This post is in response to the challenge of posting about 52 ancestors in 52 weeks by Amy Johnson Crow
Roger Conant, my 9th great grandfather, was the founder of Salem, Massachusetts and some say the first Governor of Massachusetts. I don’t know his exact birth date but Roger was baptized Apr 9, 1592 in East Budleigh, Devonshire, England. He was the last of eight children born to Richard and Agnes (Clarke) Conant. He obviously received a good education and for a time served as an apprentice to a salter in London and later as a freeman with the Salters’ Company. He was married to Sarah Horton on Nov 11, 1618 in the parish of Blackfriars, London and probably lived in London until they emigrated in about 1623. They had 9 children: Sarah who died an infant; Caleb who also died young; Lot (married to Rev William Walton’s daughter Elizabeth); Roger; Sarah whose granddaughter Hannah married Samuel Walton); Joshua; Mary; Elizabeth and Exercise.
Roger probably came to America aboard the ship “Ann” which arrived at Plymouth Colony about July 1623 with his older brother Christopher who was aboard. Because of a strong religious difference (he was a Puritan; they were Separatists, i.e. Pilgrims) he did not remain at Plymouth long. In July 1624 John Oldham and Rev John Lyford, both Puritans, were expelled from the Plymouth Colony and moved to Nantasket (now Hull) near present day Boston. Not long afterwards Roger Conant joined them.
Earlier, Rev John White (the grandfather of Rev William Walton’s wife Elizabeth Cooke; more on this in a later post) and some associates had formed the Dorchester Company and had started a settlement at “Cape Ann” located on the west side of what is now Gloucester Harbor. John White and the Dorchester Company contacted Roger Conant and offered him the position of Governor of the Cape Ann Colony. In the fall of 1625 he took charge of the settlement. The Cape Ann settlement was based on the idea that part of the ships’ crews would stay behind after the fishing season and raise crops which would be used to feed the crews the next year with excess shipped back to England. In 1625-26 the number at Cape Ann was about 200.
Early Massachusetts Settlements
It was soon discovered that the cargoes sent to England did not bring more than the cost and the Cape Ann location was not well suited for raising crops. In the fall of 1626, after discussions with Rev White and the removal of many of the men back to England, Roger Conant moved west to Naumkeag (present day Salem) with about 40 men. Not long after the site was established many decided (at the behest of Rev Lyford) to move to Virginia and abandon the site. Roger Conant refused and through his eloquent persuasions all but Lyford stayed.
In 1627 a land grant patent was solicited from England through the Dorchester Company and was granted. The news was delivered back to the colony by John Woodbury, but soon after Woodbury left England, Mathew Cradock, leading a new group, acquired control of the patent and sent one of it’s members, John Endicott to America. This news could not have been pleasant to Conant and the original settlers since Conant expected to be Governor. But some concessions by both sides resulted in the settlement at Salem continuing to exist. Endicott became Governor and the colony was officially the Massachusetts Bay Colony which later comprised not only the Boston area and Salem but much more.
Roger Conant continued to live and to be active in the day to day workings of Salem for many years. He was admitted a freeman May 18, 1631, was a justice of the Quarterly Court at Salem for 3 years and elected selectman a number of times from 1637 to 1658. In 1667 he was an original member of the Beverly church and he died in Beverly Nov 19, 1679. At the time of his death he had various grants of land in Salem, Beverly and the vicinity.
1. Ancestry.com. New England. The Great Migration and The Great Migration Begins. 1620-1635 [database on-line]. Provo. UT. USA: Ancestry.com Operations. Inc.. 2013.
2. Conant, Frederick Odell; A History and Genealogy of the Conant Family in England and America, Thirteen Generations 1520-1887; Privately Printed; Portland; 1887 (on-line)
3. Cutter, William Richard; New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial; Third Series, vol 1; Lewis Historical Publishing Company; New York; 1915 (on-line)