For the first installment in our History of Salem series, we are going to go all the way back to the beginning. Before the Witch Trials, before Salem became the town it is today, it was just a little settlement on the mouth of the Naumkeag River. The first settlement was named after the Naumkeag people, a Native American tribe that inhabited the surrounding area.
The Great Migration
Salem wouldn’t be the town it is today if not for the “Great Migration” of Puritans to New England from 1620 to 1640. It refers to the English settlers who primarily moved to Massachusetts, and interestingly enough, Barbados.
The initial settlement of Puritans centered in two natural harbors, in the towns that are now known as Boston and Salem. While some settlers arrived to the Cape Ann/Salem area in prior years, no permanent settlement was established until 1626, when Roger Conant led the first real effort to build a colony in the area.
Roger Conant is now recognized as the founder of Salem, Massachusetts in official record. He first arrived at the Plymouth Colony around 1623, but it would be 5 years before he was able to establish his own colony in the New World. Conant was a fisherman and a strong leader, but he never fully embraced the Plymouth Colony and sought out an alternative lifestyle in the surrounding areas.
Conant had originally arrived with the Dorchester Company, who tried and failed to establish a full-fledged colony in the area that was now colonized by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Around 1625, Conant relocated his family to Cape Ann in the northern side of Massachusetts Bay. This came at a time when there was growing discontent with the leadership of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a whole. Soon after, Conant was chosen by the residents of the new settlement to be their governor. This lasted until he was replaced by John Endecott in 1628.
The Establishment of the City of Salem
Conant stepped aside without resistance when Endecott announced that the Massachusetts Bay Charter ordered him to replace Conant as governor. Some residents disagreed with the decision, but Conant’s positive attitude allowed Endecott’s group, or the “New Planters” and Conant’s passionate “Old Planters” to get along. This led to the naming of the town of Salem, which is a form of the word “peace” in Hebrew.
Endecott started making changes to the new colony right away. The first thing he did was order the Governor’s House to be brought to Salem from Cape Ann. Just one year later, the Massachusetts Bay Charter became the full-fledged Massachusetts Bay Colony, and they were granted an additional governor named Matthew Craddock in London. Endecott remained governor in the colony.
The colony underwent another change in leadership in 1629 when John Winthrop was elected governor to replace Endecott. Endecott remained active in Salem town affairs for the rest of his life, His role was to ready the colony for expansion when more colonists arrived, and he performed his duty admirably.
The arrival of John Winthrop led to the most significant period of the Great Migration, and he was the one who decided to focus on Boston as the best place to build the center of the colony. He officially announced the foundation of Boston on September 7, 1630 and the Massachusetts Bay Colony was well on it’s way to becoming the state we now call home.
Roger Conant died in 1679 at the ripe age of 87. He’s now seen as a central figure in the development of our beautiful town of Salem, and many of you have seen the massive statue commemorating his contributions, still watching over his beloved Salem Common.