Roger Conant (Salem, Massachusetts founder)

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For other people named Roger Conant, see Roger Conant (disambiguation).
Statue of Roger Conant, founder of Salem, Massachusetts, photo taken in 2004

Roger Conant (c. 1592 – 1679) arrived in Plymouth Colony from London early in 1623/24 with the profession of salter. Early in his colonial life, he became associated with those opposed to the Puritan authorities in Plymouth and led the settlement to outlying areas, particularly in the Salem area, which he is credited with founding. He was the first governor of English settlers in Salem from 1626 to 1628.[1]

English Origins[edit]

Roger Conant was baptized at East Budleigh, Devonshire on April 9, 1592. He was the son of Richard and Agnes (Clarke) Conant. He later moved to London and became a salter.[2]

Life in New England[edit]

Contrary to some accounts that Roger Conant and his family arrived in 1623 in the ship ‘Anne’, per Banks, only Roger’s brother Christopher Conant is listed as being on the ‘Anne’ in 1623. In Bradford’s history, in addition to letters to him by the London Adventurers, mention is made of an unnamed master or journeyman salter who may have arrived in Plymouth in the ‘Charity’ in March 1623/24. It is thought that Bradford may have been describing Conant, and that he arrived in Plymouth in 1624.[3][4]

In 1625, Bradford learned that the long-time minister of their Leiden congregation, John Robinson, had died. Robinson had been the driving force behind all their efforts to find a better place than England to live their lives and it was he who cared for the many left at the Leiden congregation after the Mayflower's departure. After the dispiriting news of Robinson's death, those in Plymouth began to lose the fervor that helped them survive the grim early years there and began to fear that all they had gained might eventually be destroyed. These dark thoughts turned into mean-spirited fanaticism. At about that time, John Lyford, a minister who had been sent over by the London Adventurers, was expelled from Plymouth for secretly meeting with settlers who wished to return to the type of worship that they had back in England. One of Lyford’s supporters, John Oldham, was forced to run a gauntlet while Pilgrims beat him with the butt-ends of their muskets. This punishment received the approval of Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow. The Adventurers were quite displeased over what had happened to one of their men and criticized the Pilgrims as “contentious, cruel and hard hearted, among your neighbors…”. Bradford later in his writings wrote that he thought that Lyford and Oldham deserved their punishments. These actions against the rebellion of Lyford and Oldham were possibly the reason Roger Conant left Plymouth for other locations where he would later continue to be in association with them against the Plymouth authorities.[1][4]

In the years prior to and also after John Robinson’s death, Plymouth Colony had lost about a quarter of its residents. They had moved to other areas of New England or went back to England, or to Virginia. Some, such as salter Roger Conant, found a place to work and worship peacefully in the fishing and trading outposts along the New England coast at Nantasket and Cape Ann.[4]

Per Hubbard’s General History, about 1624 Conant moved to Nantasket with his family and about a year or so later relocated to Cape Ann, at the north end of Massachusetts Bay.[4]

In another case of the new Pilgrim vindictiveness, in 1625 Roger Conant was involved in a violent situation between Plymouth Colony military Captain Myles Standish and some fishermen on Cape Ann. Conant was so shocked by the violence that the Plymouth captain displayed then that Conant later reported the incident in detail for Pilgrim historian William Hubbard. In restating John Robinson’s earlier concerns about the way the colony was turning to fanaticism and violence, Hubbard wrote, “Captain Standish…never entered the school of our Savior Christ…or, if he was ever there, had forgot his first lessons, to offer violence to no man.” Hubbard also wrote about Standish; “so was the Plymouth captain, a man of very little stature, yet of a very hot and angry temper.”[4]

In 1626 Conant was chosen as the first governor of the English settlers at Salem and was replaced in 1628 by Gov. John Endicott.[1][4]

Later years in Salem[edit]

Conant's house in Salem

Conant built the first Salem house on what is now Essex Street, opposite the Town Market. In 1630 he was chosen as freeman, or voting stockholder of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Conant was one of the first two Salem representatives to the colony’s general court or legislature, and was repeatedly elected a selectman by the people of Salem. When the legislature granted communities the right to establish district courts, Roger Conant served on numerous Salem quarterly juries for sixteen years. He also was involved in civic activities over the years such as establishing town boundaries and laying out land grants.

In 1639, his signature was one of the first ones on the contract for enlarging the meeting house in Town Square for the First Church in Salem. This document remains a part of the town records at City Hall. Roger Conant was active in the affairs of Salem throughout his life.

During his very long lifetime Conant had a number of family tragedies, including the death of his wife Sarah, and of sons Caleb, Lot, Roger and Joshua. Only his son Exercise and possibly several daughters succeeded him.[1][5]

Family[edit]

Roger Conant and Sarah Horton married at St. Ann Blackfriars, London on November 11, 1618 and had nine or ten children. She was alive in November 1660 and may have died before March 1677/78 as she was not named in her father’s will. Her burial place is unknown.[1]

Children of Roger and Sarah Conant:

  • Sarah was baptized at St. Lawrence Jewry, London on September 19, 1619 and was buried there October 30, 1620.
  • Caleb was baptized at St. Lawrence Jewry, London on May 27, 1622. He died in England before November 11, 1633, when his uncle, John Conant, became administrator of his estate.
  • Lot was born about 1624 and died September 29, 1674. He married Elizabeth Walton and had ten children. The marriage of their descendant Hannah Conant (d.1810) with Josiah Dodge (d.1785/90) in 1761 connected the line of Mayflower passenger Richard More with the Conant family. After Lot’s death, Elizabeth married (2) Andrew Mansfield in Lynn on January 10, 1681/82.
  • Roger was born in Salem and died in June 1672. He married Elizabeth Weston by 1661 and had two children.
  • Sarah was born about 1628. She married John Leach and had ten children.
  • Joshua was born about 1630 and died in England in 1659. He married Seeth Gardner by 1657 and had one son.
  • Mary was born about 1632.
She married:
1. John Balch about 1652 and had one daughter.
2. William Dodge by 1663 and had five children.
  • Elizabeth was born about 1635 and was unmarried in March 1677/78. Nothing further is known.
  • Exercise was baptized in Salem on December 24, 1637 and died on April 28, 1722. He married Sarah Andrews by 1668 and had six children. He was buried in Olde Mansfield Center Cemetery, Mansfield, CT.[6][7]
  • John

Death and burial of Roger Conant[edit]

Roger Conant died on November 19, 1679 in Plymouth Colony - now Beverly in Essex County, Massachusetts. He was reportedly buried in Burying Point Cemetery in Salem. [8]

His Statue in Salem[edit]

In 1913, the Conant Family Association approved an heroic bronze statue of Roger Conant in a dramatic, cloaked pose which stands today facing the Salem Common.[5]

Further reading[edit]

Note: One of the earliest known genealogies of Roger Conant and his descendants is the volume written by his descendant E. W. Leavitt and privately printed in 1890: "A Genealogy of One Branch of the Conant Family, 1581-1890."[9] An earlier Conant genealogy, published in Portland, Maine, in 1887 and written by Frederick Odell Conant also delved into the English origins of the Conant family.[10]

Shipton, Clifford Kenyon (1945). Roger Conant, a Founder of Massachusetts. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 171. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), pp. 269, 270
  2. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 269
  3. ^ Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), pp. 269, 270.
  4. ^ a b c d e f William Hubbard, A general history of New England [1]
  5. ^ a b Roger Conant in Salem [2]
  6. ^ New England Historic Genealogical Society, Family Sketch of Roger Conant [3]
  7. ^ Frederick Odell Conant, A history and genealogy of the Conant family in England and America, thirteen generations, 1520-1887 : containing also some genealogical notes on the Connet, Connett and Connit families (Privately printed: 1887) p. 99 [4]
  8. ^ Memorial of Roger Conant [5]
  9. ^ George Gatfield, Guide to Printed Books and Manuscripts Relating to English and Foreign Heraldry and Genealogy (London: 1892)
  10. ^ The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Henry Fitz-Gilbert Waters, Boston, 1888 """