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.
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
Sarah who died young
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
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
"...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
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 |
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
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."
Not Listed Above:
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