Friday, 18 June 2010

Shalom from East Budleigh!

I've always been intrigued by the fact that two men who played such an important role in American colonial history were both born in the same East Devon village.

Most people know a bit about Sir Walter Raleigh and if you don't you can browse and to discover my fascination with this great Elizabethan.

Roger Conant also was born in East Budleigh, just a few miles north of Budleigh Salterton, but almost half a century after Sir Walter. On this side of the Atlantic he may not be as well known as the man who is supposed to have introduced England to the potato and tobacco, but Massachusetts people know him as the founder of Salem and his statue is one of the best-known landmarks of that city.

Yet even Americans are sometimes mistaken on biographical details of this Devon-born pioneer of the first European settlements in the New World. A news item of 5 June 2005 mentioning the rededication of his famous statue implies that Roger Conant came from Dorchester, England

The situation of the statue itself, in front of the Salem Witch Museum has apparently led many visitors to assume that the likeness of Conant with his tall hat is intended to be that of a sorceress!

What about his brother, poor old Christopher Conant who barely gets a mention in the history books? I discovered that he was born in 1588 in East Budleigh, was a Freeman of the Grocers' Company and emigrated, possibly with Roger, on the ship Anne in 1623 to Plymouth, Massachusetts. But what became of him after that?

And does the name of Salem come from Jerusalem, which is what I was told when I visited East Budleigh's Salem Chapel? Or is it to do with 'Shalom', the Hebrew greeting?

Some of these questions may be answered by East Budleigh resident Hanneke Coates, who recently wrote the guide book about All Saints Church and the village which I mention at

Hanneke is writing an article about East Budleigh and its transatlantic connections and is particularly interested in the history of Massachusetts, the Conant brothers and any modern-day descendants of the family. "We do regularly get people from that part of America to East Budleigh looking for their roots," she tells me.

There has of course been a thriving Conant Family Association in the USA, its members feeling proud to be associated with one of their country's Founding Fathers. The New York Times recorded the Association's first meeting on 13 June 1901 when 200 descendants of Roger Conant gathered in the city which he had founded. It noted incidentally Roger's birthplace as being that of Sir Walter Raleigh, as well as that of Sir Francis Drake - another little error!

And I noted a photo of Douglas R. Conant who appeared at the 2005 rededication of the Roger Conant statue at

If he or any other member of the US-based Conant family would like to get in touch with Hanneke she would be most grateful. Her contact details are:

Mrs Hanneke Coates
Lemprice Farm
Budleigh Salterton
Devon EX9 7BW

Tel: 00 44 1395 567 037

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