Roger Conant was born abt. Apr 1592 in East Budleigh, Devonshire, England (he was baptized there on 9 April at All Saints Parish), youngest of the eight children of Richard and Agnes (Clarke) Conant. He is my 11th great-grandfather on my grandfather Arthur Washburn Davis’ side of the family.
|All Saints, East Budleigh|
Roger married Sarah Horton on 11 November 1618 at St. Ann Blackfriars, London. Sarah was the daughter of Thomas and Catherine (Satchfield) Horton, born ca 1598 (NEHGR 147:234-39).
Children, first three born London:
Sarah who died youngCaleb
Some researchers also give them a daughter Joanna, but not sure what the source is for that. I descend from Lot who married Elizabeth Walton.
Roger Conant was the founder of Salem, Massachusetts, and there is a statue of him there. The statue stands atop a huge boulder brought from the woods near the floating bridge at Lynn. Artist Henry H. Kitson designed the bronze statue which was dedicated 17 June 1913. Because of the placement of his statue near the Witch Museum, people often assume he was involved in the Witch Trials, but he died well before they took place.
|Roger Conant Statue|
He came first to Plymouth from London in 1624. He removed to Nantasket in 1624, Cape Ann in 1625 (in an area that is now Gloucester) and Salem in 1626. His house in Salem was built on what is now Essex Street.
Roger was a salter by trade. He signed the composition bond of his brother John on 20 January 1619/20 as "Roger Conant, salter."
"Roger Connant" is in the list of Salem Church members compiled in late 1636 (Salem Church Records 5). He was admitted a freeman on 18 May 1631. He could read and write as his hand is seen on many documents at Essex court in the early Salem Town records.
Roger believed in civic duty. He served as Deputy to General Court for Salem 9 May 1632. Committee to lay out land for John Humphrey, 7 Nov 1632. Committee to determine bounds between Salem and Saugus, 20 Nov 1637. Appointed Essex magistrate 17 May 1637. Essex Magistrate 1637, 1638, 1639. Grand jury 1644, 47, 49, 50, 51, 52, 55. Essex jury 1636, 1653 (foreman). Petit jury 1642 (foreman), 1643 (foreman), 44, 45, 46, 53, 54, 57. Essex surveyor of canoes June 1636.
He served as Salem selectman, 1637-41, 1650-54/55, 1657. Salem town clerk 11 Sept 1637. Committee to draw the line between Ipswich and Salem 27 March 1643. Surveyor of lots, 1636, 1637, 54, 56, 58. Auditor 1638, 1648. Director of highway repairs Feb 1643/44. Surveyor of highways June 1644. Rater Sept 1645. Arbitrator Feb 1655/6, 1656/7, 1658.
Some people question whether Roger Conant resided at Plymouth when he first arrived and whether he was the salter described negatively by Bradford who arrived in 1624 with Rev. John Lyford. Given the great advantages available to him, including his many prominent connections in Puritan circles and his appointment in 1625 to direct the activities of the Dorchester Adventurers at Cape Ann, some question why did he not take a larger part in the affairs of the Mass Bay after the early 1630s.
Robert Cushman wrote to Bradford 24 January 1623/4 "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 decieved...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 first was so vehement as it spoiled the pans...(Bradford 146/7).
I personally believe he is the same Roger Conant who was at Plymouth. As a religious Puritan he was not in sympathy with the Pilgrim's religious position. He also clearly had leadership qualities, so probably spoke his mind to Bradford and other leaders. He went to Nantasket where he became a leader. About a year later he received a letter from Mr. Humphrey offering him the position of the governor of the settlement at Cape Ann. He found insubordination among the men and its suppression was a difficult task. No minister had been sent there until he took charge. He engaged Rev. John Lyford, living at Nantasket, but he turned out to be unsatisfactory.
Affairs at Cape Ann did not improve much, and in 1626 the plan was abandoned by the London merchants, largely due to losses in fishing and in the value of their vessels. In two and a half years, 1,000 pounds had been spent and not 100 received in profits. The company paid the men their wages and offered them a passage home.
|Site of where Roger Conant lived in Gloucester|
Poor soil was a problem and they sought more fertile land along the shore. About 16 miles southwest they found a secluded place on a peninsula by a wide river with good harbors in the territory called by the Indians "Naumkeag." As they passed through what is now the harbor of Beverly, a view of Danvers River opened before them and to the left the North River broadened out. Mr. Conant and his companions removed here in the autumn of 1626.
Rev. Lyford tried to persuade them to go with him to Virginia, but Mr. Conant refused, and to his surprise his companions stayed by his side. Rev. John White from England promised to provide a patent and send them men and provisions, so Conant and his associates cleared the forest and built their homes.
The Dorchester Company went into bankruptcy in 1627 and became the Mass Bay Colony in 1629 under a charter from England. Conant considered himself "...an instrument, though a weak one, of foundering and furthering this colony..."
"The humble petition of Roger Conant of Bass River alias Beverly, who has 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 of means, through grace assisting me, to stop the flight of those few that then where 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 aforesaid 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 praised God I have done ..." (Conant Gen 116-17, citing MA Arch 112:217)
Not surprisingly, Roger Conant was a large landholder. He was one of five prominent men to receive a 200 acre farm at the head of Bass River 25 Jan 1635/6. He received one acre in the Salem grant of 1637 with a household of nine persons. This grant is in his handwriting.
On 4 Feb 1638/9, Henry Bayley requested a piece of land "next Mr. Conants house at Catt Cove." On 7 May 1639 "Mr Conant" received a grant of five acres of meadow "in some convenient place."
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 200 acres as laid out by Jonathan Danforth.
Sarah Conant is included in the list of Salem Church members compiled in late 1636. She was alive in November 1660 to depose about the marriage of James Bede and the widow "Ellot." She is not named in her husband's will so probably died before 1 March 1677/78.
|Site of son Exercise's house in Beverly, on land once owned by Roger Conant|
Roger Conant died 19 November 1679 in Beverly, Essex Co., Massachusetts.
In his will, dated 1 March 1667(/78) and proved 25 Nov 1679, "Roger Conant aged about eighty-five years...thought weak & feeble in body" bequeathed to "my son Exercise:" 140 acres near Dunstable (a part of 200 acres granted by the General Court) and 10 acres adjoining his present homelot, 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, swamp at the head of the rails which is yet undivided, my portion of land lying by Henry Haggat's on Wenham side. To "my grandchild John Conant, son of Roger" 10 acres adjoining his 20 acres by the great pond, he to pay 20 pounds toward the discharge of my legacies. To "my grandchild Joshua Conant" 17 acres by the south side of the great marsh "and the rest to return to my executor." To "my daughter Sara" to her and her chidren, two acres between the head of the rails and Isaac Hull. To "a daughter of Mrs. Pitts deceased...now living in Calleton 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 pounds to be equally divided. To "my daughter Sarah's children" to John 5 pounds, to the four daughters' 5 pounds between them. To "my daughter Mary Dodge" to herself 5 pounds and 5 pounds to her five children equally divided. To "Exercise his children" four pounds between them. To "Adoniron Veren" 3 pounds. "To his sister Hannah" 20 shillings and "her two children each 10s." To "my cousin Mary Veren wife to Hillier Veren" 3 pounds. To the daughters of cousin Jane Mason deceased 3 pounds "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 pounds "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 named executor. Son William Dodge and grandchild John Conant Senior to be oversees (Essex Probate Records 3:335-37).
The inventory of the estate of "Roger Conant deceased" taken 24 November 1679 totaled 258 pds 10 shillings of which 198 pounds was real estate which included 200 acres of land lying at Dunstable not improved 60 pounds; more land sold to Elizabeth Conant not paid for 40 pounds; more land ten acres and more ten acres totaling 20 acres, 20 pounds; more land 23 acres 59 pounds; more two acres of meadow 10 pounds; swampy land 20s; two acres of land at 5 pounds, 6 pounds; more land one pound.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's description of Main Street, Salem, he speaks of Conant as follows: "Roger Conant, the first settler of Naumkeag, has built his dwelling on the border of the forest path, and at this moment he comes Eastward through the vista of woods, with his gun over his shoulder, bringing home the choice portions of a deer. Roger Conant is of that class of men who do not merely find but make their place in the system of human affairs. A man of thoughtful strength, he has planted the germ of a city."
Sources Not Listed Above:
Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins, 1995
Frederick Odell Conant, A History and Genealogy of the Conant Family in England and America, 1887
Samuel Eliot Morison, Builders of the Bay Colony, The Essex Genealogist, Vol 15, 1995
Robert Charles Anderson, The Conant Connection, Part One, The Register, vol 47, 1993