A handsome statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem, stands outside the Salem Witch Museum. Because of the statue's proximity to the museum and because of his cloak and hat and generally impressive appearance, Roger Conant is often mistaken for a participant in the Salem witch trials. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
FIRST RESIDENCE: Plymouth
REMOVES: Nantasket 1624, Cape Ann 1625, Salem 1626, Beverly
OCCUPATION: Salter. He signed the composition bond of his brother, John, 20 January 1619/20 as "Roger Conant, salter," implying that he was free of the Salters' Company and a Citizen of London [Conant Gen 99].
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP: "Roger Connant" is in the list of Salem church members compiled in late 1636 [SChR 5].
FREEMAN: Requested 19 October 1631 (as "Mr. Roger Conant") and admitted 18 May 1631 [MBCR 1:79, 366].
EDUCATION: His hand is seen on many documents at Essex court and in the early Salem Town records. "Mr. Roger Conant" was one of those chosen to consider how to lay the division of Marblehead neck so that it would not "hinder the building of a college," 18 April 1636 [STR 1:16; Morison 162].
OFFICES: Deputy to General Court for Salem, 9 May 1632 [MBCR 1:95]. Committee to lay out land for John Humphrey, 7 November 1632 [MBCR 1:102]. Committee to determine bounds between Salem and Saugus, 20 November 1637 [MBCR 1:211].
Appointed Essex magistrate, 17 May 1637 [MBCR 1:197]. Essex magistrate, 27 June 1637, 3 October 1637, 27 March 1638, 26 June 1638, 25 December 1638, 25 March 1639 [EQC 1:5-10]. Grand jury, 9 July 1644, 6 July 1647, 25 December 1649, 25 June 1650, 25 November 1651; 29 June 1652, 27 November 1655 [EQC 1:62, 114, 180, 191, 238, 253, 408]. Essex jury, 27 December 1636, 20 October 1653 (foreman) [EQC 1:4, 309]. Petit jury, 27 December 1642 (foreman), 26 December 1643 (foreman), 31 December 1644, 8 July 1645, 30 June 1646, 29 November 1653, 28 November 1654, 24 November 1657 [EQC 1:44, 57, 74, 78, 95, 313, 372, 2:58]. Essex surveyor of canoes, 27 June 1636 [EQC 1:3].
Salem selectman, 1637-41, 1650-54/5, 1657[/8]-58[/9] [STR 1:50-52, 55-59, 61-65, 67-68, 71, 73-74, 77, 79-80, 83-87, 89, 91-94, 97, 105, 112, 164-67, 169-71, 175-77, 179-80, 210, 218, 221, 223]. Salem town clerk (at least he kept the minutes of the selectmen's meeting), 11 September 1637 [STR 1:57]. Committee to draw the line between Ipswich and Salem, 27 March 1643 [STR 1:119]. Surveyor of lots, 2 January 1636[/7], 27 January 1636[/7], 20 February 1636[/7], 10 April 1637, 15 May 1654, 16 January 1656[/7], 8 March 1657/8 [STR 1:28, 35, 38, 44, 179, 195, 213]. Auditor, 12 November 1638, 20 March 1647[/8] (ordered to give an account) [STR 1:73, 154]. Director of highway repairs, 26 February 1643[/4] [STR 1:125]. Surveyor of highways, 13 June 1644 [STR 1:130]. Rater, 22 September 1645 [STR 1:137]. Arbitrator, 16 February 1655[/6], 24 February 1656[/7], 20 June 1658 [STR 1:189, 196, 216].
ESTATE: "Mr. Connant" was one of the five prominent men to receive a two hundred acre farm in the freeman's lands at the head of Bass River 25 January 1635[/6] [STR 1:12, 19]. He received one acre in the Salem grant of 1637 with a household of nine persons [STR 1:103]. This grant is in Roger Conant's hand.
On 4 February 1638[/9] Henry Bayley requested a piece of land "next Mr. Conants house at Catt Cove" [STR 1:80]. On 7 May 1639 "Mr. Conant" received a grant of five acres of meadow "in some convenient place" [STR 1:96].
At the General Court on 28 May 1679, "Mr. Roger Conant of Beverly, alias Bass River," received one parcel of land in the wilderness on the eastern side of Merrimack River consisting of two hundred acres as laid out by Jonathan Danforth [MBCR 5:227].
In his will, dated 1 March 1677[/8] and proved 25 November 1679, "Roger Conant aged about eighty-five years ... though weak & feeble in body" bequeathed to "my son Exercise" one hundred and forty acres near Dunstable (a part of two hundred acres granted by the General Court), also ten acres adjoining his present homelot, also two acres of marsh at the south end of Wenham's great pond "or if my daughter Elizabeth Conant will exchange to have so much at the great marsh near Wenham," also my swamp at the head of the rails which is yet undivided, also my portion of land lying by Henry Haggat's on Wenham side, from which land he is to pay £7 toward the discharge of my legacies; to "my grandchild John Conant, son of Roger Conant," ten acres adjoining his twenty acres by the great pond, he to pay £20 toward the discharge of my legacies; to "my grandchild Joshua Conant" seventeen acres by the south side of the great marsh "and the rest to return to my executor"; to "my daughter Sarah" to her and her children, two acres between the head of the rails and Isaac Hull; to "a daughter of one Mrs. Pitts deceased ... now living in Culleton a town in Devon in old England" into the hands of Capt. Roger Clap of the Castle near Dorchester as attorney for Mrs. Pitts "for certain goods sold for the said Mrs. Pitts in London and was there to be paid many years since but it is alleged was never paid"; to "my son Lott his ten children" £20 to be equally divided; to "my daughter Sarah's children, to John £5, to the four daughters" £5 between them"; to "my daughter Mary Dodge to herself £5 and £5 to her five children equally divided"; to "Exercise his children" £4 between them; to "Adoniron Veren" £3, "to his sister Hannah" 20s. and "her two children each 10s."; to "my cousin Mary Veren wife to Hillier Veren" £3; to "the daughters of my cousin Jane Mason deceased" £3 "including Love Steevens her child a share"; to "my son Exercise" residue of moveable goods and "my gray horse and cattle"; to "Rebacka Connant my grandchild" my sheep; to "Mary Leach" one sheep; "and whereas there remains in my hands a certain portion of cattle belonging unto one Mr. Dudeny in England and by him assigned unto his nephew Richard Conant valued at £25 and now left in the hands of my son Exercise Conant that there be a rendering up of such cattle or their valuation ... unto the said Richard Conant upon seasonable demand"; "son Exercise" executor; "my son William Dodge and my grandchild John Conant Senior" overseers [EPR 3:335-37].
The inventory of the estate of "Roger Conant deceased" was taken 24 November 1679 and totalled £258 10s. of which £198 was real estate: "two hundred acres of land lying at Dunstable, not improved," £60; "more land sold to Elizabeth Conant not paid for," £40; "more land ten acres and more ten acres [totalling] 20," £20; "more land 23 acres," £59; "more two acres of meadow," £10; "swampy land [at] 20s. two acres of land [at] £5," £6; and "more land," £1 [EPR 3:337].
BIRTH: Baptized East Budleigh, Devonshire, 9 April 1592, youngest of the eight children of Richard and Agnes (Clarke) Conant [Conant Gen 99].
DEATH: Beverly 19 November 1679.
MARRIAGE: St Ann Blackfriars, London 11 November 1618 Sarah Horton, daughter of Thomas and Catherine (Satchfield) Horton [NEHGR 147:234-39]. "Sarah Connant" is included in the list of Salem church members compiled in late 1636 [SChR 6]. She was alive in November 1660 to depose about the marriage of James Bede and the widow "Ellot" [EQC 2:265]. She is not named in her husband's will and therefore probably died before 1 March 1677/8.
ASSOCIATIONS: Christopher Conant who received one acre in Plymouth Colony in 1623 as a passenger on the Anne, was Roger's brother [PCR 12:5].
Jane (Knowles) Bennett, wife of WILLIAM BENNETT of Salem was niece of Roger Conant [NEHGR 153:221].
COMMENTS: Despite Roger Conant's prominence and his reputation as the leader among the Old Planters, there are a number of disquieting questions which still hover about him. Although we do not claim to have resolved these questions here, we would like to propose an interpretation that would provide a relatively simple answer.
The questions come in two groups. First, did Roger Conant reside at Plymouth when he first arrived, and was he the salter who arrived in 1624 with Rev. JOHN LYFORD and who was described uncharitably by Bradford? Second, given the great advantages available to Conant, including his many prominent connections in English Puritan circles, and his appointment in 1625 to direct the activities of the Dorchester Adventurers at Cape Ann, why did he not take a larger part in the affairs of Massachusetts Bay after the early 1630s?
Attempts to place Conant and his family on one ship or another face an inconsistency in the records that defies certain resolution. The 28 May 1671 petition of Roger Conant places his arrival in New England before May of 1623:
The humble petition of Roger Conant of Bass River alias Beverly, who have been a planter in New England forty-eight years and upward, being one of the first, if not the first, that resolved and made good my settlement under God, in matter of plantation with my family, in this colony of the Massachusetts Bay, and have been instrumental, both for the founding and carrying on of the same, and when in the infancy thereof, it was in great hazard of being deserted, I was a means, through grace assisting me, to stop the flight of those few that then were here with me, and that by my utter denial to go away with them, who would have gone either for England or mostly for Virginia, but hereupon stayed to the hazard of our lives. Now my humble suit and request is unto this honorable court only that the name of our town or plantation may be altered or changed from Beverly and be called Budleigh. I have two reasons that have moved me to this request. The first is the great dislike and discontent of many of our people for this name of Beverly, because (we being but a small place) it hath caused on us a constant nickname of "beggarly", being in the mouths of many, and no order was given or consent by the people here to their agent for any name until they were sure of being a town granted in the first place. Secondly, I being the first that had house in Salem (and never had any hand in naming either that or any other town) and myself with those that were then with me, being all from the western part of England, desire this western name of Budleigh, a market town of Devonshire and near unto the sea as we are here, in this place and where myself was born. Now in regard of our firstness and antiquity in this so famous a colony, we should humbly request this little privilege with your favors and consent, to give this name abovesaid unto our town. I never yet made suit or request unto the General Court for the least matter, tho' I think I might as well have done, as many others have, who have obtained much without hazard of life or prefering the public good before their own interest, which I praise God I have done ... [Conant Gen 116-17, citing MA Arch 112:217].
Hubbard would have Conant at Plymouth initially, either contradicting Conant who said he came before May 1623 or the Plymouth Colony records which make no allotment of land to Conant in 1623 when even single women who came on the Anne and refugees from the failed settlement at Wessgusset received their shares by name [PCR 12:5-6].
Robert Cushman wrote to Bradford 24 January 1623[/4] saying "the salt-man [we have sent] is a skillful & industrious man, put some to him that may quickly apprehend the mystery of it ..." [Bradford 373], but Bradford refers to this person in less glowing terms:...he whom they sent to make salt was an ignorant, foolish, selfwilled fellow ... he caused them to send carpenters to rear a great frame for a large house, to receive the salt & such other uses. But in the end all proved vain. Then he laid fault of the ground, in which he was deceived; but if he might have the lighter to carry clay, he was sure then he could do it ... he could not do anything but boil salt in pans, and yet would make them that were joined with him believe there was so great a mystery in it as was not easy to be attained, and made them do many unnecessary things to blind their eyes, till they discerned his subtlety. The next year he was sent to Cape Anne and the pans were set up there where the fishing was; but before summer was out, he burnt the house, and the fire was so vehement as it spoiled the pans ... [Bradford 146-47].
Hubbard says: There (Nantasket) Mr. Roger Conant, with some few others, after Mr. Lyford and Mr. Oldham were, for some offence, real or supposed, discharged from having anything more to do at Plymouth, found a place of retirement and reception for themselves and families for a space of a year and some few months, till a door was opened for them at Cape Anne, a place on the other side of the Bay, whither they removed about the year 1625 [Hubbard 102].
He further says: ... Mr. White with the rest of the Adventurers, hearing of some religious and well-affected persons ...of which number Mr. Roger Conant was one, a religious, sober and prudent gentleman, yet surviving about Salem till the year 1680, wherein he finished his pilgrimage, having a great hand in all these forementioned transactions about Cape Anne ... [Hubbard 106].
From these remarks it is assumed that Hubbard was acquainted with Roger Conant and had at some time perhaps discussed the history with him. To go on,... they pitched upon him, the said Conant, for the managing and government of their affairs at Cape Anne. The information he had of him was from one Mr. Conant, a brother of his, and well known to Mr. White; and he was so well satisfied therein, that he engaged Mr. Humphrey, the treasurer of the joint Adventurers, to write to him in their names, and to signify that they had chosen him to be their governor in that place, and would commit unto him the charge of all their affairs..
It must here be noted, that Mr. Roger Conant, on the foresaid occasion made the superintendent of their affairs [at Cape Ann], disliked the place as much as the Adventurers disliked the business; and therefore, in the meanwhile, had made some inquiry into a more commodious place near adjoining, on the other side of a creek, called Naumkeag, a little to the westward, where was much better encouragement as to the design of a plantation, than that which they had attempted upon before at Cape Anne, secretly conceiving in his mind, that in following times (as since is fallen out) it might prove a receptacle for such as upon the account of religion would be willing to begin a foreign plantation in this part of the world; to which he gave some intimation to his friends in England [Hubbard 106-07].
Hubbard would have "Mr. Roger Conant" settle briefly at Nantasket with Mr. Oldham (whom Conant certainly knew and respected, yet no direct evidence supports his presence), then choose Cape Ann "a place on the other side of the Bay (more convenient for those that belong to the tribe of Zebulon than for those that chose to dwell in the tents of Issachar), wither they removed about the year 1625" [Young 20, 25]. Hubbard further says that Mr. Roger Conant was present at Cape Ann in 1625 and helped to resolve the dispute between Capt. Standish and Mr. Hewes over the fishing stages at Cape Ann [Young's Pilgrim Fathers 33-4; MD 5:80].
The dispute grew to be very hot, and high words passed between them; which might have ended in blows, if not in blood and slaughter, had not the prudence and moderation of Mr. Roger Conant, at that time there present, and Mr. Peirce's interposition, that lay just by with his ship, timely prevented [Young's Pilgrim Fathers 33].
These events closely parallel Bradford's history of the salter, but no one agrees on the personal traits of this individual. Hubbard again casts Conant in the role of peacemaker when Mr. Endicott and his company come to take the reins from the old planters in 1628 and a controversy arose over the changing of the name of the settlement from "Nahumkeik" to Salem: ...the late controversy that had been agitated with too much animosity betwixt the forementioned Dorchester planters and their new agent, Mr. Endicot, and his company then sent over, being by the prudent moderation of Mr. Conant, agent before for the Dorchester merchants, quietly composed ... [Young's Pilgrim Fathers 31].
A possible resolution of the seeming conflict among all these accounts is that they do indeed refer to one man, Roger Conant, but as seen through different sets of eyes. If Conant were one of Hubbard's regular informants, as seems quite likely, then he could well have fed the historian with slanted versions of his part in the early history of Massachusetts Bay. Bradford, on the other hand, with no stake in Conant's reputation, was speaking his mind, even though he did not name the subject of his wrath, perhaps out of respect for the living.
This combination of great promises but little results (as reported by Bradford) and the willingness to distort his actions in hindsight (if we are interpreting correctly Conant's influence on Hubbard) may be the collection of character faults which prevented Conant from rising beyond local importance in the later history of Massachusetts Bay, despite his great early advantages.
Another point should be made here. Bradford is speaking of a salter, and we do know there was at least one other salter in Plymouth in these early years, William Hilton. But Hilton had already arrived in Plymouth in 1621 and could not have been the man sent over by Cushman in 1624. On the other hand, to suppose that Conant is not the man castigated by Bradford we would have to assume that there were three salters in Plymouth and vicinity during this brief time, which seems an excess.
We take the position, then, that Conant arrived in 1624 (and therefore made an error of one year in his petition nearly half a century later), resided briefly at Plymouth, Nantasket and Cape Ann, and then settled Salem.
Roger Conant deposed on 29 November 1664 about being one of the first inhabitants of the town of Salem, and one of the lot layers there [EQC 3:207].
In depositions some twenty years after the fact, we learn that Roger Conant was in partnership in the 1630s with Peter Palfrey, Anthony Dike and Mr. Francis Johnson, in an enterprise to collect and ship beaver skins and other goods [EQC 1:409, 2:22-4].
At court 25 June 1678 "Mr. Roger Conant, aged about eighty-six years" deposed that about six or eight years since, William Hoar's two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth came to his house to buy apples. While he was in the cellar, he had enough canvas stolen to make a lady's apron, no one being in the house but them. Later he met one of them and asked why they had stolen his canvas, and she replied that it was not she, if anybody, it was her sister [EQC 7:50].
On 4 June 1679 "Mr. Roger Conant, aged about eighty-seven years" deposed that sixteen years ago Benjamin Balch and Mary Balch, widow of John Balch, now wife of William Dodge, came to an agreement [EQC 7:390].
BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE: The basic treatment of the Conant family was published in 1887 by Frederick Odell Conant [A History and Genealogy of the Conant Family in England and America (Portland, Maine, 1887), cited above as Conant Gen]. Mary Walton Ferris wrote at length about Conant [Dawes-Gates 2:221-28]. The identity of the wife of Roger Conant and the consequent extensive Puritan connections of Roger Conant are explored by Robert Charles Anderson [NEHGR 147:234-39, 148:107-29]. Roger Conant cuts a romantic figure in Hawthorne's "Main Street."
1st Govenor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Source from The Improvement ERA of 1950 page 269 by Archibald F. Bennett
Roger was the youngest of eight children born to Richard and Agnes (CLARK) CONANT. He and his family came to New England on the "Ann", arriving in Plymouth Massachusetts in Jul 1623. Though Puritan, he was non-Separatist in ideology and as such did not get along too well with the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The Chronological History of Massachusetts relates the role that Roger played in early New England:
"1623 - Myles Standish successfully conducted the first organized war against the Indians who had been stirred to form a conspiracy against the English by the behavior of Andrew Weston's men in June of 1621 and other troublemakers among the colonists. It was another lean year but boats came over from England every season. Some 200 or more Separatists would join the group on four different ships. .. Meanwhile, in England, a group of wealthy English merchants formed the Dorchester Company of Adventurers, of whom the less-radical Puritan conformist clergyman John White was prominent. Another member was Mistress Elizabeth Poole of Taunton, Somerset, who later founded Taunton, Massachusetts. With a patent from the council of New England, a group of fishermen and planters took the Fellowship to Cape Ann where they constructed a house and fishing stage at Stage Fort Point...Sometime during the year, non-Separatist Roger Conant and his wife arrived in Plymouth.
"1624 - Plymouth colonists, tired of their 'common course and condition,' convinced Bradford to end the annual practice of drawing for plots of land and, instead, to grant permanent allotments. Later expanded, the new practice spurred colonists to work harder and produce more as they were assured of enjoying the fruits of their own labors. In July, when a fierce drought threatened to destroy the crops, the colonists were driven to "seek the Lord in humble and fervent prayer," according to Bradford, "and He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians' admiration that lived among them." The gentle rains came and stayed so that, as Bradford wrote, "instead of famine now God gave them plenty .. . so as any general want or famine has not been among them since to this day (1644)." Excluded by the Separatist Pilgrims, a disgruntled Roger Conant drew a number of non-Separatists to himself and removed up the coast to found Nantasket. "1625 - In England, Charles I succeeded the wildly extravagant and scandalous James I whose reign had encouraged a rampage of the rich and opportunistic, unsettling the balance of the economy. Now Charles gave ear to the highly ritualistic, anti-Puritan, Anglican Bishop William Laud. Those Puritans who had wished to reform England and its Church from within began to lose hope. Bradford wrote friends in his homeland that the colonists had 'never felt the sweetness of the country till this year. ' Roger Conant was summoned from Nantasket to Cape Ann to manage the floundering outpost, followed by his loyal group of non-separatist Puritans. Having unknowingly acquired a scurrilous title to a part of Cape Ann, the Plymouth residents commenced building in the area a fishing stage of their own which was seized by the Cape Ann interests. Captain Myles Standish almost fought the group but Conant cooled the soldier's temper by offering to build a new fishing stage for the Pilgrims.
Hostilities continued to build between the Separatists and non-Separatists. The same year, Captain Wollaston founded a colony at Passonagessit. Among the colonists was Anglican Thomas Morton who would change Mount Wollaston to Merrymount and cause grave concern among settlements from Maine to Nantasket. "1626 - ...In the autumn, Roger Conant led the remnant of the Cape Ann expedition, some 20 to 30 persons, down the coast to a place the Indians called Naumkeag, where a number of rivers formed a safe harbor and good farmland was close by. Soon to be known as the Old Planters, these were the hardy souls who declined the dissolved Dorchester Company's offer of return passage to England. Meanwhile in England, the undaunted clergymen John White and John Conant looked for new settlers and capital."
The settlement called Naumkeag by the Indians and founded by Roger Conant and his group of "Old Planters" was renamed Salem in 1628 by a consortium of the old group and a new one headed by John Endicott. The "Old Planters" were allotted land in what is now Beverly Massachusetts. Salem erected a statue of him, a picture of which can be seen on Welcome to Salem
Biographical information, undoubtedly penned by a descendant and submitted to the 1903 Biographical tome for Tolland and Windham Counties, Conn reads as follows:
"His reputation was that of a pious, sober and prudent gentleman and as he was more strongly Puritan than the people around him he was chosen to head the settlement at Cape Ann, near Stage Head, on the north side of what is now Gloucester Harbor. Though not recognized as the first governor of Massachusetts, it seems he should be, as the colony over whose destinies he so ably provided made the first real advance toward a permanent settlement within the limits of what is now the State. Roger Conant was a man of intelligence, and historians pay glowing tributes to his ability, integrity and honor. He was a member of the second representative assembly ever held in America, very shortly following a similar gathering in Virginia.(Apparently refers to the October, 1630 meeting of the General Court of Boston. Though in violation of their charter, leaders of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided that the governor and deputy governor would be elected by the freemen of the Colony, including the "Old Planters", by demand of those in attendance, granted May 1631) The record of his active labor in forming that system of government which has made the U.S. great and mighty in every field of labor, or department of thought, was the noblest heritage he could leave his children. Many important offices were held by him in Salem, and for many years his services were continually in demand by the people. He and his wife were among the members who assisted in forming the 1st Church at Salem in 1637, and both signed the Covenant.
Fellow Conant researcher, Betty I. Ralph tells me that Roger Conant was mentioned in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Main Street, Salem" and that Governor's Island in Boston Harbor was once known as Conant's Island.
Sources: "Chronological History of Massachusetts", Flying the Colors: Massachusetts Facts: John Clements, 1987; Tolland and Windham Counties, Connecticut Biographies - 1903; Mayflower Gedcom; LDS Ancestral File; Research of John F. Chandler and Betty I. Ralph