When Joseph Smith's Ancestor Fell Overboard on the Mayflower and What It Means for Us Today

by | Jan. 06, 2020

Most people probably haven’t heard of John Howland, an indentured servant who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower in 1620. Historic names like William Bradford, John Carver, and Myles Standish are likely more familiar.

And yet Howland has perhaps had a greater impact on American history than any of the other more recognized pilgrims, said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Howland’s descendants “include three U.S. presidents—Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush; American poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and two influential 19th-century American religious leaders—the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith,” according to a Church News article.

Howland’s life could have ended up quite differently, though. During his passage on the Mayflower, he had been swept overboard during a fierce storm and miraculously survived by catching hold of a rope before he could be hauled on board again.

“Think about it for a moment—the existence of these political leaders, poets and prophets hinged on this one young man finding and grabbing a rope in the ocean and holding on tight to be saved,” President Ballard said during a visit to Joseph Smith’s birthplace in October 2019. “It was a miracle!”

Howland’s story serves as a reminder, the apostle continued, to look for how the Lord blesses many people’s lives.

“Brothers and sisters, please look for the Lord’s hand in your lives and in the lives of your family, as I do in the lives of my ancestors and family,” President Ballard said. “Expect it. Do not dismiss it. Do not relegate the experiences in your lives to coincidences. As you see the hand of the Lord in your lives, thank Him for it. Please record and share your stories. The more you recognize the Lord’s hand in your lives, the more you will see it in your lives today.”


Lead image from Church News. 
Danielle christensen

Danielle Christensen

Danielle is a features writer and editor for LDS Living. Previously, she served as web producer for Church News, where she managed their website and social media platforms. Danielle is a graduate of Brigham Young University in English and has been published with Deseret NewsChurch NewsBYU Magazine, and Spires Intercollegiate Arts and Literary Magazine.

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