Whose Statue is Out Front?
Roger Conant - The Founder of Salem
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.
We know that Roger Conant was baptized in All Saints Church in the parish of East Budleigh, Devonshire, England on April 9, 1592. His father was the leading merchant of Clayton, a neighboring parish. Family tradition says that as a boy young Roger met Sir Walter Raleigh. Later Conant and his young family came to New England probably arriving in Plymouth in 1622.
The Dorchester Company established a fishing settlement on Cape Ann during the winter of 1623-24 under a charter with England. Located at Stage Point, now Gloucester, the company invited Roger Conant to join them in 1625 as their governor "for the management and government of all their affairs at Cape Ann".
After a year's residence, Conant became convinced of the need for a more permanent settlement and found an ideal site at the mouth of the Naumkeag River (now the City of Salem). There the settlement thrived and grew by farming as well as fishing. When Governor Endicott arrived in 1628, he incorporated Conant and his men into the new government. (The Dorchester Company went into bankruptcy in 1627 and became the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 under charter from England). Known as the Old Planters, Conant and his followers lent continuity to the new settlement and can be considered the founding fathers of Naumkeag, renamed Salem for "Shalom" or Peace on June 29, 1629. Roger Conant died on November 19, 1679 considering himself "...an instrument, though a weak one, of foundering and furthering this colony..."
After Conant's death, the colony suffered through the witch trials of 1692. As the world grew smaller in the 18th-century, Salem took a leading role in developing international trade routes and enjoyed a period of prosperity and fame. The 19th-century saw the advent of immigrants who enriched the business and cultural life of the city as shipping was replaced by rail transportation. Born in Salem on July 4, 1805, Nathaniel Hawthorne took inspiration from his native streets. By the 20th- century Salem had grown from a colony struggling with crisis to a cosmopolitan city.
Today Salem is a city of fascinating complexity. Traces of her history can be seen everywhere from the 17th-century buildings, the priceless items brought back from exotic ports by Salem ship captains, the extraordinary architecture and the multi-ethnic character of her streets. The city of Salem attracts visitors today as the harbor and rivers and fields of Naumkeag drew Roger Conant over 300 years ago.