye
---
---
---
---
---
2nd Mate
Dartmouth
Bark Franklins
39
---
---
---
---
---
Dartmouth
Petrel
20
5'7"
Lt.
Brown
---
---
Westport
George Porter
---
---
---
---
---
1st Mate
Westport
Bark Nye
---
---
---
---
---
---
Westport
Henry Tabor
---
---
---
---
---
Mate
Westport
Abbott Lawrence
37
---
Lt.
Lt.
---
---
Westport
Barclay
---
---
---
---
---
Oarsman
Westport
Mexico
---
---
---
---
---
Boatsteerer

 

This article was originally published in the December 1994 issue of The Howland Quarterly.