Sunday, January 19, 2020

21. Roger Conant on Cape Ann Part I: The Dorchester Company

Continued from

Roger Conant on Cape Ann
Part I: The Dorchester Company
Mary Ellen Lepionka 12/3/2019

In 1622 some merchants in England’s West Country, whose ships sailed from Weymouth to fish on Newfoundland’s Grand Banks, decided to attempt a settlement on the coast of New England. They thought if they sent a double crew, they could leave some fishermen ashore with provisions for the winter to build a fishing station and start a plantation to support the next season’s fishing expedition. The merchants optimistically believed that while waiting for the fishing fleet to return in spring, the fishermen on shore could build stages and dwellings, cure fish, make salt, construct fish boxes and salt barrels, trap and trade with the Indians for furs, hunt for venison, and plant crops.[1]

The Reverend John White (1575-1648), a Puritan minister and rector of Holy Trinity Church, which still stands in  Dorchester, was captivated by this idea.[2] He believed such a colony would be an economic boon to England. Europe’s local fisheries had become depleted from overfishing while meeting demand for fish on Fridays when Roman Catholics abstained from eating meat.[3] More than that, a Puritan colony in New England would be a refuge for church reformers as well as for colonists who wanted to escape the rigid separatism of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony, established in 1620. Pilgrims tended to be anti-royalist and wanted to break away from the Church of England. They were intolerant of Puritans, who tended to defend the monarchy and merely sought to reform the way the state religion was being conducted.[4] Such  differences contributed ultimately to the English Civil War (1641-1651), which had significant impacts on England’s American colonies.

White promoted the idea for a colony in New England among his family, friends, parishioners, colleagues, local merchants, and Sir Walter Earle [Erle], a knight and sheriff of Dorset and also a parishioner and friend. The merchants were represented by Richard Bushrod—a Dorchester haberdasher and mercer interested in furs for his hats and outerwear, and a parishioner in White’s Holy Trinity Church.[5] In February 1622 Bushrod obtained a fishing license for the merchants from the Council of New England and requested permission to search for a site for a colony in New England, and in February 1623, the Council granted a patent, or indenture, to Sir Walter Earle to that end.[6] Unbeknownst to them, in its haste to establish a Puritan foothold in the New World, the Council at the same time granted a duplicate patent to merchants represented by Lord Sheffield. Sheffield promptly and without permission sold his claim to Plymouth, however, rendering it invalid. (Governor Bradford later complained that White’s “adventurers” had robbed him of Cape Ann because of Sheffield’s “useless patent”.) [7]

White’s merchant associates purchased a 50-ton fishing vessel, the Fellowship, which sailed for New England in the summer of 1623. It arrived too late in the season for productive fishing but left fourteen men and provisions on Cape Ann, on the northern coast of what would later become Massachusetts Bay Colony. They landed on a point of land at the western end of a natural harbor, today’s Stage Fort Park on Gloucester Harbor, and set up camp there on Fishermen’s Field, where resident Pawtucket came to fish. The 14 Englishmen sheltered in the Indians’ wigwams. There is no record of who they were, but the event is immortalized in a bronze plaque on “Tablet Rock”, a plutonic outcrop at the site. Meanwhile, the other crew eventually found fish on Stellwagen Bank in Massachusetts Bay but returned too late to their market in Seville, Spain, to get a good price for their catch. According to White [8], the first season ended in the red:

The first imployment then of this new raised Stocke, was in buying a small Ship of fiftie tunnes, which was with as much speed as might be dispatched towards New-England vpon a Fishing Voyage: the charge of which Ship with a new sute of sayles and other provisions to furnish her, amounted to more then three hundred pound. Now by reason the Voyage was undertaken too late; shee came at least a moneth or six weekes later then the rest of the Fishing-Shippes, that went for that Coast; and by that meanes wanting Fish to make up her lading, the Master thought good to passe into Mattachusets bay, to try whether that would yeeld him any, which he performed, and speeding there, better then he had reason to expect: having left his spare men behind him in the Country at Cape Ann, he returned to a late and consequently a bad market in Spaine, and so home. The charge of this Voyage, with provision for foureteene spare men left in the Countrey, amounted to above eight hundred pound, with the three hundred pound expended vpon the Shippe, mentioned before. And the whole provenue (besides the Ship which remained to us still) amounted not to above two hundred pound; So the expence above the returne of that voyage came to 600 li and vpwards.

With men on Cape Ann to resupply, Earle and White then met in March 1624 in Dorchester to set up a joint-stock company to organize and fund the venture. The “Dorchester Company Adventurers” consisted originally of 119 investors, including five women of means, who each paid £25 per share. Stockholders’ names and stories are on record.[9] The Company’s fund from the sale of stock came to around £3,000. They purchased two more vessels, the Amytie [Amity] as a supply boat and coaster, and a 140-ton Flemish fly-boat called Zouch Phoenix to carry colonists and cattle. Additional decks had to be added to the fly-boat’s stern to carry them, but the Zouch Phoenix proved unseaworthy and had to be returned to port for repairs. Ultimately it carried 16 to 18 people to Cape Ann in 1624, including both settlers from England’s West Country and refugees from the failed Wessagusset plantation in Weymouth (MA), picked up at Plymouth on route to Cape Ann. Wessagusset had been founded in 1622 and abandoned in 1623 after an attack by Wampanoags.[10] Those arriving on the Zouch Phenix would later found Salem Village with Roger Conant, and they were:[11]

From England:
      Thomas Gardner (Rev. White’s nephew, a farmer), wife Margaret, and sons Thomas, George, Richard, and Joseph
      Peter Palfrey, trader
      John Woodbury, trader (later joined by son Humphrey)
      John Tilley (Tylly), mariner
      William Allen, carpenter

From Wessagusset via Plymouth:
      John Balch, wife Agnes, and sons Benjamin and John
      Capt. William Trask
      William Jeffreys

Rev. John White never saw Cape Ann, but his envisioned colony officially began upon the landing of the Zouch Phoenix passengers in the summer of 1624 at Half Moon Beach in Gloucester Harbor. Thomas Gardner was assigned to manage the plantation and led the group until Roger Conant arrived in 1625. Gardner’s mother was White’s sister and one of the investors in the Dorchester Company. John Tylly (Tilly), later killed by Indians in the Pequot War, was assigned to manage the fishery. These settlers joined the 14 fishermen who had overwintered, which made for 30 to 32 people—at least 22 men, 2 women, and 6 children. White reported 32 “men”.

The people at Fishermen’s Field managed to build a meetinghouse with oak framing timber and roof beams brought from England in their ships’ holds.[12] The structure would later serve as Roger Conant’s residence. Otherwise, the colonists’ efforts were fraught with mishaps, disagreements, bad judgments, difficult terrain, and poor soil—and the proceeds of the second fishing season disappointed the merchant investors. The Dorchester Company barely broke even after making up for the first season’s loss and covering unexpected expenses—more repairs to the unseaworthy Zouch Phoenix and the hiring of extra transport to get the second season catch to its market. Fishing in unfamiliar New England waters, the men did not readily find the fish and came late to the wrong port. The master mistakenly brought the fish home to Weymouth rather than to their assigned market in Bordeaux, France. As White reports in Planter’s Plea:

The next yeare was brought to the former Ship a Flemish Fly-boat of about 140. tunnes, which being unfit for a Fishing Voyage, as being built meerly for burthen, and wanting lodging for the men which shee needed for such an employment, they added unto her another deck (which seldome proves well with Flemish buildings) by which meanes shee was carved so high, that shee proved walt, and unable to beare any sayle: so that before shee could passe on upon her Voyage, they were faine to shift her first, and put her upon a better trimme, and afterwardes that proving to little purpose to vnlade her, and take her vp and furre her. Which notwithstanding it were performed with as much speede as might be, yet the yeare was aboue a moneth too far spent before she could dispatch to set to Sea againe. And when she arived in the Country, being directed by the Master of the smaller Ship (vpon the successe of his former yeares Voyage) to fish at Cape Anne not far from Mattachusets Bay, sped very ill, as did also the smaller Ship that led her thither, and found little Fish, so that the greater Ship returned with little more then a third part of her lading: and came backe (contrary to her order by which she was consigned to Bordeaux ) directly for England: so that the Company of Adventurers was put to a new charge to hire a small Shippe to carrie that little quantitie of Fish shee brought Home to Market. The charge of this Voyage with both the ships, amounted to about two thousand two hundred pounds: whereof eight hundred pounds and upward must be accounted for the building, and other charges about the greater Ship. By these two Ships were left behinde in the Country about thirtie-two men, the charges of whose wages and provision, amounted to at the least five hundred pounds of the summe formerly mentioned. The provenue of both the Voyages that yeare exceeded not the summe of fiue hundred pounds at the most.

The Dorchester Company borrowed heavily to keep going, but the third fishing season also proved a failure and threw them into debt. In 1625 they sent more people and added a third vessel for cattle and provisions for the people at Fishermen’s Field. The Flemish flyboat again proved unseaworthy and had to return for repairs. Because of their lateness, the three vessels fished at Newfoundland, took too many fish, and had to discard much of their catch. The supply ship, meanwhile, dropped provisions at Cape Ann and subsequently had good fishing there but found the plantation in great disarray and unprepared to help process the fish, a portion of which rotted before it could be delivered. Upon return, the ships could not find secure markets or get good prices for their catch. The ports and markets were in confusion or closed because of the war with Spain. England had declared war on Spain in 1624 in alliance with the Dutch, and in 1625 Charles I succeeded James I as King of England, bringing that country closer to civil war. According to White:

The third yeare 1625. both Ships with a small Vessell of fortie tuns which carried Kine with other prouisions, were againe set to Sea upon the same Voyage with the charge of two thousand pounds, of which summe the Company borrowed, & became indebted for one thousand pounds and upwards. The great Ship being commanded by a uery able Master, hauing passed on about two hundred leagues in her Voyage, found her selfe so leake by the Carpenters fault, (that looked not well to her Calking) that she bare up the Helme and returned for Waymouth, & having unladen her provisions and mended her leake, set her selfe to Sea againe; resolving to take aduice of the Windes whether to passe on her former Voyage or to turne into New-found-land, which she did, by reason that the time was so far spent, that the Master and Company dispaired of doing any good in New-England: where the Fish falls in two or three mounths sooner then at New-found-land. There she tooke Fish good store and much more then she could lade home: the overplus should have beene sold and deliuered to some sacke or other sent to take it in there, if the Voyage had beene well managed. But that could not be done by reason that the Ship before she went was not certaine where to make her Fish; by this accident it fell out that a good quantitie of the Fish she tooke was cast away, and some other part was brought home in another Ship. At the returne of the Ships that yeare, Fish by reason of our warres with Spaine falling to a very low rate; the Company endevoured to send the greater Ship for France: but she being taken short with a contrary Winde in the West-Country, and intelligence given in the meane time that those Markets were over-laid, they were enforced to bring her backe againe, and to sell her Fish at home as they might. Which they did, and with it the Fish of the smaller Ship, the New-England Fish about ten shillings the hundred by tale or there about; the New-found-land Fish at six shillings foure pence the hundred, of which was well nigh eight pence the hundred charge raised vpon it after the Ships returne: by this reason the Fish which at a Market in all likely-hood might have yeelded well nigh two thousand pounds, amounted not with all the Provenue of the Voyage to above eleaven hundred pounds. Vnto these losses by Fishing were added two other no small disaduantages, the one in the Country by our Land-Men, who being ill chosen and ill commanded, fell into many disorders and did the Company little seruice: The other by the fall of the price of Shipping, which was now abated to more then the one halfe, by which meanes it came to passe, that our Ships which stood vs in little lesse then twelue hundred pounds, were sold for foure hundred and eighty pounds.

The Dorchester Company declared bankruptcy. Amytie and Fellowship, in two voyages, brought most of the Dorchester Company fishermen and some settlers, who had started to die from exposure and disease, home to England.[13] According to their bills of lading they landed dry fish, codfish, train oil (whale oil), quarters of oak (quarter-cut oak boards for wainscotting), and skins of fox, raccoon, pine marten, otter, muskrat, and beaver from their trade with the resident Pawtucket of Cape Ann:

…[T]he ‘Amytie’ and the ‘Fellowship’ two ships employed by the Dorchester company return from New England on 1st August and the 15th September 1625. They bring with them ‘dry fish, corfish [codfish], train oil [whale oil], quarters of oak [quarter cut oak boards for wainscoting], and skins of Fox, racons [racoons] , martyn’s [pine marten], otter, muskuatche [muskrat], and beaver’ and are unloaded by Richard Bushrod and William Derby.

Even after the sale if its three ships and their cargoes, however, the Dorchester Company remained deeply in debt and in a quandary over how to protect its assets at Fishermen’s Field as well as the colonists who had elected to remain on Cape Ann. This is the context in which Roger Conant became involved in events leading to the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

[1] Gray, Todd. 2012. Cape Ann Fishermen, the Pilgrims and England in 1623 (Talk given at the Cape Ann Museum, November 17, 2012).

[2] Ackerman, Arthur W., June 1, 2007, Reverend John White of Dorchester, England, Dorchester Atheneum:; Rose-Troup, Frances, 1930, John White: The Patriarch of Dorchester (Dorset) and the Founder of Massachusetts, 1575–1648 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons), and 1930, The Massachusetts Bay Company and Its Predecessors (New York: Grafton).

[3] Gray, Todd. 2012. Cape Ann Fishermen, the Pilgrims and England in 1623 (Talk given at the Cape Ann Museum, November 17, 2012). See also Fisheries in New England and in the Merrimack River, Early. Essex Institute Historical Collections 1: 73, 32: 196, and Fisheries of Gloucester, The, from the first catch by the English, in 1623, to the centennial year 1876. 1876. Gloucester, Mass: Proctor Brothers.

[4] Doyle, John Andrew, 1889, The English Colonies in America: Vol. 2 The Puritan Colonies (New York: H. Holt & Company); Records of the Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England. From 1628 to 1641, in Volume I of the archives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1850): Francis Bremer, The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards (1996); and Bremer and Webster, eds., Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia (2006).

[5] Russell, Michael, February 2012, Richard Bushrod (1576-1628), Haberdasher and Merchant Adventurer,; Russell, Michael, March 2009, Sir Walter Earle (Erle) 1586-1665, Knight of Charborough (Fordington): Also:
Haven, Samuel F. 1869, History of grants under the Great Council of New England. Massachusetts Historical Society, Lowell Institute (Boston: Press of John Wilson and Son):

[6] Council for New England Records 1622-1623, American Antiquarian Society folio Vol. C.

[7] Haven, Samuel F. 1869, History of grants under the Great Council of New England. Massachusetts Historical Society, Lowell Institute (Boston: Press of John Wilson and Son): See the Sheffield Patent of 1623 at Thornton’s discussion of its provisions is on pages 31-37 of his 1854 history, The Landing at Cape Ann: or, The charter of the first permanent colony on the territory of the Massachusetts Company. John Babson’s retelling of Bradford’s “useless patent” begins on p. 34 of his History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Including the Town of Rockport, 1860 (350th Anniversary Edition, 1972). Primary sources include Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume 11, Series 4: 1-89 (1856, the unabridged Fulham manuscript with letters). See also Governor William Bradford’s Letter Book. Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Boston  (1906).

[8] White, Rev. John, 1630, The Planter’s Plea (London: William Jones); also: John White’s Planter’s Plea, 1630, printed in facsimile with an introduction by Marshall H. Saville, The Sandy Bay Historical Society Publications Volume I (Rockport, MA, 1930).

[9] Russell, Michael. 2007, Members of the Dorchester Company 1624-1626. In Pilgrims of Fordington & Dorchester Dorset England:

[10] Adams, Jr., Charles Francis. 1905, Wessagusset and Weymouth, Vol. 3, Weymouth Historical Society. Stewart, Marcia, ed. 1662. Phineas Pratt’s Account of Wessagusset Plantation. Boston, MA: The Winthrop Society:
Pratt, Phineas. 1662. A declaration of the affairs of the English people that first inhabited New England (about Wessagusset), in The Narrative of Phineas Pratt, The Pilgrim Hall Museum:

[11] Emigrant Ships Departing Weymouth: See also: Hubbard, William. 1815. A General history of New England: from the discovery to 1680. Volume 5 of Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston, MA: Hilliard & Metcalf. See also Volume 1 of Alexander Young’s 1846 Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1623-1636, and Thornton, John Wingate. 1854. The Landing at Cape Ann: or, The charter of the first permanent colony on the territory of the Massachusetts Company. New York: Gould and Lincoln.

[12] Adams, Herbert B. The Fisher Plantation of Cape Anne, 1882. Part I of The Village Communities of Cape Ann and Salem, Historical Collections of the Essex Institute: 19. (Salem, MA).
Webber, Carl and Winfield S. Nevins. 1877. Also Gardner, Frank A. 1907. Thomas Gardner, planter (Cape Ann, 1623-1626; Salem, 1626-1674) Essex Institute, Salem, MA.

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