Episode 25: Elizabth Tilley Howland

While hanging out in Providence, Rhode Island this past weekend, I discovered that Elizabeth Tilley Howland was buried not far from where I was staying. For some reason, I felt a deep need to go and visit her grave.

My paternal grandmother was Delores Howland. It is through her that we connect to Elizabeth Tilley. Elizabeth was a child on the Mayflower. Her parents were among the first to die, leaving her orphaned at about 13 years of age. In time, she would marry another Mayflower occupant: John Howland.

Their descendants are now quite numerous – and I am among them. Not long ago, I went with my siblings and my parents to visit Plymouth Mass. My father got to sign the descendants book there at the old Howland House. We visited Plymouth Plantations and actually met John and Elizabeth Tilley – well, at least we met two young actors who did a mighty good job portraying them.

When John died, Elizabeth moved to live the rest of her life with her daughter Lydia in Rhode Island – which is why she was buried there in the Brown family plot of the Little Neck Cemetery in Riverside RI. Lydia married into the Brown family, and she and her mother were both buried together with the members of that family.

This may have something to do with the grief I still feel about my father’s dying in February, but when I learned about Elizabeth’s grave, I just had to go visit her. I had to drive through the smallish cemetery twice before I located her grave, but I soon found it. The grayish-green stone was surrounded by a small iron fence that kept me from getting too close. Yet and still I was close enough to have felt a deep connection while standing there.

On the bottom of the stone these words from her will are engraved: “It is my will and charge to all my Children that they walk in the Fear of ye Lord, and in love and Peace towards each other.”

Those are beautiful words, and reflect the sentiments of a gentle spirit and kind soul. Standing there, I could not help but feel that the charge to her children included me. I’d like to think that she would feel the same way. It occurred to me that this woman, who herself found the courage to cross an ocean on an uncertain sea; who saw her own parents dead when she was but a child; who found solace in the grace of her faith; this woman was among those who established the church that now I am called to lead.

I want to honor the charge she gave to her children. I accept it as my call – to walk in love and peace.

Gentle listener, the spirits of our own ancestors dwell in this earthly sphere. They linger, and remind us to be gentle on the land upon which we walk. May you find love and peace as you find your way through these winding paths. And may the peace that passes all understanding accompany you on your journeys Into the Mystic.