Abraham Howland

Howland Family of Dartmouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts

The family bearing the Howland name is one historic in New England annals. First a family of Plymouth and Duxbury and some time later of Ancient Dartmouth, it became one conspicuous in the great whale fishery industry that centered at New Bedford and Fairhaven and in the later cotton industry of the former place, the former of which industries made New Bedford the greatest whaling port in the world and the wealthiest city in proportion to its population in New England. Some forty-six of its citizens possessing fortunes of between $100,000 and $200,000 sixty years ago, in 1852, were millionaires at the time of their death. While the latter industry rose out of the decline of the former it has been of no less consequence as a factor in the city’s growth and material progress. Few have figured more extensively and prominently in the whaling industry in its several forms than the Howland family, including in this the maritime feature of it, that in the line of masters of vessels, some of whom later retired with fortunes to farms about Fairhaven; later generations of the family establishing the great cotton industries since extensively operated in part under the Howland name; and from the very beginning in New Bedford the name has continued in the forefront of the city’s financial, business and public official life, and is indelibly linked through large benefactions with the city’s history. A tablet of marble in the free public library commemorates the gift of $200,000 to the city of New Bedford by Sylvia Ann Howland – $100,000 of which was to supply the city with pure water, and the other $100,000 for the benefit of the library; while also hangs in the same library, by resolution of the city, a fine portrait of the late Hon. George Howland, one of the most useful and prominent citizens of his time in New Bedford, prompted by his gift to the library of what is known as the George Howland, Jr., fund.

Among some of the more worthy of the Howlands of Dartmouth and in and about Fairhaven and New Bedford have been such well-known personages as Nathaniel Howland, one of the foremost men of Dartmouth of his day, a gifted minister of the Society of Friends, and all of whose sons were prominent in town affairs, James, perhaps, the most active one; Thomas Howland, of Dartmouth and Westport, a farmer and manufacturer; Matthew Howland, of Long Plain, Fairhaven, and his son George of the same town, who became largely engaged as a shipping agent, making his name known in every whaling port in the world, and who after a generous life left a fortune of $1,000,000; his sons, George and Matthew, of the firm of George and Matthew Howland, men of large business enterprises and public service in New Bedford and vicinity; Matthew’s son William D., for years and at this time a prominent representative of the mill interests of New Bedford, treasurer of the New Bedford Manufacturing Company, the Howland Mills Corporation and the Botch Spinning Corporation, directing the affairs of three of the most important manufacturing enterprises in the city; James Howland (2), of Dartmouth; Capt. John Howland, long a master mariner engaged in the whaling service and a merchant for forty years, of Fairhaven; his son and successor, the late John M. Howland, long a successful business man, followed by his son, John H., and perhaps others; Capt. David Howland, of Dartmouth, a whaleman for many years, then a farmer; his son, Capt. Jacob A. Howland, who passed the greater part of a long period of forty years on the ocean in the whaling service; Capt. Jonathan Howland, of New Bedford, long commander of coasting vessels; his son, Capt. Charles F. Howland, who made many successful voyages to the South Atlantic; Stephen Howland, long a prominent business man of Westport; his son, Peleg C. Howland, who went to New Bedford, and was long identified officially with the old Merchants’ Bank there; Capt. Isaac Howland, a master mariner in the merchant service and later prominent and successful in the shipping business at New Bedford; his son, Capt. Isaac Howland, Jr., who succeeded his father in the whaling business and founded the noted firm of I. Howland, Jr. & Co., his son-in-law, Capt. Gideon Howland, being one of the company – men of great wealth, one of whose daughters died possessed of an accumulation of upward of $2,000,000, another daughter marrying Edward Mott Robinson, who accumulated a property of about $5,000,000 –  they the parents of the wealthy Hettie Howland Green; Capt. Weston Howland, master mariner, and later in the flour and grain trade in New Bedford, and his sons, Hon. Abraham H. Howland, master of vessels, member of the State Legislature, railroad director, and Hon. Weston Howland, also a ship captain, and later engaged in the refining of petroleum, and prominent in the political world.

Arthur and Henry Howland are believed to have come to America together, and probably before 1624; they appeared in Plymouth Colony in the early days of the settlement. John Howland held the original faith of the Puritans during his life, and was a consistent member of the Orthodox Church until the time of his death. Arthur and Henry were members of the Society of Friends and most of their descendants for many generations were, and many at the present time are, Friends. Arthur lived for a few years in Plymouth and then became a land holder and resident of Marshfield.

Henry Howland Family of Duxbury, Massachusetts

Henry Howland, the progenitor of the Ancient Dartmouth Howland family, the branch here specially considered, lived at Duxbury. The first mention of him in New England is that made in the allotment of cattle to the different families in Plymouth in 1624. Perhaps none of the colonists has a better record for intelligence, thrift, uprightness and unmixed faith in the Divine One than Henry Howland, and these virtues have permeated the lives of his posterity. In general they are a family of great respectability, and as a people thrifty, economical and good managers of finance, most of them having a fair share of this world’s goods – some amassing millions. Henry Howland was made a freeman in 1633; was chosen constable for Duxbury in 1635; bought land there in 1640; was for some years surveyor of highways; served repeatedly on the grand jury, etc. He joined the Society of Friends, perhaps in 1657, and was not a little persecuted thereafter on this account. In 1652, associated with others, he bought a large tract of land in Dartmouth; was one of the twenty-seven purchasers of what is now Freetown in 1659, and in the division of 1660 he received for his share the sixth lot, which was afterward inherited by his son Samuel Howland. He was one of the grantees of Bridgewater but never lived there. Mr. Howland married Mary Newland, and both likely died at the old homestead in Duxbury. Their children were:

  1. Joseph Howland
  2. Zoeth Howland
  3. John Howland
  4. Samuel Howland
  5. Sarah Howland
  6. Elizabeth Howland
  7. Mary Howland
  8. Abigail Howland

Zoeth Howland Family of Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Zoeth Howland, son of Henry, was born in Duxbury, and settled at Dartmouth as early as 1662. He took the oath of fidelity at Duxbury in 1657, and probably about this time with his father became a convert to Quakerism, and meetings were held at his house, for which he was fined. He was killed by the Indians at Pocasset, 21st of 1st month, 1676. Tiverton and Little Compton were known as Pocasset and later as Tiverton; and at the present stone bridge was Howland’s ferry, which was later kept by Daniel, son of Zoeth Howland. Zoeth’s widow married (second) in 1678 Richard Kirby. Zoeth’s sons were all active members of the Apponegansett Meeting except Samuel, his other children being

  1. Nathaniel Howland
  2. Benjamin Howland
  3. Daniel Howland
  4. Lydia Howland
  5. Mary Howland
  6. Sarah Howland
  7. Henry Howland
  8. Abigail Howland
  9. Nicholas Howland

Benjamin Howland Family of Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Benjamin Howland, son of Zoeth, born 8th of 3d month, 1657, in Duxbury, Mass., married 23d of 4th month, 1684, Judith Sampson. Mr. Howland was a prominent member of the Apponegansett Friends’ Meeting. He was a farmer and owned what is called the Round Hills farm in Dartmouth, which has always been and is still held by a descendant. Mr. Howland was a prominent citizen, and held the offices of selectman and assessor in 1697, surveyor of highways in 1698, and constable in 1709. He was appointed treasurer of the monthly meeting fund 19th of 9th month, 1705. He died 12th of 2d month, 1727. His children were:

  1. Abigail Howland, born 30th of 11th month, 1686
  2. Benjamin Howland, born 30th of 11th month, 1688
  3. Isaac Howland, born 30th of 1st month, 1694
  4. Desire Howland, born 20th of 8th month, 1696
  5. Barnabas Howland, born 16th of 9th month, 1699
  6. Lydia Howland, born 8th of 10th month, 1701

Isaac Howland Family of Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Isaac Howland, son of Benjamin, born 30th of 1st month, 1694, at Round Hills, Dartmouth, Mass., married 29th of 12th month, 1717, Hannah, daughter of Eleazer Allen, of Dartmouth, Mass. He owned and worked a farm in the south part of the town of Dartmouth. He was selectman in 1727, surveyor in 1731, constable in 1732 and 1733, was on the jury in 1734, etc.; and seems to have been an active member of the Friends’ Meeting. He died 22d of 9th month, 1778. His children were:

  1. Meribah Howland, born in 1718
  2. Benjamin Howland, in 1720
  3. Anne Howland, in 1723
  4. Abraham Howland, in 1726
  5. Isaac Howland, in 1726
  6. Hannah Howland, in 1729
  7. Abigail Howland, in 1731
  8. Humphrey Howland, in 1734

Abraham Howland Family of Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Abraham Howland, son of Isaac, born in Dartmouth in 1726, married 10th of 12th month, 1750, Ruth, daughter of Thomas and Judith Hicks, of Dartmouth, who was born 26th of 6th month, 1732, and who died 31st of 6th month, 1806. Both died at Round Hills farm in Dartmouth. Their children were:

  1. Thomas Howland, born in 1751
  2. Susannah Howland, in 1754
  3. Abram Howland, in 1756
  4. Hannah Howland, in 1758
  5. Ebenezer Howland, in 1760
  6. Weston Howland, in 1764
  7. Anne Howland, in 1766
  8. Ruth Howland, in 1769
  9. Thomas Howland, in 1772

Capt. Weston Howland Family of New Bedford, Massachusetts

Capt. Weston Howland, son of Abraham, was born 30th of 5th month, 1764, in Dartmouth, and died in New Bedford 6th of 8th month, 1841. He was in the merchant service a number of years, and then engaged in the flour and grain business in New Bedford, owning and managing most of the vessels which transported his stock. His storehouse was on Rotch’s wharf. He was a man of excellent business capacity, and was highly respected by the community, which may be said of most if not of all of his posterity. He was twice married. He first wedded Desire Crandall, and (second) on 10th of 10th month, Abigail Hathaway. His widow Abigail died at the family home in New Bedford, at the corner of Spring and Eighth streets. His children were:

  1. Thomas Howland, born Sept. 10, 1794, a highly educated, scholarly gentleman, for many years in the grain business at Alexandria, Va., in connection with his father, and afterward in New Bedford, where he was engaged in the management of the Whaling and Pacific Insurance Companies (died unmarried)
  2. Hannah Howland, born July 10, 1796
  3. Abraham H. Howland, born Jan. 1, 1798, who died Nov. 3, 1800
  4. Weston Howland, born July 15, 1800, who died Oct. 1, 1801
  5. Abraham H. Howland (2), born March 2, 1802, who died May 24, 1867
  6. Stephen H. Howland, born Feb. 27, 1804, who died May 6, 1839
  7. Alice R. Howland, born Feb. 28, 1806, who married Joseph C. Delano, and died June 7, 1834
  8. Weston Howland (2), born Jan. 22, 1808, who died Feb. 13, 1808
  9. Susanna Howland, born March 23, 1809, who died Dec. 22, 1871
  10. William P. Howland, born Oct. 19, 1812, who died Sept. 29, 1872
  11. Weston Howland (3), born June 18, 1815, who died May 19, 1901

Hon. Abraham H. Howland Family of New Bedford, Massachusetts

William Allen Wall painting showing Abraham H. Howland in color
William Allen Wall painting showing Abraham H. Howland in color

Hon. Abraham H. Howland, son of Weston, was born in New Bedford March 2, 1802, and died May 24, 1867. He was long a commanding figure in the business life of New Bedford. In his early days he became interested in mercantile pursuits, and had a thorough training in all departments, beginning as a clerk, and forging his way upward. He went to sea, and at the last sailed as master and owner of vessels. As the whaling industry began to decline he began the refining of petroleum, and was one of the first, if not the first, in the country to engage in that line of work. His place of business was located where now is the City Manufacturing Corporation. At the time of his death the New Bedford Evening Standard said:

“This well-known citizen and merchant died last evening at the age of sixty-five years, at his residence on County street, opposite Hawthorn street. He had been nearly all his life in mercantile pursuits, beginning as a clerk, and afterward going to sea and rising to be master and owner in part of the ships he sailed in. He made two voyages in whalers. He was a man of much energy, of uncommon sagacity in business, quick to perceive the right course to be taken and persevering in carrying it out. By his exertions and abilities he amassed a handsome fortune, having commenced life with limited means. He was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1844 to 1847, and occupied an influential position on the committee on Mercantile Affairs. On the organization of our municipality under a city charter, in 1847, he was elected mayor and was retained in that responsible position for five years. He was for many years a very active member of the fire department, and once by his energy and public spirit saved this important branch from fatal discords. His interest in the department was unabated. He was at one time a director of the Western Railroad (now the Boston & Albany), and had been a very influential member of the board of directors of the New Bedford Gas Light Company ever since it was formed. He had recently united with the Friends, of which he was a birthright member.”

Mr. Howland was a member of the Masonic fraternity, but at a time when such things were not given as much publicity as now.

Mr. Howland married Mehitable, daughter of Reuben and Anna (Tucker) Russell. Their children were:

  1. Abigail Howland
  2. Anna Howland
  3. Abraham H. Howland, born 1840, mayor of New Bedford in 1875-76, holder of various offices of trust, and for many years the highest official in the Masonic fraternity in the State
  4. Alice Russell Howland, born Jan. 24, 1847
  5. Horace Gray Howland, of Boston, born July 20, 1843
  6. Mary Tucker Howland
  7. Edmund Howland

Hon. Weston Howland, Jr., Family of New Bedford, Massachusetts

Hon. Weston Howland, son of Weston, born 18th of 6th month, 1815, in New Bedford, was educated in the Friends’ Academy of his native town, and the Friends’ boarding school in Providence, R. I. As a boy he would not apply himself to study, and at the early age of twelve he shipped on a merchantman from New Bedford, a year later going as cabin hoy. At fourteen he shipped on a whaler, and followed the sea until he rose to a captaincy and commanded a ship on a very successful voyage. Subsequently he engaged in business in New Bedford, 1847 to 1861, as ship chandler and general commission merchant, owning and being agent for a number of vessels engaged in the whale fishery. Previous to the decline of whaling he commenced the refining of petroleum on Fish island, in New Bedford harbor, in which business he continued until 1879. Petroleum was first produced in large quantities in Pennsylvania in the fall of 1859, and Mr. Howland’s factory was in successful operation in August, 1860. He believed it to be the first refinery built for that purpose. From 1879 he was actively engaged in the management of the New Bedford and Fairhaven street railway, of which he was one of the original owners and directors.

Mr. Howland was active in politics. In early life he was a Whig, and later an ardent supporter of Fremont, cooperated in the first election of the lamented Lincoln, but in 1864 favored the election of George B. McClellan, and after that date acted with the Democratic party, and was nominated for State senator and councilor; in 1876 for State treasurer; and in 1877 for secretary of the Commonwealth. He was always active in his work for the party.

On 14th of 5th month, 1846, Mr. Howland married Rebecca S., daughter of George and Abby (Smith) Kirby, of Dartmouth. Twelve children blessed this union:

  1. Mary Howland, born 27th of 2d month, 1847, died 3d of 9th month, 1849
  2. Thomas H. Howland, born 8th of 9th month, 1848, died 7th of 9th month, 1849
  3. Rebecca W. Howland, born 28th of 6th month, 1850, died 31st of 10th month, 1851
  4. Weston Howland, born 4th of 3d month, 1852, died 5th of 9th month, 1878
  5. Rachel Howland was born 4th of 5th month, 1853
  6. Abby S. Howland, born 25th of 6th month, 1855, died 31st of 1st month, 1857
  7. Thomas H. Howland was born 10th of 8th month, 1856
  8. George K. Howland was born 28th of 3d month, 1859, died 9th of 1st month, 1862
  9. Abby S. Howland was born 26th of 6th month, 1861
  10. John Sedgwick Howland, 20th of 9th month, 1863
  11. Rebecca S. Howland, 23d of 2d month, 1865
  12. Alice H. Howland, born 25th of 2d month, 1867, married Hardy Greely Garrett, and has one daughter, Elizabeth Howland


Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts: containing historical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and genealogical records of many of the old families. 3 Volumes. Beers & Chicago. 1912.

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