Among the many places of historic interest to Mayflower descendants, Rocky Nook is probably more nearly a sacred shrine to the Howland family than any other.
Before the Pilgrims had finally decided upon the location for their settlement, the third exploring party, including John Howland, "found a creek and went up three English miles. At full sea a bark of thirty tons may go up, but at low water scarce our shallop could pass.
"This place" (now the villlage of Kingston) "we had a great liking to plant in, but it was so far from our fishing, our principal profit; and so encompassed with woods that we should be in much danger of the savages; and our number being so little and so much ground to clear", that they wisely decided to settle on the high cleared lands of the present town of Plymouth, "so near the sea, so well provided with fresh water, and so fortunately protected against Indian attacks."
However, they agreed to keep the country bordering on Jones River as a promised land "to which some of them might go when their heavy obligations to the Merchant Adventurers should have been fulfilled".
For many years John Howland lived on Leyden Street (Plymouth) on the four-acre plot that was granted to him and his family at the land division of 1623, which was on what is now called Watson's Hill where Massasoit camped with his followers in April, 1621. John Howland moved his family to a larger 80 acre farm in Duxbury after he served as Plymouth Colony Assistant until January 1, 1635/36. John was one of the Duxbury residents on the 14 Mar 1635/36 committee to select the location for the new Duxbury church.
On February 2, 1638/9, John Howland exchanged with John Jenney three acres of this land, paying him 85 pounds besides, for the house, barn and out-buildings at Rocky Nook, with its uplands and five acres of adjoining meadow. John Howland settled on the Rocky Nook Homestead after this date and before April 2, 1640 when he sold the Duxbury farm to William Kempe.
The Howland Homestead consisted of all the land north of the stone wall beginning at Fishing Rocks and ending where Sever Creek runs into the Jones River. Most of the stone wall can be seen today. The cellar holes of his house and two out-buildings can be seen on a little hill on the east side of Howland's Lane, easily distinguished by one large American Ash tree which stands on the top of the hill.
The Pilgrim John Howland Society, through the generosity of some of its loyal members, purchased in 1920 about four acres of land which had been the site of the home where John Howland and his wife Elizabeth lived from 1639 until his death in 1673. Four of their youngest children—Ruth, Jabez, Joseph and Isaac, were born at the Rocky Nook home.
On the top of the hill, the Society has erected as a memorial a large block of roughly squared Quincy granite, seven feet high, five feet broad and three feet thick, bearing on one polished surface a finely carved representation of the Mayflower and the inscription:
Here Stood the Home of
and his wife
ELIZABETH TILLEY HOWLAND
from 1638 until his death February 23, 1673
Both Were Passengers In the Ship
In grateful rememberance this land has been
bought by their descendants, and this memorial
erected upon the 300th anniversary of their
landing at Plymouth, Mass.
At the dedication of this monument on August 17, 1921, the American flag was raised on a steel pole, firmly set in a concrete foundation, by Joseph Moore Tatum, of Haddonfield, NJ, and as it unfurled, a band played the national anthem. The late President Henry R. Howland of Buffalo, NY, a descendant of John Howland in the sixth generation, gave an eloquent memorial address.
The simple words of dedication were spoken, and the memorial momument was unveiled by Joseph Moore Tatem and John Barnard Howland of Detroit, Michigan. It will be of special interest to our members to know that these young Howland descendants are at present taking an active part in our Society—Mr. Joseph Moore Tatem being the Historian and Mr. John Barnard Howland is our Secretary and Registrar.
There is no other place in this country that has more historical interst to all the descendants of the Pilgrim John Howland than Rocky Nook. Here he lived many years, and here, honored for a godly and manly life, his earthly pilgrimage ended in peace.
When in Plymouth you will want to visit Rocky Nook. It is indeed our most sacred shrine.
Over the years our Society has led archeology digs at the site to learn more about John Howland and his family's lives. The history of the Howland Homestead archeology excavations and recovered artifacts can be found at http://www.plymoutharch.com/by-town/. Scroll down to Kingston, MA, where you can find several articles about excavations and artifacts from the Homestead.
This article is reprinted from the July, 1937 issue of The Howland Quarterly.
Some corrections were made (2015) for accuracy.