Friday, December 23, 2011

The Stories in the Stones: Reverend Sylvanus Conant

I am pleased to offer the following post by Middleborough educator Jeff Stevens as part of an on-going series written for the Middleboro Gazette on behalf of the Friends of Middleborough Cemeteries.   Mr.Stevens is well versed in the history of Middleborough's early cemeteries, and his "The Stories in the Stones" series proposes to consider the rich cultural and social heritage contained within Middleborough's historic cemeteries through the stories of some of those interred within them.  It is hoped to post additional stories here as they are written.  To learn more about the Friends of Middleborough Cemeteries, or how you can help, click on the icon at the end of the post. 

THE STORIES IN THE STONES - The Rev. Silvanus Conant
Jeff Stevens - Friends of Middleborough Cemeteries

Middleborough’s cemeteries are full of stories. The men and women who founded this town and lived here over the last 300 plus years have left us thousands of gravestones to mark their final resting places. Each stone is often the final sign of the person’s existence. Some exploring in our many historic sources help fill us in on the life stories behind the stones.

The Rev. Silvanus Conant has a large slate stone in the right front section of the Church on the Green Cemetery. He is pictured in his clerical collar, with two angels looking down on him. The stone tells you that he was a “truly evangelic minister” and an “amiable pattern of charity in all its branches”. It then says he died of the smallpox and is buried three miles away. Beside his gravestone is one for his wife, Abigail, who died at age 28 and beside her, a stone for their son, Ezekiah, who died at just seven days old. Is there more to his story?

The History of the Town of Middleboro by Thomas Weston tells us that Rev. Conant was a Harvard grad who was called to be the 4th minister of the Church on the Green after years of congregational infighting between the “New Lights” and the “Old Lights”, conservative and liberal elements. Conant united the two sides and was well loved by his congregation. Judge Peter Oliver attended this church, as did colonial Governors Hutchinson and Bowdoin. Benjamin Franklin visited one Sunday. A contemporary said of him, “He was full of sunshine, radiant with hope, trusting in his God, and believing in man.”

The Rev. Conant was an avid patriot in the time leading up to the American Revolution. He served as a chaplain in a patriot regiment and his inspiring words led to 35 church members volunteering for service.

In 1777-78, Middleborough was struck by the pestilence when smallpox swept into town. The Rev. Conant and eight of his flock died at the “pest house” in the Soule neighborhood and all nine have stones in the Soule Street Smallpox Cemetery on the corner of Soule and Brook Streets. His stone says that he died in “the 58th year of his age and the 33rd of his ministry”. Silvanus Conant may be the only person buried in Middleborough with two gravestones. Thomas Weston reports, “It is said that upon his death there was weeping in every house in town, at the loss of one of their best and dearest friends.” Not a bad legacy for a dedicated minister and enthusiastic American patriot and quite a story behind his two gravestones.


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